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Five Questions with Faculty: Caro Williams-Pierce

Caro Williams-Pierce designs math-based video games. 

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 26, 2017) — Caroline Cassie-Marie Williams-Pierce is aware that her name is kind of long, so she’s fine with you calling her Caro.

An assistant professor in the School of Education’s Department of Educational Theory and Practice, Williams-Pierce came to UAlbany two years ago, attracted by her colleagues – “wonderful, supportive and brilliant,” she says – and by the fact that she can pursue her interdisciplinary studies in mathematics learning and video games.

“Other institutions preferred a game scholar or a math educator,” she said. “UAlbany is excited to have the combination, which I am deeply grateful for.” Williams-Pierce is also happy to be near her home state of Maine.

What are you working on now that you’re most excited about?

Hardest. Question. Ever. I am deeply excited about a few of my research projects, and it's hard to narrow it down. My GA, Yan Tian, is doing research on graduate students playing Rolly's Adventure, the fractions game that I designed for my dissertation; and I'm supervising a thesis by Nihal Katirci who is studying the use of Dragonbox 12+ in classrooms. Both of these studies are incredibly exciting to me!

My solo work right now is focused on designing a more accessible version of Rolly's Adventure, which currently requires a console and a TV to play. I'm using a Faculty Research Awards Program grant (thank you, UAlbany!) to design art assets and rebuild the game such that anyone can play it, regardless of platform. This rebuild will include design changes that are based upon previous research — for example, I found that players tended towards two camps while playing, and each group perceived a different unit. When the game introduced fractions labels, one group could assimilate and use those labels, while others balked.

My redesign will allow those two groups to be identified by their gameplay, and the new Rolly's Adventure will provide different trajectories of play for each.

What made you decide to pursue your field?

I've always loved math, and I've always loved games. I get confused by people who hate math, and I get confused by people who consider games a waste of time — so I'm using game design to make math more enjoyable.

If you weren’t teaching at a university, what would you be doing?

My dream job is being locked in a large room with huge dry erase boards every day, and someone comes in every Monday and says something like, "This week, we need you to change the way that we represent and interact with quadratic functions."

And then I just blast music from the Dropkick Murphys and draw pictures about quadratic functions that no one's ever seen before. This job does not exist, but as a professor, I get to do that a lot — and talk to wonderful colleagues and students!

What’s your favorite spot on campus?

I really enjoy sitting under the Dr. Ralph W. Harbison memorial tree outside the School of Education when I need a break from work. This is a summer-only favorite spot, of course!

What was the last book you read for pleasure?

That's a wonderful question. I recently read a bunch of sci-fi and fantasy, but apparently none of them were good enough for me to remember! So, two of my favorite authors, instead: Terry Pratchett and Octavia Butler.

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