Online games teach transportation engineering basics
Students in CEE are learning some basic concepts in transportation engineering through online video games, thanks to a new website developed by assistant professor Lewis Lehe. TrafficVis.com, which Lehe launched in November, offers interactive visualizations about core concepts, along with videos that explain how to play them.
“Sometimes it’s hard to teach transportation engineering, because the diagrams that we use are still – they don’t move – but the systems they’re describing are moving,” Lehe said. “So for a while I’ve wanted to make some little interactive, moving visualizations that actually demonstrate the concepts. Instead of just having a still plot, you see the cars driving around. I did it to help the students understand more easily by playing these games.”
The website sparked interest in its first month, with more than 40,000 page views, thanks in part to a post on thehackernews.com, Lehe says. There are currently five games with explanatory videos posted, illustrating concepts such as how much construction zones slow down traffic, ways to measure traffic speed, and the relationship between traffic density and the flow of traffic – all concepts taught in CEE310 Transportation Engineering, for which Lehe teaches the systems portion. He plans to add more games when he has time, with the ultimate goal of having a game and video for each concept.
Teaching assistants Negin Alemazkoor and Jesus Osorio helped Lehe design the games and produce the videos. His CEE310 students are helping by giving him feedback on the user experience, he says. He’s currently using the games in class by suggesting that students play them before the topics are covered in class, to aid their understanding during the lecture.
Today’s students grew up with computers, so they learn easily this way, Lehe said. In addition, the subject matter lends itself to this teaching method, he says.
“Transportation is the easiest thing to make a little game about, because cars move around,” he said. “If I were a structural engineer – well, if you do the bridge right, it won’t move too much.”
Lehe joined CEE at Illinois in 2018. In addition to Transportation Engineering, he teaches the course Transportation Economics, which he developed. His research interests are in transportation pricing, urban traffic, traffic theory and transportation economics.