Triseum Honors Two Game-Based Learning Teacher of the Year Recipients

College Station, TX – February 27, 2018 – More and more educators are embracing games to help students achieve, and even surpass, learning objectives. Triseum is recognizing their innovative approach to teaching and commitment to game-based learning (GBL), and today announced its U.S. and international GBL Teacher of the Year winners: Kelly Donahue-Wallace, professor of Art History and chair of the Department of Art Education and Art History at the University of North Texas; and Panagiota Argyri, author, tutor and mathematics teacher at the Model High School Evangeliki of Smirni in Greece.

“Both Dr. Donahue-Wallace and Ms. Argyri are early adopters of game-based learning, not because they were told to do so, but rather because they both had a vision to take the learning experience to the next level,” said André Thomas, CEO of Triseum and director of the game-based learning LIVE Lab at Texas A&M University. “These educators advocate for the power of games in learning, they have been diligent in the way they use games to mentor and motivate their students, they participate in the research that goes into the game-based learning process, and they see its potential to measurably improve outcomes. We are thrilled to recognize these two outstanding instructors for their GBL ideas and implementations.”

Dr. Donahue-Wallace teaches Latin American and European early modern art, where she infused Triseum’s game, ARTé: Mecenas, into the curriculum as a way to further inspire students to connect with works of art and relate to the time period. She is the author of the award-winning online courses Art and Business, Art Appreciation for Non-Majors, and Art History Survey I. As a published author and expert in art history pedagogy, particularly for distance learning, Dr. Donahue-Wallace conducts workshops on pedagogy and assessment issues at national venues. She has received research fellowships and grants from Spain’s Program for Cultural Cooperation, Humanities Texas, the Fulbright Foundation, Indiana University, the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund, and UNT.

“Game-based learning engages my students in the content like no other approach. They move more deeply into the content and interact with it at a level that lecture and even problem-based learning don’t stimulate,” said Dr. Donahue-Wallace. “I am surprised by how much they are able to reflect on their learning after playing and designing games. Most importantly, game-based learning is both effective and fun. Score!”

An award-winning mathematics teacher in primary and secondary education, Argyri has researched and applied games in her classrooms to inspire students, as well as boost curriculum knowledge and retention. Her commitment to innovation in teaching and learning is exemplified in her work as a tutor for teachers to help them embrace advancements in education and as an author of educational and pedagogical materials and scenarios for STEM lessons. She led her students through Europe’s STEM Ahead competition and she has published numerous science papers both in Greece and across Europe. Argyri holds two master’s degrees, including a Master of Education in Teaching and Learning Mathematics. Using Triseum’s calculus game, Variant: Limits, she has helped students to not only master complex calculus concepts, but to find excitement and fun in the subject.

“Games make it possible to connect the science of mathematics with teaching and learning, not to mention they can have an incredible impact on students’ attitudes toward math,” said Argyri. “Triseum’s Variant: Limits aligns with so many of the theories that I believe impact the learning process and increase mathematical knowledge, including learning by doing, the motivation to study, cultivation of self confidence, and productive and analytical thinking. Math can be complicated, but Triseum has found a way to fuse learning and fun.” 

What Makes an Immersive Educational Game More than Just a Game?

Think back to some of your very first educational experiences. It’s highly likely that games played a role. They not only helped you acquire basic knowledge, they simply made the learning process more fun.

Now fast forward to your later academic years. Not nearly as many games, if any, right? Yet despite more advanced curriculum, games can still contribute in significant ways to the learning process, fostering engagement and boosting outcomes. Games answer the call for greater innovation and, simply put, they reinstate the fun.

Game-based learning is taking shape at colleges and universities across the country as educators look to games to recreate experiences and make content more relatable. Recent research even suggests that video games might make people better learners.

That said, not all games are created equal. The challenge is developing academic games that meet student digital literacy expectations and produce measurable results. Students today have grown up accustomed to highly interactive and sophisticated commercial entertainment games. Why should their educational games look and feel any different? Games need to be immersive and they need to be highly motivating, empowering students to go for that epic win and achieve content mastery. It’s an expensive process and one that demands rigorous research, collaboration and testing.


As we look at the development process involved in creating these highly imaginative, results driven, serious games, we must start with the end goal in mind. What do we want students to learn? This is more commonly known as the Student Learning Objective (SLO). At Triseum, we conduct extensive research to identify those subjects that students struggle with the most and brainstorm ideas on how to make the SLOs in those subjects more achievable. We work closely with subject matter experts to understand the educational need and the curriculum. For example, calculus has one of the highest failure rates of any college course, so we set out to provide students a conceptual understanding of Finite Limits, Continuity and Infinite Limits in our game, Variant: Limits™, where students must apply complex concepts to save a planet from powerful geomagnetic storms.

We tie all of our SLOs to Bloom’s Taxonomy to ensure the highest levels of educational pedagogy. From the very basic levels of remember and understand (that is to say, can the student identify and comprehend the calculus formulas), to apply (where the student must use the calculus concepts to solve a problem), and finally to more critical thinking skills where the student must analyze and evaluate theories to create a path that allows them to advance from one level to the next.

Once the SLOs are identified, we determine how the students will be evaluated on the mastery of those SLOs. This is more commonly known as assessments. We look at what assessments would like in a traditional course (i.e. tests, assignments, projects and presentations), and how we can adapt those to the game environment. Working closely with instructional designers, we develop creative scenarios for students to demonstrate mastery of the SLOs, and only 100% mastery will allow the student to advance.

Moving throughout our design matrix, next we review the content. We research what prerequisite knowledge the student must have and assess whether or not it should be included in the game in order to achieve the SLOs. We also anticipate learner behavior and how he or she will apply content to navigate through the game. For example, in our art history game, ARTé: Mecenas™, students assume the role of a Medici and balance relationships with powerful city-states, merchant factions and the Catholic Church or risk excommunication, exile and bankruptcy. We assess the likelihood that the student can recognize and match works of art, but even more importantly, understand the role of art given societal norms and the overall relevance to the people and policies of the time period.


At Triseum, we believe what better way to ensure a game is designed for the market it serves, than to include stakeholders from that market in the development process. Triseum was founded out of the LIVE Lab at Texas A&M University, and its students and faculty remain close collaborators on all of our games. Additionally, the conversations with our subject matter experts and instructional designers carry on throughout the entire game development process.

Together, we review ideas and determine which narrative and activities work best given the content at hand. Our learning team reviews concept art, game design documentation and multiple rounds of prototypes to ensure each game is intuitive, playable and enjoyable, but also visually appealing, interactive and suspenseful.


Play testing is the true measure of how the game will be received, and therefore, prior to any release, our learning team works closely with faculty and students to test the viability of our games. Testing takes place both internally and externally through practice and surveys. We aim to know does the game makes sense (what are students learning?), and does the game engage and motivate (is it fun?). There is a push-pull relationship between learning design and game design that we must balance to create an immersive and fun educational game that students want to play time and time again.

We also engage in ongoing research studies once our games are released in the market to make sure students are comprehending and retaining the information. For example, results from a joint IRB approved research study with Texas A&M University in Fall 2016 showed that, after approximately two hours playing ARTé: Mecenas, students in the experimental group had a knowledge gain of nearly 25% from pre-test to post-test.

More Than Just Another Game

The game-based learning market is estimated to reach $8.1 billion by 2022, a sure sign we’ve only just begun to realize its potential. Games that are designed around extensive research, collaboration and testing can boost learning outcomes in measurable ways. Games that mirror the imagination, interactivity, suspense and sophistication of their commercial counterparts have the power to make learning more fun. These kinds of immersive academic games are a win-win in this growing market.

Our approach has netted stellar reviews. Students have called our games intriguing, strategic and awesome, and they are excited about the game narratives, telling us, “I found myself wanting to advance because I wanted to know how the story ended.” We had one student tell us that Variant: Limits felt “like a real game and not a math game,” and even had another share the link with his former high math school teacher as a must have for students.

Educators, too, appreciate the rigorous educational value, immersive visual appeal and inspiring game play. “Through playing ARTé: Mecenas our students are driven to think more critically and connect with the content on a more profound level,” noted Tim McLaughlin, Department Head and Associate Professor, Department of Visualization, College of Architecture, Texas A&M University. “What really resonates is their excitement for the game and their motivation to master the subject matter.”

About André Thomas

André Thomas founded and serves as the director of the LIVE Lab in the Department of Visualization at Texas A&M University, where he also teaches game design, game development and interactive graphics techniques. He also serves as CEO of Triseum, which creates entertainment quality, immersive learning games for foundational subjects. Previously, he was Head of Graphics for EA Sports Football (including NCAA, Madden NFL, Head Coach, and NFL Tour), the longest running and most successful sports franchise in this history of the games industry.

This post was originally published in Emerging EdTech and is available here.

Playing Games to Learn

Most people separate games and learning. However, to me and many others, the separation is not only artificial, it is the exact opposite. Games are filled with learning opportunities. Games are the ultimate teacher—patient, consistent and unbiased.

In terms of learning, at the bare minimum, a player needs to learn rules and strategies to be successful in playing the game, but games also teach content, problem solving, critical thinking and other skills we are striving to integrate into higher education. Games provide a robust framework which educators need to tap.

Freedom to Fail

When well crafted, games provide learning opportunities at levels not achievable with many traditional learning methodologies. For example, games are excellent at teaching the concept of resilience and the value of viewing failure as an opportunity.

Think about it. In almost every situation within an academic setting failure is not an option. In many situations, failure is met with swift and punitive actions like failing a quiz, earning zero points on an assignment or getting a bad grade for a course.

Yet, most humans learn more from failure than from success. When students fail while playing a game, they often re-evaluate approaches, re-think existing methodologies and attempt new approaches. I’ve seen game players devise new strategies and develop “theories” for overcoming an extremely difficult “boss level” in a video game. Or choosing to do research on the web related to winning Monopoly so their brother can no longer get the upper hand every time they play.

The use of games encourages overcoming failure. When a college student fails at a game, they try again, they ask others how they were successful, and they think of other methods of approaching the game.

These are all skills that we want to encourage in our students. We faculty members can encourage those activities through the use of game-based learning and we can guide students to generalize the lessons learned from instructional games to wider life lessons.

Well-designed games allow students to explore the idea of failure in a safe and secure environment. What does it look like to try an unorthodox approach? What strategy might help me make this sale or solve this math problem? How can I approach this differently to achieve success the next time I try?

Importance of Fantasy in Learning Games

Games typically have the element of fantasy which provides a number of cognitive benefits that encourage the student to engage with the experience. Quite simply, the element of “fantasy” can help remove barriers and break down preconceived notions. A student may be resistant to a calculus class because he or she has never done well in calculus and isn’t “good at math.” But that same student might be interested in an adventure, solving a mystery or going on a quest and those fantasy elements can be incorporated into a game to teach calculus and the student, before he or she knows it, becomes open to exploring ideas and concepts related to calculus.

It is amazing to watch students wrapped up in a game and observe how they suddenly open up and try things they would not try otherwise or attempt problems in the game that they would never attempt on a worksheet. Fantasy allows the student to leave baggage behind and focus on the task at hand and then a good debrief about the game and lessons learned can bring the learning from the world of fantasy to the world of learning and transferability. Once the student knows he or she has been learning all this time, they gain a sense of confidence and excitement about their ability to master a difficult subject.

Games as Common Experiences

Finally, games provide a common experience to which all students in a class can reference. Given the diversity of student backgrounds, socio-economic situations and various life experiences, it’s often difficult to get one cultural reference point every student grasps from which a class discussion can be grounded. Games, on the other hand, provide a common experience which every student can reference and discuss in class. Have the students play a particular game and then discussions and references can be anchored on the game and everyone will have a common understanding.


As you can see, the concept of “playing to learn” can help students overcome failure and tackle challenges they would otherwise run away from, in addition to providing a common experience. Games can serve as an excellent instructional tool that can be used to help students think creatively, encourage experimentation and reflection, and provide opportunities for students to make safe mistakes. Games and play are just as important to college students as they are to younger children. When carefully integrated into a larger curriculum, games can provide a rich opportunity to foster learning at deep levels.


Karl M. Kapp, Ed.D., is a professor of Instructional Technology at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA where he teaches instructional game design and gamification classes. He serves as the Director of Bloomsburg’s Institute for Interactive Technologies which works with organizations to create interactive instruction including games and simulations. He has authored or co-authored seven books including The Gamification of Learning and Instruction and the book Play to Learn. He is author of several courses including the “Gamification of Learning.” Karl’s work explores the research, theoretical foundations and application of gamification, game-thinking and game-based learning, Karl has served as a Co-Principle Investigator on two National Science Foundation (NSF) grants related to games and simulations. He was recently named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Education. Karl speaks, consults and conducts workshops internationally helping organizations with the convergence of game-thinking, learning and technology. Follow him on Twitter @kkapp.