With the "cSports" project funded by the Klaus Tschira Foundation, Torsten Schön wants to create a gaming platform where teenagers and young adults can compete in programming. The computer science professor heads the "Computervision for Intelligent Mobility Systems" research group at THI, which focuses on AI-supported image recognition and processing for mobility systems. In the interview, he presents his plan to use computer gaming to inspire more young people in particular to enter the world of software development.
Professor Schön, what is unique about your project?
It's about learning programming without it feeling like work. That's why cSports, derived from "coding sports," is supposed to focus on entertainment. We all know that when something is fun, it doesn't feel exhausting. I started playing computer games with my children, and that's when I asked myself the question: What motivates you to get involved with it? In the beginning, you don't know how to play. The constant defeats should demotivate you. But there are always small feelings of success that motivate you to keep at it. For example, you master another level or learn a new skill. As part of this project, we want to find out how we can use this effect to get young schoolchildren and students excited about programming.
How did you come up with this idea?
Five years ago, my employer at the time was looking for ideas for an evening event. Like in e-sports, participants were supposed to program against each other in competition. At a software conference a few years later, we finally organized a cSports tournament at which a first prototype was used. Professionally staged with lighting effects and video shooting, it was an all-around successful event, and we received positive feedback from all sides.
What makes cSports different from traditional educational games?
With conventional educational games, the primary purpose is to learn programming. We, on the other hand, primarily want to entertain. Educational games should be designed in such a way that you enjoy playing them and learn something along the way - just like normal computer games. If I want to play a game with a controller, I first have to learn the necessary hand-eye coordination to be able to pass or cross in a soccer game, for example. Our project idea is to exchange this hand movement for writing codes. But otherwise, it should feel just like a common computer game. While common learning apps alternate programming tasks and game elements, we want both to happen at the same time. As a result, you are under constant pressure not to be left behind by your opponent, who is also programming to control the game. Both players are required to constantly change and develop the code. So we want to increase the learning effect by action and competition character.
Do you also have ambitions to break down prejudices against computer games with your project?
Yes, that is also a goal. Parents may not always be aware of it, but children are already developing skills such as coordination or strategic thinking when they sit in front of a computer or console. Of course, it depends on the type of game, and that's something else we want to investigate with our project.
The Klaus Tschira Foundation (KTS) promotes natural sciences, mathematics, and computer science and aims to contribute to the appreciation of these subjects. It was established in 1995 by the physicist and SAP co-founder Klaus Tschira (1940-2015) with private funds. Its three funding priorities are: Education, research, and science communication. The nationwide commitment begins in kindergarten and continues in schools, universities, and research institutions. The foundation is committed to promoting dialog between science and society. Further information can be found at: www.klaus-tschira-stiftung.de