Scott Wallace knows his computer science students like to play computer games. His goal is to direct that game-playing passion toward studies by providing games based upon today’s leading programming language.
 
“Computer games offer a compelling vehicle to engage students in computer science,” said Wallace, assistant professor of computer science at WSU Vancouver.
 
“Unfortunately, most games are written in the C++ language, while Java is the prevailing programming language in many computer science programs.
“So, our goal is to encourage students by creating a software foundation, using Java, for games as part of computer design coursework.”
 
(Wallace hopes to encourage students by creating a software foundation for games that uses Java. Photo courtesy of Scott Wallace)
 
Java-based games can be used in computer science curriculum as early as high school. They also can provide a platform for complex projects by university students — all without the added confusion of learning a new programming language, he said.
 
NSF investment
 
In fall 2005, Wallace initiated the first course using Java-based games as a teaching tool at the Vancouver campus. In 2006, the course was available through WHETS at the Tri-Cities and Pullman campuses as well.
 
Also in 2006, he co-authored the article, “Addressing the Need for a Java-Based Game Curriculum,” which was published in the Journal of Computing Sciences in Colleges.
 
“That paper was well-received, and in April 2007 we were approved for a two-year grant from the National Science Foundation,” Wallace said.
 
He is directing the project with fellow computer science faculty member Andrew Nierman of the University of Puget Sound. They hope to expand the project to include 12 universities in the Pacific Northwest.
 
Reversing shortage
 
“The goal of our Java Instructional Gaming Project is to build a more effective way to teach computer science,” Wallace said. “We do not have enough computer science students in the U.S., and we need a better way to retain the students we do have.
 
“I think our project will make a difference,” he summarized. “I have seen this motivate our students to enroll in a master’s program or take on additional projects. Students who use game-based curriculum tend to do better.
 
“Further study is needed, but it seems clear that providing students with this curriculum engages them in their coursework.”