Trot to Trophy: Developing an Educational Game to Teach Horse Care
While learning shouldn’t be all horseplay, who says we shouldn’t play games to learn about horses? With educational games in higher education on the rise, DELTA’s Instructional Innovation Services teamed up with Dr. Shannon Pratt-Phillips, associate professor of equine nutrition and physiology, to create a horse game. The opportunity was the perfect union of DELTA’s desire to develop a serious game and Pratt-Phillips’ search for a mobile solution to reinforce concepts in her equine science course. This is how Trot to Trophy was born.
Pratt-Phillips approached DELTA through the IDEA Grants (now DELTA Grants) program looking for teaching solutions for her course, ANS 110: Introduction to Equine Science. Each semester her students enter the course with varying backgrounds and experience with horses, and she wanted a way to get students up to speed on the basic concepts of the course: nutrition, anatomy, breeds and horse careers. While she initially had a mobile app in mind, Pratt-Phillips embraced the DELTA team’s idea to explore a game approach.
“A game is a great way to capture a wide audience,” Pratt-Phillips said. “For students who already have some background in the area, the game allows them to build on what they know easily and practice in a fun way. For those students who have less experience, the game helps to reinforce concepts for them, at a pace that they can control.”
Developing Trot to Trophy was a welcome challenge for DELTA’s production team. While this small group of full-time staff led the project, they relied heavily on NC State student staff to research, storyboard, design, animate and program the game. The game’s artwork and animations were produced entirely by students. Through research, trial and error, and strong staff-faculty-student collaboration, the team saw the game take shape. And while attacking the mountain of technical details, they kept the educational focus and sound learning theories as the highest priorities.
“When you think about chunking content for student learning, mini-games are great ways to learn,” said Amanda Robertson, assistant director for educational media development and project lead for Trot to Trophy. “We could grab these discrete bits of knowledge, like nutrition or anatomy, and build individual mini-games out of them.”
This series of 15 mini-games formed Trot to Trophy, a smart, interactive, visually stunning 2-D game that entertains and teaches at the same time. Players start out as a ranch hand cleaning stables at Hillcrest Ranch and level up as they master increasingly complex concepts of horse care and nutrition. Along the way they encounter the spirited El Diablo, compete against the evil Luchador and earn Horse Bucks for their accomplishments. As they play and compete, they learn.
“I think faculty can become excited about the game development process when they realize that their students might actually play—and continue learning—long after the course is over,” Pratt-Phillips said.
The Trot to Trophy Web version is currently available at trottotrophy.ncsu.edu. The mobile version was released through the iTunes App Store in December 2014.