Professor earns acclaim for using gaming in research

April 3, 2008

How can a computer game contribute to sustainable development? Just ask Marco Janssen, associate director of the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity and an assistant professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and the School of Computing and Informatics.

Janssen has earned a National Science Foundation CAREER Award for his innovative work, which includes using group experiments with computer simulations to test how people share common resources—like forests, pastures and irrigation systems—and craft institutional rules governing those resources. The award is among the most prestigious for scientists and engineers early in their careers. It recognizes researchers and educators for their potential to be leaders in their areas of expertise. Download Full Image

In a typical experiment, recruited undergraduate students—who may interact only online—receive instructions and then kick back and enjoy a Pac-Man-type game in which they maneuver an avatar around the computer screen collecting renewable resources. They receive monetary rewards for the amounts consumed, but uncoordinated greedy behavior leads to a collapse of the resource and lower rewards for the students. Between the various rounds the students can use a chat room to coordinate their strategies.

“Using games can help make the experience fun and allows for ‘resources’ to be safely destroyed by the participants,” explains Janssen.

“Also, it is difficult to observe in natural resource management how people develop rules, but in this scenario we can collect all online chat from the students and analyze it. It may help us determine why one group does better than another.”

He notes, “The goal is to get better formal models about society. We need realistic solutions to the problems we face, and we need to understand which institutions fit best in which cases. Ecology varies among locations and social organization doesn’t necessarily fit with the environment. Many naïve concepts are being used and that creates bad or inefficient outcomes.”

Janssen’s award will provide more than $400,000 over five years to help fund his research on institutional innovation in the governance of common resources. It will also be used to develop interactive sustainability games and educational material on computing in the social sciences for middle and high school students.

Though Janssen was trained as an applied mathematician, he has long been interested in environmental issues and has slanted his research in that direction since the early 1990s. Driven to produce research that has real-world applicability, he became frustrated with the boundaries of traditional disciplinary research and turned to the flexibility of intellectual fusion.

His work at ASU’s Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity allows him to meld his interests in ecology, mathematics, anthropology, economics and computing in pioneering endeavors. Janssen’s award is the second for the center, which officially launched earlier this year. J. Marty Anderies—assistant professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and the School of Sustainability—earned the center’s first National Science Foundation CAREER Award for his work regarding resource degradation.

Rebecca Howe

Communications Specialist, School of Human Evolution and Social Change


ASU grad schools soar in rankings

April 4, 2008

In a striking confirmation that ASU is now among the best public schools in the nation, U.S. News & World Report has ranked graduate programs in three ASU colleges and schools in its top tier, among the top 25 in the nation. In the new issue of America’s Best Graduate Schools 2009:

• The W.P. Carey MBA program is ranked 22nd overall, and eighth nationally among public universities. Download Full Image

• The ASU School of Public Affairs graduate program ranked 25th nationally among nearly 300 schools considered in the report, and among the top 15 publics.

• The Mary Lou Fulton College of Education ranks 25th for its graduate program, and 16th among public universities.

The Carey School is one of only five schools in the West ranked in the top 25, among more than 450 accredited business schools in the U.S.

The other Western schools are Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA and USC. ASU’s supply chain specialty ranked third nationally.

The School of Public Affairs is also one of only five schools in the West ranked in the top 25, with the others being UC Berkeley, USC, UCLA and Washington. The urban management program ranked sixth and public administration eighth.

Six out of nine specialty education programs within the Fulton College ranked in the top 20 in the nation. These include education policy, educational psychology, curriculum & instruction, secondary teacher education, elementary teacher education and student counseling/personnel services.

Other graduate programs ranked include fine arts, 30; Earth sciences, 31; engineering, 45; and law, 52.

While nursing colleges and colleges of design weren’t included in this year’s rankings, the ASU College of Nursing & Healthcare Innovation ranked 32 of 396 graduate programs last year. And in 2007 America’s Best Architecture & Design Schools, the ASU master of architecture program was ranked third in the west, and the graduate program in interior design sixth nationally.

Each year, U.S. News ranks professional school programs in business, education, engineering, law and medicine. The rankings are based on two types of data: expert opinion about program quality and statistical indicators. Surveys of more than 1,200 programs and 14,000 academics and professionals were conducted last fall.

The University of Arizona had no top 25 colleges in the new ranking of graduate schools. The UA garnered top-10 program rankings in audiology, analytical chemistry, Earth science, geology, information systems, pharmacy, rehabilitation counseling, social psychology and speech-language pathology.

”We do not define ourselves by rankings, but it feels good to be recognized for the hard work that our team has put into continuously improving our school and the world-class education our students receive,” says Robert E. Mittelstaedt Jr., dean of the Carey School. “The attention of faculty and talented staff helps produce graduates who are well qualified, confident and capable.”

Robert B. Denhardt, director of the School of Public Affairs, says this is the highest ranking ever for the school and a tribute to faculty, staff, students and alumni.

“Our top 10 ranking in urban management clearly reflects our school’s commitment to advancing urban management in a global context. And our top 10 ranking in public administration recognizes the school’s continued commitment to preparing students for positions in local, state and federal government and nonprofit organizations.”

George W. Hynd, dean of the Fulton College, says while the school rankings have been high for a decade, recent strategic private investments in the education college have helped them recruit and retain top-notch faculty and also improve accessibility for students.

“Faculty are creating a learning environment where talented graduate students participate with them in research and service activities that are helping to solve the critical issues of our time. We take pride and excitement in the positive momentum that has caused our programs to stand out within the U.S. News analysis, but at the same time we are mindful that there is so much more we must do to benefit the long-term interests of students and families in Arizona and beyond.”

The 45th place ranking for the ASU Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering is five places higher than just a year ago, and 25th among engineering schools at public universities. It remains the only engineering school in Arizona ranked in the top 50. The school’s industrial, environmental and aerospace programs are ranked within the top 30 nationally.