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Games and Simulations in Construction Engineering

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Architectural and civil engineers are using rich digital tools to simulate constructed buildings. Similar tools are also being used in digital video games and virtual reality games that might teach future engineers. Dr. Fadi Castronovo speaks about his efforts to advance engineering education using simulations and games like these. Fadi is an engineering professor at California State University, East Bay (or Cal State East Bay), an architectural engineer by training, and an educational game designer. He also talks about his students’ game to teach sustainability practices, his favorite video games, and his background across the world.

Our closing music is “Yes And” by Steve Combs, used under a Creative Commons Attribution License.

Subscribe and leave episode reviews wherever you get your podcasts. Support Pios Labs with regular donations on Patreon, by purchasing digital teaching materials at the Pios Labs curriculum store, or by buying a copy of the reference book Engineer's Guide to Improv and Art Games by Pius Wong. You'll also be supporting educational tools and projects like Chordinates! or The Calculator Gator. Thanks to our donors and listeners for making the show possible. The K12 Engineering Education Podcast is a production of Pios Labs.


Pius Wong  0:00 

Virtual reality, game development, and recycling on this episode of The K12 Engineering Education Podcast.


Pius Wong  0:13 

Digital simulations have become enormously helpful tools for architectural and civil engineers. Now, some of these simulations also include educational games. I'm your host, Pius Wong, and my guest today is Dr. Fadi Castronovo, an engineer and professor in the Department of Engineering at California State University East Bay, outside San Francisco. Fadi spoke to me about his research on games for education in construction, engineering, and other topics. We started by talking about what he teaches at the university.


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  0:51 

Yeah, I teach general introduction to engineering classes to all my engineering students. We have I have industrial engineers. I have also construction managers. I have also computer engineers as well.


Pius Wong  1:08 

Oh, you get every single hardcore engineer, is what it sounds like.


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  1:12 

We try. We're soon going to be opening civil engineering. So that's the one missing. But construction management is very closely related to what civil engineers do. So they are they're very close.


Pius Wong  1:26 

I noticed that a lot of your research focuses on construction engineering and architecture engineering. Would you say that that's where a lot of your interests are?


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  1:36 

Yes. So my background, I am an architectural engineer by training, and also a civil engineer. I worked in architectural firms. Yeah, I think that is my main interest. It's not my only interest, but definitely that's one of the things that motivated me in both in my professional and also in my research, understanding how architectural engineers, civil engineers, and also architects, can work together and can also be educated to work together.


Pius Wong  2:07 

That sounds like kind of your M.O. You combine all these different disciplines in what you do, and what your research is all about over at Cal State. And that's exactly what I want to talk to you about. I think the teachers and engineers listening might get a kick out of some of your work on utilizing games in engineering education. So I'll get into that in a second. But you also mentioned how you did other stuff before you started becoming a professor. Could you go into detail about what that was like, what you did before teaching?


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  2:39 

Sure. So I guess I'll give also a little bit of my educational background. I got my Bachelor of Civil Engineering in New York City at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art back in about 2009. And when I was coming out, unfortunately, we were having the economic crisis that kind of was blocking a lot of recruitment in engineering. So I decided to go into my Masters in architectural engineering and kind of study how can we bring about and support sustainable buildings. And so I moved to Denmark for two years where I did my studies there. I studied how to design sustainable buildings, and started learning more and more how we can design 3D models that are rich with information that are really important for the design of buildings. And along with that, I was working -- After my Master's I started working as an architect. I am originally from Italy. So I went back to my home country. I worked there for about two years in a small architecture studio in Rome, doing everything from designing architecture to designing engineering systems, developing sustainability evaluations and solutions. And then I decided to understand more how we can shape the future minds of engineers. One of the things that I was noticing while I was working is that there was a disconnect between the engineer and the architect and engineering, even disconnects even within the engineers themselves, disconnects between the mechanical engineer and the civil and the architectural engineer. And so I was -- How can we try to tackle that disconnect? And how can we make sure that they start integrating a little bit better? I thought to myself, okay, what was the thing that kind of blocked me from wanting to go and integrate and kind of work together with others? And it was seeing how my discipline civil engineering, I went back and thought, Oh, my building was completely separate from the architecture building. And I wonder why is that? Why can't I be taking classes with the architects? And obviously, there are some discipline-specific differences. And that's quite understandable. But at the same time, I also thought that there have to be new instructional methods and new instructural experiences for the students to integrate and kind of work together, because in the end, we will have to work together. So we've got to learn also how to work well together and work in an integrated matter. So because of that interest and desire to kind of change the industry and make sure that the future students that are going to be coming out have knowledge on how to integrate themselves and how to work together within teams, I decided to go back and do my research at Penn State University in architectural engineering.


Pius Wong  5:54 

Wow. And briefly then, what is the difference between architecture and say, civil engineering? Because they both work with structures or buildings. What's the disconnect between them?


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  6:04 

That's a that's a very good question. And I would like to say that architectural engineers tend to focus a little bit more on buildings, and how to put together buildings, and how to design the building, both in the structure and the lighting, the construction of the process, the management of it. Civil engineers transcend just buildings. They can work with buildings, but they can also work with bridges, with dams, big civil and infrastructure projects, roads, and so forth. Civil engineers can also focus on environmental systems. So water purification systems and so forth. So architectural engineers are kind of a hybrid, as if architecture and civil engineers have a child, then they're the ones that know how to work with the structure, but also can design as well.


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  6:09 

You mentioned how one of the common threads in your past education and then your work and what you do now is looking at virtual environments. And it sounded like you started thinking about that when you were studying in Denmark. Is that correct?


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  7:22 

Yes. So one of the things that I was signed to see was a new way to design buildings. And that's something that both the United States and also Europe was already starting to look at during the mid-2000s, was that we wanted to visualize building, but not just visualize the information such as the XY coordinates or how wide or how tall a column is, but we wanted to also know what was the material, what was the strength, who was the manufacturer of the concrete, or the number of rebars that are inside of it. And so there is a new trend within the construction industry that we want to develop these virtual models that illustrate not only the visual aspect of the building, but also can hold information such as cost, such as material, such as the strength of the material, and so forth. And this is called building information modeling. And it's becoming quite common in the industry. I think back in 2012, they saw that about 70% of contractors were already utilizing this kind of method of designing and visualizing buildings in one shape or another. However, the one thing that kind of really got me interested in not just the visual but the virtual aspect of the building, was when I was at Penn State working under my great advisor Dr. John Messner. We started looking at how we can use virtual reality in addition to just visualizing the building on a computer, but how can we use virtual reality to improve the delivery of a building?


Pius Wong  9:14 

So that means not just looking at it in 3D on a computer, but kind of stepping into it also.


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  9:21 



Pius Wong  9:21 

Okay. Well, you just made me think of one of the key parts of your research that was really interesting to me when I was reading it. It reminded me of your Virtual Construction Simulator. I don't know if that's yours, or if that's something you developed, or that's something that someone else developed that you're utilizing. Could you talk about that a little bit?


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  9:40 

Sure. So one of the -- I was the fourth iteration or generation or the Virtual Construction Simulator. It I started a couple years, several years ago, and I came to Penn State when the third iteration of the game had just finished. Some of the previous developers and researchers were already starting to look at the educational value of the game, and in particular understanding how are students gaining knowledge? And when I came in, I was really interested in, what is the in-depth power of gaming and educational games? And in particular, how are students engaging in complex problem-solving skills and cognitive skills?


Pius Wong  10:35 

Is the Virtual Construction Simulator based on those building information management tools that you're talking about earlier? Is it something that simulates what students would use if they work as a professional architectural engineer?


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  10:51 

So when we developed the game, we did use these software to generate the design of different building structures that we asked the students to look at. However, the game itself doesn't engage the students in using those professional tools. However, it does engage students in a fairly well-simulated environment of construction, meaning that instead of knowing how to use the tools, we test if they know how to deal with the situation that they're being presented. In particular, what this Virtual Construction Simulator does, it asks the students to engage into their capabilities of generating a construction schedule, and also executing that schedule and seeing the factors that affect that schedule. Whether it be the the weather, whether it be the fatigue of the workers, or not having enough workers on site, or the site being too too busy. So what we ask the students is to engage into a multiple array of cognitive and metacognitive processes. By cognitive, I mean, just thinking, like, are they thinking, and are they engaging in the thinking processes that we want? And in relationship to metacognitive, we want them to develop an awareness of the actions they are taking, and understanding and shaping their own understanding of their own management skill set and process that they engage in. So the game starts off with having the students look at a construction site, the first version of the game, they have to build a wooden shed, and they have to click on a 3D model of the building and select a sequence. For example, they would select that I want the columns be placed before putting in the beams, and I want the wooden trusses of the wooden shed to be placed after I put on the columns and so forth. So they have to interact in a 3D environment to generate that schedule. They also have to select the best or the optimal construction methods, whether they want to use a hammer to nail in the columns to the beams or they want to use a pneumatic hammer so it's faster, and is it cheaper or not? Do they want to use a cart to bring in the concrete, or do they want to use a pump to place the concrete? Does it warrant the need of a pump? So they are asked to engage in also these evaluation skills that are, Am I selecting the best method? And am I selecting based on the cost? Am I selecting based on the productivity? Is it faster or is it slower?


Pius Wong  14:04 

They are looking at the building on a computer screen, and making these construction decisions, and clicking play or something, and then it shows them what the building would look like as it comes up with those decisions?


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  14:20 

So that was what I was about to say. That's the first part. Actually creating schedule is the first part, but then they actually have to deal with the day-to-day site. So we take them to a day-by-day simulation. So they have created an ideal construction schedule. However, nothing is ideal in the world. And so they have to deal with the weather, the fatigue of the workers. Maybe they didn't call enough workers on site, and maybe there's some workers that are calling in sick. So they have to deal with with those factors and they will see vary quickly that even though they might have created the perfect plan, when they start executing that plan, there are factors that they cannot control for. And so this is the power of the game, itself, is, teaching the students that yes, you can create a perfect game, or sorry, a perfect schedule. But there are things that you need to know how to deal with on a day-by-day basis. And how is that affecting the productivity of the site?


Pius Wong  15:27 

It reminds me of some old games that I know from a long time ago. Maybe you've heard of SimCity or RollerCoaster Tycoon or something, or maybe listeners know of those games. Is it anything like those other simulation games? Or is it inspired by those really successful games?


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  15:49 

Well, the first team that generated the Virtual Construction Simulator, I believe that they probably were inspired. I know that definitely the third time, they're the third generation, because I got to interact with them quite a lot before I took over the project. I know that there was definitely this desire to create something that wasn't just too serious, but there are fun aspects to it, right? And so it it is engaging the students in -- And the the simulation itself is not extremely close to reality, because there's so many factors that can happen on the site. But I think that it is exposing them to the main factors that are going to be on the site. And that's what I believe is the play between educational games and just a pure game. Now SimCity, I still play it, I play it on my cell phone, I played the BuildIt version, so I love that game. SimCity is definitely a simulation game. However, it is still closer to a game than it is to a true simulation, because there are definitely factors that, you know, that are quite needed in order to generate or maintain a city, at least the one on the cell phone. But to answer your question, yes, we we are playing with this definition of gaming that is not just the Super Mario or the Zelda games that, you know, I still play myself. But it is not just that. Tt is exposing the students to real-world factors and making sure that they achieve learning objectives that we set forward.


Pius Wong  17:34 

You did a lot of doctoral research on the success, I guess, or the effectiveness of the Virtual Construction Simulator, updated, version four. What were some of the results that you found about this type of simulator when it comes to educating possible future engineers?


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  17:55 

That's a great question. So some of the facts, or some of the research that I performed, was understanding both the cognitive and metacognitive processes that the students were engaging in. So I'll talk first about that aspect, what are the students engaging in? And then also talk about, are they scoring better on exams or tests that we give them? For the first part, I was really interested in understanding what our students, or just users or gamers, thinking while playing games, such as the Virtual Construction Simulator? And so one of the methods that I use in order to capture that, I use a protocol called think aloud protocols or think aloud methods, where I was recording the students while they were using the game, and they were talking out loud about anything that they were doing or whatever came to their mind, and I was recording that. And right now I'm still in the process of going through over 15 hours worth of recordings. I just had an assistant help me go through that. And now we're going to see how many times the students engage in processes such as evaluation, or such as monitoring, or such as control or hypothesis. So it's really coming down to showing that games do engage the students in complex thinking, and it is not just, you know, playing or having fun, but it is something complex, and that's something that I really care about, because whenever I was a child, my parents would say, oh, you're just playing video games. That's going to rot your brain. My parents let me play a lot of video games, but sometimes I played too much. But I do want to also get to a point where I say, Well, you know, they are engaging in something that is very complex, and that it is not simple to solve these problems. Tt does take quite a lot of intellect. And it does take quite a lot of skills that, you know, we're typically not thinking about when we're thinking about gaming. And so that's the first assessment that I'm doing. It's kind of really digging into what are the users thinking? And I will definitely let you know how, what are the complete findings, but I can tell you already from early analysis that we're seeing is that yes, students definitely do engage into complex thinking. And the game does promote that complex thinking and allows them to get better, because as they were playing, we asked them to play them multiple times, and they were getting better at playing the game. Regarding the educational benefit that I did in my doctoral studies, I looked at, how are students increasing their test scores from before playing the game, to after playing the game?This was done in a quasi-experimental way. So I didn't have a control group. So I can't say that they increase their skill sets or knowledge better than something else. So right now, we're still very early in the evaluation. But I had over 100 students play the game, and just doing a pretest/post-test analysis, I already can see that there is a difference in terms of how they're scoring on assessments related to scheduling, related to developing a construction cycle.


Pius Wong  21:51 

And these are the same assessments you would give your students anyway if they hadn't been playing the game.


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  21:57 

Yes, absolutely. When we were generating the assessment, we wanted to make sure that it was something as close as possible to definitely the classroom environment and what we would give the exam. One thing that I do want to touch upon, though, is that when assessing, it is hard to assess a student's learning when they just gained something that they wouldn't be able to capture or gain while reading a book. And that's something that I think video games or gaming educational games can provide, is the fact that they are exposed to an environment that gives them instantaneous feedback. A lot of classrooms, when students give me a schedule, I need to go over it, I need to evaluate it, and maybe after a week, I'm able to give it back to them. And as much as I wish my students will go back and reevaluate what I give them as feedback, I know that it is a challenge, and so they might not go back to it. But with the game, they're able to get feedback instantaneously. And so it is hard to assess also that feedback when comparing it to traditional homework and an environment that provides them as simulated feedback.


Pius Wong  23:19 

One of the big educational trends today is about providing instant feedback but in some kind of online environment. It might not be a game, but it might be like an online quiz. What's the difference between using some service like that, and a simulation or a game like the Virtual Construction Simulator? And I'm only asking because clearly the Virtual Construction Simulator, it sounds cool and interesting, but it all sounds really complicated and expensive to get going, whereas having, like, an online quiz might be cheaper. What's the difference between something like that?


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  23:19 

One of the things that I think definitely learned from my doctoral studies is that what games provide is an integration of multiple types of representations. Whether it be visual or graphical or auditory, game integrates all of those together. And a quiz might be able to capture some of those. And it might be able to capture them in a static situation, meaning a snapshot of knowledge in that moment. With the game, students need to engage into those thinking processes multiple times, they have to read instructions, they have to look at the 3D model. You have to react to the feedback that they're receiving right away in order to make sure that the construction site is being delivered on time. They don't get to have that kind of feedback. Is there schedule correct? Or is it going to be built on time? In a quiz. So I think that it is a different type of feedback. And so I don't -- I'm not excluding quizzes or electronic teachers out of the tool set. But I think it is a supporting tool set or supporting tool that can be included together with online quizzes and so forth.


Pius Wong  25:26 

And it strikes me that games, like you said, they involve a lot of different modes of thinking and stimulation. In fact, I remember reading, you use the phrase experiential learning. It's like one form of experiential learning. Do you think that this translates to your students actually applying the same knowledge on the job or in future engineering environments?


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  25:56 

That's a great question and that's something that I will let you know once I find out. But what I can tell you though, in terms of transfer, that I want to definitely understand how how are the knowledge and skill sets that they're gaining from the game translating into the real world environment. What I can tell you, though, from my research is that they are able to translate it from one type of construction to another. So the VCS, the first module that we introduced to students is a wooden structure. The other modules that we have is a concrete, three-story building, and a steel three-story building. And what we noticed was that by exposing the students to these modules, they're not only able to transfer those skill sets from one module to the next, they're able to also retain them. So is it going to be ready retained all the way to the job site? I cannot say yet, but the fact that they're able to take it from one type of construction to the next is already a pretty big, it's a pretty big feature of the game that we're able to transfer from one point to the other.


Pius Wong  27:17 

That's really interesting. I definitely will want to follow up with you to hear those results in the future. And finally, we talked a lot about how much learning that your students do in using that construction simulator, but I'm wondering how fun is the game? Can other people play it? Will the average person on the street enjoy it?


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  27:39 

Will the average player? Probably not, and the reason why is because, while it is a game, it is still it is an educational simulation game that is still fairly close to a simulation, and unless you are extremely interested in joining the construction world, I would say that it might not be as engaging. My wife, she's an engineer. She's an agricultural and biological engineer. I've asked her to play it. And while she gave me great feedback, one of the main feedback was okay, after five minutes, I'm done playing.


Pius Wong  28:19 

[laughs] That's too bad. It sounded really interesting. I mean, I'm not a civil engineer, but I have my mechanical engineering brain in me. So maybe that's why I wanted to play it.


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  28:31 

You can definitely play it.


Pius Wong  28:33 

Oh, I can?


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  28:34 

Yes, yes. So it's also free. This project was supported by the NSF, the National Science Foundation. And it is free to play. You can go to my website, and it will redirect you to the Penn State website that it is being hosted on, and you can download it. I hope the link is still up, and if it's not, I will make sure that it you do get a copy.


Pius Wong  28:54 

Thank you, and I will put a link onto the episode show notes when it comes up. So I'll make sure to do that. Is it available for a lot of different systems or just one particular,


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  29:05 

I believe that when we made it, we made available for both Mac and Windows, not mobile.


Pius Wong  29:12 

Okay. It strikes me that in the future, it'd be great to somehow get data from the public. If average people download it and play it. And if you could give them the same tests, I wonder if they would learn aspects of construction engineering, just like your students.


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  29:28 

So that is actually -- You're already reading into into our next proposal of research, because that is something that I want to kind of understand and take the development of the virtual construction simulator to a web platform. So we want to be able to see whether we can import it onto Chrome or Firefox for anybody to play, so that we can get instantaneous data and also dive into kind of like a big data aspect of, what is the educational gaming benefits? So, yes, definitely that is already in our mind.


Pius Wong  30:04 

Fantastic. Let me know if you ever want high school student data or something. I know there's privacy issues with that. But if you want high school teachers or K-12 teachers to test it out, I could try to share that with people listening.


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  30:17 



Pius Wong  30:18 

You have another game that I had read about, or simulation, whichever word we want to use. It's called Attack of the Recyclops. Can you describe a little of what that is?


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  30:30 

Yeah, so it's a game being developed by two of my students. And I have other students that have worked on it, they have transferred. So right now it's down to two team, a team of two. So Attack of the Recyclops, it's a game that my students came up with the idea of wanting to teach their classmates from the entire college and the entire university the importance of recycling. And so I let them go wild with their imagination. And they come up with this story where the campus has descended into darkness. And the recycling bins on campus have turned into monsters because they are revolting against the practice of throwing the wrong trash in the wrong bin. So we have two bins. One is a composting bin called the composter. One is for general trash and landfill called the trasher. And the third one is the Recyclops for recycling material. And the point of the game is for the user to walk around campus, pick up trash, and then throw it at the correct monster so that the monster can return back to a normal bin. But that's the premise of the game. It is a virtual reality game. So the user will be immersed on the campus. It's been quite a long journey in developing this game. And the reason is because I wanted to get students that were very young. And even if they didn't have too much coding experience, I wanted them to be excited about the generation of the game. And what we did was recreate the entire campus in 3d using tools such as SketchUp, and we're using Unity as our gaming platform. And so it took them quite a long time, but that's because, you know, they're still learning, and I'm very proud of what they've done. And so right now we have the entire campus. They have developed the models for the monsters, and next is finishing up the game mechanics where if you shoot the right monster, it will disappear and you get a score.


Pius Wong  32:56 

You can tell your students that sounds amazing. I thought it sounded fantastic reading about it. When -- I know that this is too soon, but when could the public see something like this?


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  33:07 

We're hoping by the end of the academic year of this 2018-2019 academic year to be completely done. I also gave that as a hard deadline for my students so that they feel a little bit of pressure.


Pius Wong  33:20 

And you mentioned, you're using a bunch of pretty high caliber game design tools, including Unity. And you said it was a virtual reality game. Does that mean the VR glasses that you put on, that kind of thing?


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  33:34 

Yes, so they're right now developing for the Oculus Rift. That's the development platform and integration that they're using with Unity. We're not developing anything with an HTC Vive or kind of standing platform. And the reason was that they want the students to be -- they want to include this in a classroom environment. And so one of the classrooms that we have here at CaSU East Bay, they were able to have about 12 computers that are virtual reality ready. And so they wanted the students to play this in a classroom. And so it possibly would be difficult to use an open footprint headset like the HTC Vive, so we opted for an Oculus Rift. We're considering also making sure that other people that are outside of the classroom can play it. So we're also developing a desktop version as well.


Pius Wong  34:32 

What's the design process for developing an educational game? Is it any different from the design process for developing a standard engineering product?


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  34:44 

That's a very good question. And the reason why I say it's a very good question is because I'm kind of self-taught game designer. Being a architectural engineer, I did not go to design school -- I'm sorry, the game design school or the game design program. But I have read some really good books regarding the art of game design. And the way that I approach it is similar to the engineering design process and kind of product development process where I get the students to first analyze the user, I understand who the user is going to be. What are the learning objectives? What is the environment that they're going to be? What are the needs of the user? What are the constraints that the user is going to encounter when playing this game? And then we jump into kind of like design and translating the objectives or what we want the user to experience into the game. And one of the fun things that the students really love doing and that I get them engaged in, is the storyboarding process of the game. So creating a snapshot by snapshot in time of what the user is going to be doing, where they're going to click on things, how is the environment going to react to when you click on or interact with an object. So it is very similar to, I want to say, typical design process. But definitely the it is very iterative. So when we do have an early beta, we try to go back and kind of re-crash the program and we go through it. And we definitely try to engage users and see whether we are hitting the mark in terms of our objectives right away.


Pius Wong  36:33 

Okay, so even though you don't have the final product, your students are going out and getting user reactions.


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  36:39 



Pius Wong  36:40 

I guess when you're designing a building, it sounds like you use simulations to get those reactions, but you can't just rebuild a building over and over.


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  36:48 

Yes, that is quite correct. And that's why there is a little bit of difference between the type of design process that I was engaging in versus the one that I teach to my students.


Pius Wong  36:59 

You know, when you we're describing the game and the goal of educating students to put recycling in the right place, it reminds me of what's happening here in Austin, Texas. They just started a composting, citywide composting service. And they're trying to teach citizens where to put, you know, soiled cardboard and where to put trash and where to put pet hair and all this stuff. And it seems like the city of Austin at least would be totally interested in an educational game, like Attack of the Reyclops, except for teaching citizens where to put different things for composting. And in fact, I know that the city of Austin gives grants for some video game designs, and I think it's just because Austin is a digital city. I'm wondering, has anyone shown interest in some of your projects? Like, has a municipality or the state of California ever said, Oh, we want a game like this, an educational game or some kind of virtual reality tool like this?


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  38:02 

Not yet. And the reason is because I want to make sure that my students have a fairly close to final product before I go out and kind of reach out. I'm traditional in that sense that I try to have a good product before I try to recruit or try to find funding. But at least in terms of the general direction that the group that the students are part of, and my research group is part of, there's definitely been interest already in collaborating with other universities on other types of projects.


Pius Wong  38:37 

It sounds like you probably would also want to do some kind of research on the effectiveness of that game, too, just like your construction simulator. And I think that that might take a while, to see how well it improves how well students recycle. Do you think that that type of research is doable for all of these educational technology products?


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  39:01 

I think it is essential that we do this kind of research. I think that before we can put anything into the classroom, we must make sure that it is effective. And even if it is in a test environment, or test classroom, I do think that before we disseminate, or say this is the best way to and to engage students, I think we need to really evaluate that. And that's my main passion. I am not a VR evangelist. And the reason is because just like my approach to trying to find funders, I want to make sure that it is something that does work. And before I can say to the class classroom teachers, yes, everybody should get an Oculus, or everybody should get an iPad to do augmented reality with, I want to make sure that there is a benefit. And what -- on top of what is the benefit is, how to integrate it in the classroom. And one of the things that I've have interacted with teachers about, is that they believe that, Oh, this is going to either remove me or it's going to kind of remove the traditional methods of teaching. I don't think that VR is going to be a replacement for the methods in which we teach, or even augmented reality is a replacement in the way we teach. But I think it is a support. Or if we see the classroom as an orchestra, that there's different tools, and each each tool of teaching is an instrument. I think that VR is part of that orchestra, and it is a tool that we should implement. But there's still research that needs to be fully done in order to say yes, 100% we should definitely implement it. I think there's already some good research out there that has illustrated the potential of virtual reality. And I think that we're getting to that point where we can say, yes, VR is a important tool to be included in the classroom or even educational games. Virtual reality, itself, we need a little bit more time. I think games, everybody should be playing games in the classroom, together with reading the book, together with other methods. I think that it is one of the tools that we definitely have to have in the classroom.


Pius Wong  41:35 

So let me go back to talking about teaching engineers then what other opportunities are there for better teaching engineers using games? I know that you're already doing it with this architectural and construction, software or simulator. What other things do you think could be done with games that we aren't really doing yet?


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  41:56 

I think that on top of knowledge and problem-solving skills, I think that there is a need to support engineers in gaining soft skills. And in particular, because of the way that the industry is trying to change itself from being a -- I don't want to say toxic, but definitely stressful environment, especially construction is very stressful. I think that we need to teach our students ways to maintain a healthful life, both in a physical aspect but also in a mental aspect. And so I think that there is a need to teach our students not only with games, but in general, about mental health and just general physical health that they should keep up, being part of their daily life. Especially because engineering is a very stressful environment and construction is a very stressful environment, where we have people that we sometimes have to deal with, and situations that we have to deal with, deadlines. So I think that it's important to develop emotional intelligence and also a mindful way of approaching the stress that we live in. So I think that there is especially a great potential of research in understanding how can games and virtual reality can also support the future generation of students in gaining these mental health practices and maintaining a healthful life.


Pius Wong  43:36 

So you think that games don't just teach these technical skills, but they can teach these other social or emotional skills? That's interesting.


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  43:44 

Yes, I think that they can. I haven't seen too much research. I've seen some amazing games that can teach you about emotional response. And there's some great research. There's a really good game related to autism. And since I think it's called the Autism Simulator, and that's something that I never had experienced in my life and I think that it's a great way to engage students in understanding life scenarios that are not within their normal everyday life. So I think that there is a need to introduce students to these kind of environments and life experiences that can enhance their their emotional response and emotional intelligence.


Pius Wong  44:37 

Can games reach everyone? Are games right for, like, every student, every engineering student, or does it work best with certain types of students? Like only students that already play games, something like that?


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  44:50 

That's a good question. So far, I had some experiences with students that don't play games, and they are at least open to the idea of, or at least the experience of, going through a game and experiencing it. I can't say that it is for everybody, because, you know, I need to do that research or at least look into the research that has been done. I definitely would need to understand if there is limitations in terms of age or socioeconomic background that might block people from wanting to play games. Definitely, you know, if somebody has lived all their lives that, you know, playing games is something silly, they might not be very predisposed to playing games, but I can't really say whether there's going -- what are the actual limitations.


Pius Wong  45:51 

You know, you mentioned that you, yourself, like games, and you have played a lot of games. For teachers or professionals who have never played a game, like let's say they're one of those folks who aren't necessarily gamers, what's one game that maybe they should know about?  Besides yours.


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  46:14 

[laughs] That's a really tough question. Because I -- There's so many great games out there. And there's so many great experiences that one can have. I think that definitely to understand what is the potential of games in a classroom, I want to say two games. I think definitely Civilization, overall, is an important game that I think everybody should at least experience once, because it has so many components. It has history. It has strategy. It has economics. It has politics in it. So it is something that, you know, it is a great game to be introduced to. And also SimCity. SimCity was one of the games that I had on my Windows 98 computer, together with, I think I want to say Duke Nukem.


Pius Wong  47:12 

That's opposite sides of the spectrum there.


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  47:14 

It is definitely opposite sides, because I like to be, you know, to play games that are, you know, that I need to strategize, but I also want to play games that are just pure fun to play with. But I definitely think that Civilization and SimCity, even getting it on the phone, I think it's something that any teacher can start, and understanding the rules and in how to make sure that you're optimal in both your strategies but also in terms of city building.


Pius Wong  47:49 

Those are some good answers. Thank you. I guess you make me realize that, yeah, games have a wide range of what they could be. And probably we haven't even explored everything that digital games can be, since we're just getting into virtual reality. What do you think about augmented reality games? So not the games where you put on glasses and step in the world entirely, but games that kind of blend what you see in real life with some kind of overlaid digital reality? Is there a potential for augmented reality to be good for education?


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  48:29 

Yes, definitely. So first of all, there's two types, or I want to also differentiate between augmented and mixed reality. A student of mine just last week asked me this difference between augmented and mixed, and the reason why I want to make that distinction is because augmented is, yes, the overlay of virtual information over the real world through glasses, maybe by looking through an iPad. You can overlay information. Mixed reality is that, plus the fact that the virtual environment reacts to the real world. So if I was to, for example, look through an iPad and through augmented reality, I throw a ball, I would see that ball going over the table and then eventually drop. So that's mixed reality, being able to recognize that that's a table, and the ball should react by dropping over the table. Augmented reality will just see the ball keep on bouncing even in the middle of the air. And so there's some new great technology that is trying to get into that interaction between the real world and the virtual world. Magic Leap is developing some great technology, and they're still in early development. Some people have criticized it. I just want to say, let's wait and see what comes out of it. But in terms of the role that it has in the classroom, there's a great colleague of mine. He's also at Arizona State University, Dr. Steven Ayer. Back at Penn State, he was already looking at the role that augmented reality and mixed reality have in the classroom, he designed the game where students have to redevelop the face of a building, and so choose different types of materials making the building more sustainable, what type of glazing can they change, and then seeing the reaction from the construction worker or the designer, saying this is too expensive or this is great for sustainability and for energy. And he did see already that there was a gain in knowledge and definitely educational benefit in implementing an augmented reality game in the classroom.


Pius Wong  50:59 

That sounds really interesting. So Fadi, one last question then, kind of related to that. What do you think are your future plans? I know you talked a little bit about some of the future studies in games that you're going to be working on. But in general, what are you interested in down the road in engineering? Or what are you interested in engineering and in education down the road?


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  51:21 

I definitely want to start chipping away at this idea of what is the role of virtual reality in games and empathy, and making sure that students can work in a group environment by developing strong emotional skills, situational awareness, environmental awareness, or awareness of the other. That I think is going to be my, I think, 10-year goal, and then definitely solidifying, more and more, the research that I've already started, which is the pure educational role that games have from a knowledge and problem-solving skill perspective. But those are things that I want to say that are within the three- to four-year mark for me, and definitely within 10 years, I would like to see an early understanding of what is the role of VR in gaming towards empathy and emotional intelligence?


Pius Wong  52:21 

All right, I'll have to keep up on that, too.


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  52:23 



Pius Wong  52:24 

So thank you for speaking. I really appreciate it. I know we've been talking for a while.


Dr. Fadi Castronovo  52:30 

It was great. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share some of my knowledge. While I am a researcher and I am a professor, I think that I'm never truly an expert. I'm always learning, and so I'm happy to share the knowledge that I have gained, and I will continue gaining more knowledge and hoping to share that with you again in future.


Pius Wong  52:55 

That was Dr. Fadi Castronovo, engineering professor at Cal State, East Bay.


Pius Wong  53:01 

If you want to learn more about Fadis games or his students' games or anything else we mentioned today, check this episode's show notes for links. Also visit the podcast website. Point your browser to k12engineering.net. Thanks for listening. Don't forget to share the show on your favorite podcast platform, your social media accounts, or just by playing it in your break room for your colleagues who should think a little more about STEM education. An especially big thank you to the supporters of the show on Patreon. You make this possible. To support the show on Patreon yourself, just go to patreon.com/pioslabs. That's patreon.com/pioslabs.


Pius Wong  53:53 

Our closing music is from the song "Yes and" by Steve Combs, used under a Creative Commons Attribution License. The K12 Engineering Education Podcast is a production of my independent studio Pios Labs in Austin, Texas, where I work on multiple education and engineering projects like this one. Thanks, and tune in next time.