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Chemical Engineering Student Perceptions of Communication Development from Participation in Game-Based Activities

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Professional Skills Development

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Abigail Jane Kulhanek

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Abigail Kulhanek is an undergraduate student studying Chemical Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh.

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Cheryl A Bodnar Rowan University

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Cheryl A. Bodnar, Ph.D., CTDP is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Experiential Engineering Education at Rowan University. Dr. Bodnar’s research interests relate to the incorporation of active learning techniques in undergraduate classes as well as integration of innovation and entrepreneurship into the engineering curriculum. In particular, she is interested in the impact that these tools can have on student perception of the classroom environment, motivation and learning outcomes. She obtained her certification as a Training and Development Professional (CTDP) from the Canadian Society for Training and Development (CSTD) in 2010, providing her with a solid background in instructional design, facilitation and evaluation. She was selected to participate in the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Frontiers of Engineering Education Symposium in 2013 and awarded the American Society for Engineering Education Educational Research Methods Faculty Apprentice Award in 2014.

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Workplace surveys show communication skills are essential to success in engineering practices; however, a large gap has been identified between workplace needs and engineering graduates’ skills. A contributing factor to this could be that engineering programs rarely require students to take courses exclusively focused on developing skills in public speaking, presentation, or technical communication which in combination with students’ attitudes that communication is not necessarily a key skill to engineering can exacerbate the problem. Despite efforts to increase the focus on communication in the engineering curriculum, recent engineering graduates entering the workplace are still reported to be deficient in written and oral communication skills.

This work investigates student perception of written and oral communication skills after their participation in game-based activities as a means to determine whether game-based pedagogy could serve as a potential tool to enhance these skills in engineering undergraduates. Game-based learning incorporates game design elements in non-game contexts, balancing subject matter and game play to help players engage in the information being presented, while allowing them to learn how to apply it in real world contexts, such as communication in industry.

Game-based communication activities were incorporated into one section of Introduction to Chemical Product Design including 86 chemical engineering undergraduates in the spring of 2015. Three different game-based communication activities were covered with the students. “Professional Slide” was a game-based activity where students acted as employees for a company in distress, explaining to customers in a single slide why a recall had been issued on their product. In the “ROYGBIV” game-based activity, students received cards with a code and had to describe the components of their cards with only oral communication in an attempt to decode their card and solve the class based problem. Finally, “Mystery Liquid” was a game-based activity where students had to describe an unknown liquid to their team members based on appearance, smell and feel solely through written communication so their team could correctly identify the liquid without ever seeing it.

Reflection-based homework assignments were developed to obtain students’ perception of these game-based communication activities as prior research showed that use of these game-based communication activities resulted in positive improvement in both students’ oral and written communication skills. The coding scheme for the reflections was developed using a grounded, emergent qualitative analysis. The reflections were then content analyzed by two analysts. An inter-rater reliability measure based on Cohen’s Kappa was calculated for each game-based activity. The inter-rater reliability for the “Professional Slide,” “ROYGBIV,” and “Mystery Liquid” game-based activities were calculated to be 0.641, 0.647, and 0.597 respectively, reflecting a fair level of agreement. Reflections were also analyzed to determine which themes were more prominent in each game-based activity, whether differences existed in these themes based on student gender, and what that meant for the students’ perceptions of communication. For example, the top three themes for the “Professional Slide” game-based activity were {approach – framing}, {audience perception – understanding/listening}, and {approach – presentation}. When looking at the differences between genders for this game-based activity, the top three themes for females were {approach – framing}, {audience perception – understanding/listening}, and {approach – detail} and the top three themes for males were {approach – detail}, {audience perception – understanding/listening}, and {approach – presentation}. As can be seen by these top themes, there was little variation observed between male and female reflections on the game-based communication activities.

Kulhanek, A. J., & Bodnar, C. A. (2017, June), Chemical Engineering Student Perceptions of Communication Development from Participation in Game-Based Activities Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28030

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