The mobile app Sustainable U shows students environmental problems today that are hidden in plain sight.

Jun 17 2014

New App Teaches Campus Sustainability Through Gamification

The mobile app Sustainable U shows students environmental problems today that are hidden in plain sight.

Who says cleaning campus can't be fun?

Students are exploring the University of Wisconsin–Madison through an environmental lens, thanks to a new mobile app that puts the future of the campus in their hands.

Sustainable U is a mobile video game being tested by professor Cathy Middlecamp's environmental science class. Using their phones and tablets, students interact with a campus map to find environmental hot spots where they’ll discover QR codes they can scan to unlock videos, information or games that further them on their quest.

The game centers on the arrival of a visitor from the future, who shows students a bleak glimpse of the campus 50 years from now if sustainability efforts fail.

Middlecamp's vision for the game started with the desire for students to look at the campus in a different way and to identify the environmental problems that are hidden in plain sight.

“We want you to open your eyes and start seeing the things that may have gone unnoticed,” Sustainable U designer David Gagnon explains to students.

By playing, students are taught the four sustainability themes laid out in the We Conserve initiative, a UW-Madison program focused on conservation and waste elimination.

One of the app's games lets students practice waste sorting to reinforce good habits in distinguishing waste from recyclable materials. Different objects scroll down the side of the screen on a conveyer belt, and students click and drag to sort them into the proper bins.

Work on the app was funded in part by a Sustainability Innovation in Research and Education (SIRE) grant from the UW Office of Sustainability. It is being designed by the Mobile Learning Incubator (MLI) team at the Madison campus. Sustainable U is the team's follow-up to Waste Eliminators, an interactive, environmental tour of campus which was also created with the help of Middlecamp and two graduate students in 2013, according to a university news release.

After more than 100 students tested the game, Gagnon and his team are expanding its scope, according to a news release. The full version is set to debut in the fall for Madison students.

<p>Courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Madison</p>

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