Gaming with a Goal – Geography Knowledge

A few years ago, Candy Lee, a professor at the Medill School of Journalism, realized an educational deficiency in herself and her students: knowledge of geography.  What Candy noticed in her courses is reflected in the United States at large.  A National Geographic poll of over 500 Americans aged 18-24 showed that not only could 6% of those surveyed not locate their own country on a map of the world, nine in 10 were unable to find Afghanistan.

“As far as I know, people don’t study geography,” said Candy. “One of my students said to me, ‘If I’d known that Turkey bordered Syria I would have understood the refugee crisis much better.’”

That was the germ of her idea to create a game aimed at increasing the knowledge of geography for the Northwestern community.

Wildcat GeoGame

The Wildcat GeoGame was developed through a joint collaboration between the Northwestern Visualization Services team, the NUX Studio, and Northwestern Information Technology’s Advanced Media Production Studio. Questions and additional facts about each country were contributed by Kelsey Rydland, a librarian whose particular expertise is in geography.

The game is fast and easy to play – it takes about 10 seconds. Once a day over the course of an academic quarter, players go to the Daily Northwestern site and click on the GeoGame link. After logging in, they are presented with a map and a question, such as, “Where is Ecuador?”  The player can zoom in on the map and even leave the application to check an answer.  After making a selection, the player learns whether they were right or wrong and an interesting fact about the country. If a player correctly answers 30 questions during the quarter, they’ll receive a coupon for a free pie from Blaze Pizza.

Knowing that rewards drive participation, Candy knew she wanted to include a substantial prize from the beginning. The Blaze pizza provides an incentive to come back every day.

“People like learning,” Candy said, “When I say the game is for a pizza with unlimited toppings, their eyes twinkle.”

And lo and behold, free pizza is indeed the perfect motivator for Northwestern students as over 83% of users are returning day after day to play the game. 

“People work hard to get an A,” muses Candy, “But I don’t know that it’s fun. If we can offer a game and the incentive is fun, we’d have a different way of looking at how learning can engage people.” 

The student response has been overwhelmingly positive. Medill graduate student Heather Cho said, “This Wildcat GeoGame gave me a chance to explore the world instantly. I realized that I was the frog in the well who had narrow perspective, knowing only the places I’ve been before. But now I know where Gabon is in the map! I'm looking forward to having Blaze pizza soon!”

Over the Fall Quarter the game was played almost 10,000 times and produced 142 winners representing students, faculty, and staff from almost every Northwestern school. Congratulations to all the winners!   

A new game will start at the beginning of the Winter Quarter, so remember to visit the Daily Northwestern homepage on January 3rd for your next chance to win a free Blaze pizza.