Topics: College of Architecture and Planning, Immersive Learning, Sustainability/Environment

September 14, 2007

Navigating Nature
<b>Participants in the Navigating Nature project gather around Martha Hunt, who mentored the students through the immersive learning experience at the Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry.</b>
What prize do you get for creating a video game that focuses on sustainability?

If you are a group of students from Ball State University, you garner national honors from the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).

The 12 students - an interdisciplinary team from landscape architecture, biology, natural resources, telecommunications, computer science and English - won a 2007 ASLA Student Award for creating Navigating Nature, a video game that teaches elementary students to protect and reclaim natural environments. The group was mentored by Martha Hunt, assistant professor of landscape architecture, and created the game as a supplement to traditional learning.

Rather than listen to a lecture from a teacher, elementary school students learn about sustainability from a cottonwood tree that introduces the game, a bird that needs help replanting an old-growth forest, a beaver that connects wetlands to a running water supply and a butterfly that replaces invasive plants with natural prairie species.

The students developed Navigating Nature through an immersive learning experience at Ball State's Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry. During the semester-long project, they developed the concept, play-tested the game with a second-grade class at Muncie's Storer Elementary and created the final product. To learn more about the project, go to

"FUN!" wrote one of judges of the ASLA competition. "Not only a great collaboration but a valuable teaching tool to reach out to young people in an approach that will effectively increase their learning and awareness of environmental factors."

The critical praise the game is receiving is a credit to the students' creativity, energy and dedication, in Hunt's view.

"I was already incredibly proud of them, and this award is the icing on the cake," she said. "I'm thankful that the Virginia Ball Center provides this one-of-a-kind learning opportunity for students and faculty. While the award is being given by ASLA, the creation of the game was truly an interdisciplinary effort, and it took students from six different majors to design the game and make it a reality."

Malcolm Cairns, chairman of the landscape architecture department, believes the four students traveling to the awards program at ASLA's annual meeting in San Francisco Oct. 8 will represent the university well.

"It's exciting to see our students' accomplishments on display at a national venue," he said. "I'm confident they will compare favorably with the other winning student projects from other outstanding schools across the country."