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Board Game Development as a Pedagogical Approach to Teaching Undergraduate Students in an Interdisciplinary Course that Addresses Contemporary Societal Issues

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Approaches to Encouraging Student Engagement

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Michael N. Littrell Tennessee Technological University

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Michael Littrell is a graduate research and teaching assistant at Tennessee Tech University. He is pursuing a PhD in Exceptional Learning with an Emphasis in Program Planning and Evaluation. He is interested in quantitative research methodology in education, student assessment, and applied statistics. Michael Littrell has conducted research and evaluation of a wide range of education and non-education focused programs.

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George Chitiyo Tennessee Technological University

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George Chitiyo is a Professor of Educational Research and Evaluation at Tennessee Tech University. He teaches courses in research methods, statistics, and program evaluation. His research interests include the psychosocial aspects of HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa as well as economics of health and higher education both in the U.S. and in Southern Africa. He is involved in designing and implementing evaluation initiatives of several educational programs and interventions in PreK-12 and higher education settings.

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Lauren A. Michel Tennessee Technological University


Steven R. Anton Tennessee Technological University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Steven R. Anton is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the director of the Dynamic and Smart Systems Laboratory at Tennessee Technological University. Dr. Anton received the B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from Michigan Technological University (2006), and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (2008 and 2011, respectively). Following his graduate work, Dr. Anton held a two year postdoctoral position at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The central theme of his research involves characterizing the dynamic response of smart material systems for energy harvesting, structural health monitoring, sensing, and actuation. By combining expertise in structural dynamics, behavior of active materials, experimental mechanics and signal processing, his research aims to discover new phenomenon associated with the dynamics of smart materials. Applications of Dr. Anton’s research include developing self-powered biomedical sensors, performing real-time structural health monitoring to detect damage in real-time on highly dynamic structures, and harvesting ambient energy to provide power to low-power electronics.

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This is paper is about a work in progress. Positively engaging students and facilitating meaningful content connections in the classroom is vital to successful learning. Specific to undergraduate education in modern times, this engagement is likely not one-size-fits-all. Instead, it is perhaps characterized by more open-ended learning experiences that promote discovery and the formation of learning associations across a spectrum of content areas.

Board games are extremely popular amongst younger generations with annual sales topping $9 billion. It has been theorized in the literature that board games are an ideal medium for teaching course content as it helps to form a common language between instructors and students. Similar to the scientific method, observations players make during the game will guide their interpretations and resulting decision making that hopefully leads to increased efficiency and player advantage. Frequently, studies have sought to examine board game play as a teaching tool for science. However, a dearth of research exists where board game development in conjunction with play has been examined as a pedagogical approach.

With this understanding in mind, a new interdisciplinary team-taught course has been developed by the Departments of Earth Sciences and Mechanical Engineering at our university that explores board game development and design as a pedagogical method to engage undergraduate honors students. To this end, a one semester curriculum was devised where students were taught scientific content related to climate change and its potential impacts on a variety of former civilizations including the Maya, the Mongols, and the Ancestral Puebloans. Students were then asked to extrapolate lessons learned from these past events to consider how climate change may affect societies today. Alongside this, board game design mechanics were also taught, and a major course project was assigned in which teams of students developed a game meant to teach others about climate change and civilization collapse. The pedagogical approach was designed to be a multifaceted and immersive experience to facilitate student engagement. In pursuit of this objective, a field trip was taken to examine the remains of a collapsed civilization. The class was also incredibly interdisciplinary with graphic design students from the College of Arts and Sciences assisting students in the creation of the games, and evaluators from the College of Education assisting in the quantitative and qualitative data collection and assessment of the course. Since the class was run through the honors program, the students taking the class represented a cross-section of university students and were not just engineering or science students.

The paper to be presented will highlight (a) pedagogical approaches, (b) the summary findings from the assessment data collected, and (c) understandings of the effectiveness of the course from the perspectives of the professors and students.

Littrell, M. N., & Chitiyo, G., & Michel, L. A., & Anton, S. R. (2020, June), Board Game Development as a Pedagogical Approach to Teaching Undergraduate Students in an Interdisciplinary Course that Addresses Contemporary Societal Issues Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34221

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