(325) 674-2173 sitc@acu.edu

Spotlight on Brian Burton


Brian Burton

Dr. Brian Burton

What is your educational background?

My undergraduate is a double major in secondary education and computer information systems. Basically, it is computer education. My masters is in secondary administration and my doctorate is in educational administration policy analysis. My dissertation focused on the question, “Do people learn in 3D or 4D worlds?” I applied computers and learning, which is what I am passionate about.

What is your work background?

I started out in charge of a department of computer maintenance at Ball State University. At 22, I had 30 people working for me and was in charge of the entire campus’ computer network infrastructure as well as keeping all the computers on that campus functional. This was a campus of about 18,000 students. I then taught junior high and high school for a number of years. Once I got my master’s degree, I was asked to teach at the university level. There, I started a computer gaming degree at Missouri State. ACU invited me to come and get a digital entertainment degree.

What do you teach at ACU?

Mobile development and digital entertainment classes.

What committees/other duties do you have at ACU aside from teaching?

I am the primary faculty for the Digital Entertainment Technology students. My key role is making sure that it runs smoothly. We have over 60 students in that program and I’m their academic liaison and advisor. I am also on the suspension appeals committee and was on the disciplinary committee. I deal a lot with incoming students that are wanting to return or have had problems in the past.

What drew you to teaching? Why did you want to work with students?

My first experience in working with students was teaching an upper elementary bible class. At the time I was a computer technician. They asked me to teach and I realized that I liked the teaching! I liked working with studentsand doing things in a different fashion. We would talk about things from the bible. I think one time we were talking about the size of the first temple; so I took the group of students outside and we stepped out how large of a space that the first temple was, to give them a better idea of how large it was. To see that light come on – that understanding – is very exciting. There was no question after that, I was hooked on teaching.

What’s the best part of working with students? 

Seeing what they create. Digital entertainment is a creative field. Everybody comes in with a story or idea that they want to tell, whether it is through gaming, animation, or film. They want to do something with that and that’s the exciting part – helping them gain the skills necessary to accomplish telling the story they want to tell.

Have you ever given up any big opportunities to keep working with students? 

Yes. I started the mobile application classes and I had a number of offers from corporate companies and universities, some of them very attractive. I made the decision to stay here at ACU.

Outside of teaching, what passions and hobbies do you have?

My wife and I write. We are writing a series of books and also developing games of our own. My number one passion goes back to teaching. We used to run an online school in the late nineties. We were running one of the first K-12 online educational services primarily aimed at homeschooled or students who simply could not attend a traditional educational environment.

What is a good, early story about your teaching? 

I was teaching a sixth grade class. This was a group of students at a private Christian school who, in the case of many, had been dismissed from public schools. They were no longer able to attend public schools so they were there for their education. We had taken them on a field trip. On the way back from the field trip they had thrown a note out the window of the van I was driving saying “help, we’re being kidnapped and he has a gun”. Within a few miles I was surrounded by police and they asked me to exit the vehicle. Now, the van said “Christian school” all over it, but they still asked me to step out of the van. They saw the title on the van and the students in the van and said, “We’re pretty sure this was a false note, but we still have to investigate it.” That’s when my hair started going grey.

Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.

I’ve got two. A couple years ago I finished one of the very first textbooks available for teaching mobile application and game development for university and for high schools. That has been very successful and has been one of the few textbooks available for learning to do mobile application and game development. I have actually gotten to travel all over North America teaching on mobile applications because of this textbook.

My most exciting project is my current one, which is examining the Pygmalion effect. It places students inside a virtual environment and assigns them an avatar, investigating whether that impacts their learning. That is a project that is still in its early stages. Working with my DET students, we are creating those avatars and creating that virtual world for them to be able to interact in and will give them educational projects to achieve. Is the selection of the avatar important? Do they learn the same with a stick figure as they would a figure that they would associate with learning? If we are doing physics or advanced math and I give you an avatar that looks like Einstein, does that give the student motivation, or do you just not try because you have Einstein to do your math? We don’t know, this hasn’t been researched.

Are there any press releases or online mentions in any magazines, newspapers, or online articles that you would like included in this spotlight?

  • Say Something Smart (Aug, 2015) – Podcast discussing the educational/therapeutic uses of games.
  • Corona Geek (Aug, 2012 to present) – Weekly Google+ Hangout covering the field of mobile application and game development.
  • KTXS News (Mar. 3, 2011) “100% Job Placement For Game And App Design Students” http://bigcountryhomepage.com/search-fulltext?nxd_id=349046.
  • KTXS News, (Feb. 15, 2011). “ACU Offers New Course About Application Development” http://bigcountryhomepage.com/fulltext/?nxd_id=342956.
  • KTXS News (Apr. 6, 2010) “ACU Launches First Student Paper on iPad” http://bigcountryhomepage.com/search-fulltext?nxd_id=233495.
  • ACU (Apr, 2010). “The Optimist is first to publish on iPad.” http://www.acu.edu/promise/innovative/ipad_optimist.html

Do you do any charity or non-profit work? 

My main charity work is through church. I used to be very active in Junior Achievement, Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers, and things like that as well.

Who is your role model, and why?

Role models are a tough thing. I started out as an atheist. You look to the world for your role models when you’re an atheist. After becoming a Christian, my role model became
Jesus. I try to be more like Him in my daily actions. Some days I am better at it than others. That’s my role model, and I’m sure that is a common role model for Christians.

Who was your most inspirational professor and why?

There were several while I was attending ACU that had a huge impact.

I primarily came to ACU because Dr. Leonard Allen was teaching. He had written several books on being a Christian and what it meant to be a Christian. I wanted to learn from him.

I think the man who had the greatest impact on me while I was here was Dr. Terry Meethy. He encouraged us to not accept limitations. He challenged us to go for more. I was finishing up my undergraduate at the time and I had not even considered masters or doctorate work. He challenged me to think bigger. He taught me to think about more than impacting one school or one congregation, but to think on a more global scale. He was one of those people who, when he walked into a room, knowledge spilled off and you just had to soak up all that you possibly could. That was very inspirational. I only had him for a few individual classes, but he had a huge impact on my perspective and my view of the world.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?

As a teenager I was into comic books. I always liked the flash. He could run fast and zip through walls and get wherever he needed to be. And he was a scientist! He was really smart about what he did. I was also into the X-Men as well. Professor Xavier used his brain to communicate with people. So, I never settled on one.

What is something that students might be surprised to find out about you?

I am a former atheist. I was an active atheist when I went off to college. I actively worked to convert people to atheism. It was in my early twenties that I became a Christian.

What would you really want students and alums to know about you?

Be passionate about what it is you do. If you’re passionate about it, you can make a difference and change the world.

Global Game Jam

Global Game Jam (GGJ) is a worldwide event where people gather to develop and create a game in 48 hours. The game could be a board game, PC, mobile, or physical game. The first GGJ was held in 2008. Just last year, there were 500 locations that spanned 78 countries in which students created 5,439 games in one weekend! This year will be ACU’s 5th time participating.

This is a great chance to try something different that you always wanted to try, to experiment, and see what can be done. Students who come to this event will be able to seek out assistance with school projects or with their creative ideas around the GGJ theme. In past years students that were participating used the opportunity to develop a game that they later sold in the iTunes and Google app stores.

DET professor Dr. Burton states,

We are really excited to participate in GGJ this year.  Not only do we have a lot of Digital Entertainment Technology majors and minors who will be participating, but we are expecting a significant participation from students in other majors as well.  This is a chance to bring your ideas to the table for a game and see how much you can get done in a dedicated weekend. Best of all, there will be food available during the Jam, so you don’t have to leave, you can focus on your game.

Student Austin Graham reflects on his past GGJ experiences:

I have been present at the last two Global Game Jams. At the first one, I went with the theme and attempted to come up with a game in 48 hours. The results were less than stellar, but the experience was a good one. I like attending the GGJ because there is, in my opinion, a nice, productive atmosphere where I can work on projects and it does not feel too demanding or tedious.

This event will be held January 29-31 in the third floor of the Mabee Business Building. Snacks and drinks will be provided. The kick-off event begins Friday, January 29 at 6:00 pm.

For information on registering, email us at sitc@acu.edu

I have a Bachelors in Engineering and Computer Science. I got my bachelors when I was in the military.

What is your work background?

Before I came to ACU, I worked primarily for six different organizations doing software development and research. I worked for the Air Force research lab, a small startup involving military contracts, I was a military contractor doing training software,  I worked for NASA in their research center, a small tech startup, and then a robotics company in New York.

What do you teach at ACU?

I currently teach computer science classes: entry level programming courses and an artificial intelligence course which I really like. I’ve gotten to teach that for about ten years now. In the past I have taught computer and design and special topics for robotics. I’ve done a couple honors colloquia, which are really fun, on artificial intelligence and futurism. I also co-taught with Andy Little on AI society and law.


What committees/other duties do you have at ACU aside from teaching?

Right now I don’t have any official committee appointments. In the past I’ve dealt with recruiting a lot.


What drew you to teaching? Why did you want to work with students?

I got drawn to teaching on the job, doing software development work. I really liked the parts of my job where I could help a company out who is new in the industry and teach them about our software. Along the way I found I liked explaining things in general. In college, I was really introverted; I was the stereotypical computer science geeky kind of person. Over the years I became really extroverted. I found myself liking more and more the parts of my job that included interaction with other people. A few of my jobs were solo, isolated projects and I realized I didn’t like that anymore.


What’s the best part of working with students? 

It’s that moment when they understand some concepts for the first time and they realize that it is valuable. Talking about a theoretical concept and showing it in practical terms and getting students to see the value of theory is just really cool.


Have you ever given up any big opportunities to keep working with students? 

I worked in industry for twelve years. When it came time to teach, I knew that meant missing out on a lot of things. I was making twice as much as I am making now which meant I would have to take a pay cut. It was worth it because this is what I like to do and this is worthwhile and more fulfilling. I am contributing more to the world by helping people learn things than by making code run faster. Since I’ve been here, I have gotten occasional offers but turned them down.


Outside of teaching, what passions and hobbies do you have?

I like to travel a lot. I helped start a charity several years ago. We started an orphanage in India that has been running nine years now. We’ve been branching out and have been hiring some teachers for some slum areas and making some wells. I also went to Africa one summer to help teach and set up computer equipment and internet access. I like video games a lot. I like playing sports, I like watching sports. I go to almost every type of ACU sport there is at least three times.


What is a good, early story about your teaching? 

The very first semester I taught, I was teaching operating design. The first or second class period I was telling students that the next class period we were going to talk about designing a software system. We were going to do role playing where people were playing the role of a different software component and simulate the interaction between those computer situations. So the next class period, one student came in and had a big brown monk’s cloak on with the hood and a rope belt and a big fuzzy die. I asked him if he was at some convention before class and he said, “No Mr. Pettit, you said we were role playing today so I came dressed appropriately.”

There was also one time where I posted an exam and I forgot to check the box that said randomize answers. So they stayed the way I put them in. I always put the correct answer first, so every answer was A. Surprisingly, the grades were not that different. A lot of the students didn’t even catch it.


Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.

It would have to be finally getting my PhD done after ten years of work; battling through unexpected events and challenges.


Do you do any charity or non-profit work? 

As I mentioned before, I work with the orphanage in India which is called Sanctuary Ministries (http://www.sanctuaryministries.org/). I am also involved with my church. Much like during the week, I work in the cradle class watching babies. It is very similar to my job here: limited social skills, they drool a lot, they don’t listen, make rude sounds.


Who was your most inspirational professor and why?

I had a professor in grad school who was really good but known to be really strict: Dr. Galfant. It was my first semester, and we all knew his class was going to be hard. But I thought since he was the most published professor in the department I should take him at least once, just because it would be good for me. It was so hard, he even made students cry in class. So this professor would come into class and he wouldn’t say anything. There would be no introduction to the class, he would just start writing on the board. The way he presented it was totally not the way you’d learn it. But he was brilliant. He wanted us to be very precise in our questions. He was very exact with his vocabulary and never said anything that was ambiguous at all. It was like math was his native internal language and he had to figure out how to translate that to English before he could talk to you. You would then speak to him and he’d run it through his processor and translate it to math. If it was ambiguous at all he would stop and ask you to restate it. He was a fascinating guy.

The first exam was coming up and we knew that he graded hard, so we panicked going into this exam. He walks into class and asked what questions we had. No one raised their hand; we all just wanted him to start telling us what we needed to know for the exam. While we are looking around at each other, he says, “good, no questions,” and he walks out. Someone looked out and saw he went back to his office. For the next exam, it was the same situation. This time, we came prepared with pages of questions. That’s when I figured out that is what it means to be a student. That’s what it means to take responsibility for yourself. Getting ready for that question study session was one of the key things for me in figuring out how to do school when it gets really hard. I realized that is what I needed to do in every class: be more active in my leaning. Because of that, he became my favorite. That was a very good lesson.


If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?

Time travel. So you could experiment with things. And if you mess up you can go back and experiment another way.


What is something that students might be surprised to find out about you?

I had a horrible freshman year in college.


What would you really want students and alums to know about you?

Because I had a horrible first year in college, when I have students who do really badly in my class, I talk to them as somebody who has been there. A lot of the problems students have is that they are slacking or staying up late and I totally understand. I did that my whole first year and flunked out of college.

App Showcase Success


This semester in the Introduction to Information, Technology, and Computing class, students have been working on developing a mobile app. Student groups were given ten weeks to take an idea and develop a working app. This Thursday, they showcased their projects to fellow students, faculty, and staff members.

“I learned a lot about sprite making and how to work within a team of various personalities and talents  to create a video game. It was challenging and rewarding to see something I created come to life,” says DET student, Hayley Hand.

Each team performed exceptionally well, thoroughly impressing the faculty. “This is always an exciting event for the students and the faculty,” Dr. Burton says, “This is where we get to see the full app or game that they have been working on all semester. We were thrilled with the results and what our students accomplished.”

When asked, many teams stated that they would like to continue working on this project and eventually get their app to the point where it can be published in the App Store or Google Play store. Shapes & Colors team member, Nathan Sherrill reflects, “This project challenged me to learn a new programming language and be able to develop a mobile app in a 10 week time-frame. It was challenging to do so, but it was rewarding to see I had a final product that was complete and functioning by the end. As Dr. Burton says, I am ready to “make 10s of cents” for each purchase of my mobile app.”


Some of the most notable teams included Barista Buddy, The Unfamiliar Path, Spinball, and Shapes & Colors.

Staff members listen in on the Barista Buddy

Staff members listening in on the Barista Buddy commercial

Team ___ presents their game, ______.

Students presenting their game, The Unfamiliar Path, to Dr. Reeves

A closer look at ___

A closer look at The Unfamiliar Path

Students explain their game, ____.

Students explaining their game, Spinball





Gamification Gives Course New Appeal


DET professor Brian Burton has started developing an exciting new program that will infuse class with games.

Gamification is a concept that has gained significant interest in the past couple of years. It is a process where one takes game elements and puts them into a class allowing you to earn badges and achievements. Its purpose is to make courses more interesting, fun, and to encourage more participation by students.

Last spring, Dr. Burton and a group of students developed a gamification website. This website allowed you to log in, enter the project you had completed, and earn badges and achievements as well as a grade for the assignment. For example, you could unlock the “Photoshop” badge and were given a little badge that you could display on your website. This project went very well and is now functioning as an independent website that can be used in conjunction with any class.

Dr. Burton reflects, “We started thinking that it would be a lot better if this was integrated into Canvas or Blackboard or any other learning management systems that we typically use on campus”. This led to the acceptance of a grant from the Adams Center to further develop this program. Over the next year, Dr. Burton along with students Austin Graham and Katey Bluel will work to create a plugin that will allow the gamification of the Canvas website. Users will be able to take this plugin and add it to any class.

Gamification has already proven to be successful in raising student participation. Students will do more things to earn a badge than they would necessarily do just to earn points for a project. Another feature to better increase participation is gamification through peer reviews. Gamification samples were added so students could view other student’s works and comment on them. If you completed ten reviews, you could earn a badge. Before gamification, only one or two people would participate in responses. Afterwards, the majority of the class were reviewing and doing ten peer reviews and giving comments and feedback on other projects. They became much more invested in earning a badge or an achievement, even if there were no points involved.

At this point, Dr. Burton and his team have to figure out one thing: how to make the experience as easy as possible for the user. As for the future of gamification at ACU, Dr. Burton states, “There are a lot of places researching gamification or the implementation of gamification. None of them have been easy to use. Our intention is to create an open source plugin that anyone at any university can take and use for their classes.”

Not only will this new program benefit the school, it will benefit the students. “DET students are creating the next generation of inclusion of gamification and they are creating research that will, hopefully, have a broad impact,” states Burton. “It gives them practice in doing the gamification process. If they work for the corporate office at United or a major bank, many of them are looking into how to incorporate gamification. They will already have the experience doing the gamification and they will be able to apply it in an environment like that.”

Dr. Burton is very excited about this opportunity and looks to have this product fully ready to be used by students by next fall.