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Assessing The Effectiveness Of Using A Computer Game To Bridge A Research Agenda With A Teaching Agenda

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Engaging Students

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.208.1 - 15.208.17



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Paper Authors


Kristen Sanford Bernhardt Lafayette College Orcid 16x16

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KRISTEN L. SANFORD BERNHARDT is an Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Lafayette College, where she teaches courses related to transportation, civil infrastructure, and engineering ethics and researches issues related to infrastructure systems modeling. Dr. Sanford Bernhardt received her Ph.D. and M.S. from Carnegie Mellon University and her B.S.E. from Duke University, all in Civil Engineering.

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Sharon Jones Lafayette College

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SHARON A. JONES is a Professor at Lafayette College in both the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and the Engineering Studies Program. Her research focuses on decision-making for environmental and infrastructure systems. Dr. Jones received a BS Civil Engineering from Columbia University, and a PhD Engineering and Public Policy from
Carnegie Mellon University. She is a licensed professional engineer in several states.

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Christopher Ruebeck Lafayette College

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CHRISTOPHER S. RUEBECK is an Associate Professor in the Economics Department at Lafayette College, teaching in the areas of industrial organization, marketing research, introductory Principles and Microeconomics courses, as well as simulation and evolutionary game theory. Dr. Ruebeck holds the Ph.D. and M.A. from Johns Hopkins University, M.S.E. from Stanford University, and B.S.E.E. from Purdue University.

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Jacqueline Isaacs Northeastern University

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JACQUELINE A. ISAACS is a Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Northeastern University, where she the the principal investigator for the Shortfall game development (NSF CCLI-0717750). Her research focuses on environmentally benign manufacturing. Dr. Isaacs received her Ph.D. and M.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her B.S. from Carnegie Mellon University all in Materials Science and Engineering.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Assessing the Effectiveness of Using a Computer Game to Bridge a Research Agenda with a Teaching Agenda


We assess the impact of an out-of-class computer game designed to develop students’ understanding of complex tradeoffs among environmental, economic, and technological issues. By comparing the results across three different courses using survey, essay, and focus groups as instruments, we measure the game’s success in a variety of contexts and dimensions. Students increased their self-assessed knowledge about the supply chain and teamwork in the supply chain, they made connections between the environment and business practices as well as external events and the supply chain, but they did not feel that their understanding of sustainability improved. Students in an economics class experienced less increase and knowledge and confidence than did students in either an introductory policy class or a values-oriented course about built systems.

Research Question

Academics who care about both teaching and research are continually seeking ways to effectively integrate the two. Those who pursue National Science Foundation (NSF) funding often wrestle with this when answering the question: What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity? NSF asserts that the broader impacts criterion speaks directly to NSF’s mission, “To promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; and to secure the national defense.” (NSF Act of 1950). The NSF Grant Proposal Guide suggests several ways that this criterion can be met. One of these is “by advancing discovery and understanding while promoting teaching, training, and learning”. In response, researchers typically describe the number of students involved in the research project as evidence. Another suggestion by NSF is to broaden dissemination to enhance scientific and technological understanding. Here, researchers often describe plans to present research results in formats useful to students, scholars, members of Congress, teachers, the general public, etc. In other words, it is common for researchers to point to activities that involve student education as evidence that there are broader impacts to their technical research projects.

Faced with this challenge in our own research, we are following a different approach to achieve these education-related broader impacts. We suggest that we can successfully bring our research concepts into our traditional courses without unduly modifying the established course content. To accomplish this task, we use an out-of-class, self-directed computer simulation game by which students are expected to gain introductory knowledge of the research concepts as they “play” the game. We then draw connections between what they learned from the game and what they are learning (or not) in the course. Our hope is that this experiential form of learning can serve to bridge our research and teaching goals. To determine the effectiveness of this approach, we perform several student assessments centered on the question: Can students achieve a set of learning outcomes by playing a self-directed, out-of-class computer game? The remainder of this paper explains the research and grounds the work in relevant literature, describes our approach to assessment, and reports the results of assessments conducted during academic year 2008-2009.

Sanford Bernhardt, K., & Jones, S., & Ruebeck, C., & Isaacs, J. (2010, June), Assessing The Effectiveness Of Using A Computer Game To Bridge A Research Agenda With A Teaching Agenda Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16763

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