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All Games Are Not Created Equally: How Different Games Contribute to Learning Differently in Engineering

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Active Learning Methods in Action

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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John Ray Morelock Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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John Morelock is a doctoral candidate in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech and a recipient of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. His research interests include student motivation, game-based teaching and learning, gamified classrooms, and engineering faculty collaborations around the scholarship of teaching and learning.

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Holly M. Matusovich Virginia Tech

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Dr. Matusovich is an Associate Professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Engineering Education. She has her doctorate in Engineering Education and her strengths include qualitative and mixed methods research study design and implementation. She is/was PI/Co-PI on 10 funded research projects including a CAREER grant. She has won several Virginia Tech awards including a Dean’s Award for Outstanding New Faculty. Her research expertise includes using motivation and related frameworks to study student engagement in learning, recruitment and retention in engineering programs and careers, faculty teaching practices and intersections of motivation and learning strategies.

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In the past decade, games have developed an increasingly strong theoretical and empirical basis for effectiveness as pedagogical tools, and interest in the use of games has increased in engineering education. To date, most game-based learning (GBL) research treats GBL as a single, unifiable pedagogy, implying that learning fostered by one GBL activity should be comparable to learning fostered by others. This implication has led to many studies that aggregate findings across games to make broad statements about the pedagogy's effectiveness. In our experience, though, we have seen games that contribute to learning in several disparate ways, from fostering specific skills to offering common conceptual experiences. Further, while some games are relatively simple attachments to existing learning activities, others are intricate systems that help transform learning processes. Some influential authors have attempted to theoretically capture the variety of ways games can contribute to learning, but more work is needed to examine this variable in the landscape of current empirical applications of games for learning.

Accordingly, the purpose of this research was to survey contemporary engineering education literature and categorize the different ways that digital and non-digital games have contributed to learning in engineering. To do so, we conducted a qualitative, secondary analysis of a recent systematic literature review that cataloged publications of games in engineering education from 2000 – 2014 (Bodnar et al., 2016). We analyzed these publications to answer the following research questions: (1) What have been the primary learning contributions of digital and non-digital games to the learning process in engineering education? (2) To what extent have digital and non-digital games transformed the engineering education learning process? To answer the first question, we open-coded for primary learning contributions by examining patterns in the different kinds of learning processes enabled by each game. We answered the second question by classifying these primary learning contributions according to the Replacement, Amplification, and Transformation (RAT) framework. This framework allowed us to determine if each game acted as a simple replacement for traditional engineering learning activities, offered affordances that amplified traditional engineering learning activities, or transformed learning with new types of activities. In total, we reviewed 181 papers and found 58 unique digital games and 30 unique non-digital games.

We found evidence of seven different contributions to learning, spanning all three RAT classifications. The majority of digital games amplified engineering problem-solving activities by offering instantaneous practice-feedback loops, or replaced classrooms as spaces to establish narratives for engineering design projects. The majority of non-digital games transformed learning by offering hands-on experiences that could then be leveraged in discussions as analogies for real engineering work, or served as gamified replacements for common classroom activities like quizzes or homework. For researchers, results reinforce that learning objectives—reflected in the primary learning contributions of each game—should be considered a key variable when studying game-based learning. For instructors, results support the merit of non-digital games as resource-effective means of transforming engineering learning processes, and suggest that teaching processes will likely change based on the game’s intended learning contribution.

Reference: Bodnar, C. A., Anastasio, D., Enszer, J., & Burkey, D. D. (2016). Engineers at Play: Use of Games as Teaching Tools for Undergraduate Engineering Students. Journal of Engineering Education, 105(1), 147-200.

Morelock, J. R., & Matusovich, H. M. (2018, June), All Games Are Not Created Equally: How Different Games Contribute to Learning Differently in Engineering Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--29766

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