One Last Game: Soil science professor hosts educational board game tournament before leaving UW

By Vanessa Eisch
Engage Staff

Balser opens tournament

Learning complicated biochemistry turned fun and competitive during an Engage-sponsored board game tournament for "The N Game" http://thengame.org/ on June 7th.

"The N Game" is an Engage Simulations and Games http://engage.doit.wisc.edu/sims_games/index.html award project that teaches the nitrogen cycle.

Teri Balser, UW Department of Soil Science professor and U.S. Professor of the Year, and a team from Do-IT Academic Technologies that includes David Gagnon, Jan Cheetham, Sean McMullin and David Duncan designed the game.

Balser opens tournament

Balser play-tested the game with her students and found evidence that the game increased student learning, but wanted a chance to have some fun with it before leaving UW. She starts her new position as the Dean of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Florida this fall.

"It was an opportunity to take a successful game and use it and play it as a game instead of just focusing on what they're learning while they're playing it," she said.

About a dozen students, staff and even a father-daughter team joined in the tournament at Memorial Union.

Balser opens tournament

Peyton Smith Sr., former associate vice chancellor at UW-Madison and his daughter, Peyton Smith Jr., a graduate student in soil science, wore lab coats and goggles and played the tournament together.

Although the dynamic duo did not win, they agreed the game was an educational success.

"I think it's really nice. I think that using board games or video games or something like that creates an excitement and environment for people and then they learn more and they retain it more," Smith Sr. said.

Balser hopes players not only retain information from the game, but start to process it, as well.

Balser opens tournament

"I hope that the game gets people to notice what's around them a little more, because the game is about a whole system and it's the same system that's outside and around us. It'd be cool if that was a learning outcome from the tournament," Balser said.