UVA Bay Game Wins National Education Award

The UVA Bay Game, a large-scale, interactive game simulation of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, is one of two winners of this year’s Leveraging Excellence Award from the National Consortium for Continuous Improvement in Higher Education, a group of 60 universities working together with the mission of advancing excellence in higher education and commitment to innovation and continuing improvement.

The award recognizes initiatives where effective academic and administrative practices have been implemented beyond a single department and have resulted in a significant impact on quality, efficiency, service or learning.

Dave Smith, associate chair of the Department of Environmental Sciences in the College of Arts & Sciences, will accept the award on behalf of the UVA Bay Game development team during NCCI’s Annual Conference on July 12 in Indianapolis. He also will give a presentation and demonstration of the game to conference attendees.

Along with Smith, the Bay Game’s development team and award co-winners include David Feldon, associate professor in the Curry School of Education; Eric Field, information technology specialist in the School of Architecture; Gerald Learmonth research associate professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science; Jeffrey Plank, associate vice president for research; Michael Purvis, research specialist in systems and information engineering; William Sherman, associate professor of architecture and director of the U.Va.’s OpenGrounds; Tom Skalak, vice president for research; and Mark White, associate professor in the McIntire School of Commerce.

“This award is wonderful for our University, gives more visibility to the UVA Bay Game and will allow us to leverage our connection with NCCI to possibly develop more of these kinds of teaching tools,” Smith said.

The UVA Bay Game is an interactive computer simulation game that allows players to take on the roles of people who live in the watershed and make their livelihoods from the resources of the bay – including farmers, developers, watermen and policymakers – and see how their decisions affect the health and economy of the watershed.

Because of the interdisciplinary nature of simulating the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the game was developed by people from across the University in a range of disciplines, working together to create the best interactive simulation game possible.

“The success of the game, and its acknowledgment with this national award, demonstrates that we can work without boundaries or disciplinary silos to address complex problems and improve education at all levels, from high school to college and even for the broader public,” Smith said. “The collaborative process of creating the Bay Game from different disciplines is an example of how education must evolve away from the silo model.”

The UVA Bay Game has been played by students, faculty and administrators at U.Va. and other universities and in corporate boardrooms, and has drawn the interest of legislators, corporate leaders and Chesapeake Bay watershed stakeholders. It helps players understand how complex natural systems, such as a major watershed, are affected by the often-competing interests of a variety of stakeholders, and how they might work collaboratively to solve challenging problems involving sustainability.

“The UVA Bay Game team has certainly earned and deserves this recognition,” said U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan. “The game is a wonderful example of a multi-disciplinary project that has implications far beyond the classroom. It shows with clarity how the actions of one can affect many, for better or worse. We’re proud of the team’s success on the UVA Bay Game and grateful for the NCCI recognition.”

The Bay Game also is a tool to help demonstrate the importance of political and civic collaboration in conservation efforts. The goal is to find a balance between creating the conditions needed for a healthy environment and maintaining strong economies.

“The UVA Bay Game is a perfect example of what the Leveraging Excellence Award was designed to recognize,” said Maury Cotter, NCCI past president and director of the Leveraging Excellence Program. “It begins with a creative innovation that has been successfully implemented, and then scales or ‘leverages’ that innovation for broader impact. The game does this beautifully by expanding to broader communities, with impressive impact and results.”

The Chesapeake Bay watershed extends over six states and the District of Columbia and covers 64,000 square miles. The bay itself is the largest estuary in the United States. It is affected daily by a broad range of individuals, communities and industries, many with conflicting interests.

“There have been pollution problems with the Bay for decades, and while many efforts have been made to improve conditions, the problems persist,” Smith said. “The UVA Bay Game is designed to help people recognize the complexity of those problems – created by self-interest and unintended consequences – and begin to work more collaboratively toward solutions that ultimately will benefit everybody by improving our environment.”

The UVA Bay game also is being modified, under the name “UVA Water Games,” to simulate major watersheds in other areas, including in Texas and Australia.

Sponsored by U.Va.’s Office of the Vice President for Research, the game was created with the input and knowledge of 11 departments in eight of the University’s academic units. The Virginia Sea Grant program provided additional support for presenting the game for use by other universities.

The other winner of this year’s Leveraging Excellence Award is the University of Washington for a finance and facilities project. A panel of university presidents and other leaders of universities and educational groups selected the winners for the impact and scalability of their projects.

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