Game-based learning can provide students with knowledge and shift attitudes on environmental subjects

Chan, C. -S., Chan, Y. -hang, & Fong, T. H. A. (2020). Game-based e-learning for urban tourism education through an online scenario game. International Research In Geographical And Environmental Education, 29, 283 - 300.

Educators have recently embraced computer game-based learning as a complement to classroom learning. Games depict the real world in virtual reality and model complex systems under different conditions. As class sizes increase under the constraint of funding challenges, arranging field trips may become less feasible, but games can supplement or replace field trips with virtual experiences. Research has suggested that game-based learning can transfer environmental knowledge and change environmental attitudes, which in turn may impact environmental behavior. However, the platform usability of the game – how motivated and attentive participants feel while playing the game, how simple the game's interface is, among others – may affect learning outcomes. This study examined the effectiveness of knowledge transfer, attitude change, and platform usability for undergraduate students that played a scenario game focused on urban tourism and decision-making.

The researchers reviewed a scenario game in which participants acted as members of a destination marketing organization (DMO) and made urban tourism development decisions for a hypothetical city – such as whether to invest in tourism, given the priorities of both tourists and residents. The game illustrated the consequences of participants' decisions with characters and voice-over narration and included some images to represent real-world scenarios. The researchers conducted the study with a voluntary sample of 30 full-time undergraduate students from a university in Hong Kong. Of the sample, 60% of the participants were female, most participants were in their 2nd to 4th year of study, and over 83% of all participants had no previous experience in urban tourism. In each session of the study, the same trained moderator provided context on urban tourism, and reviewed the functionality of the game. Participants were randomly split into groups of two to three students each, and each person role-played as a team member in the DMO. All participants completed pre- and post-session questionnaires to measure students' familiarity with urban tourism and expectations for the game, in which they ranked statements on a 6-point scale (from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”) to measure participant knowledge and attitudes and game usability. The statements included 10 items on knowledge, 12 on attitude, 17 on usability. Also on the questionnaire were another 12 statements related to comparing the game experience to other learning methods, and 2 related to overall game satisfaction and whether participants would recommend it to others. An open-ended discussion section on preferences, dislikes, and learning experience collected qualitative responses. The researchers used statistical analysis to compare the pre-and post-session questionnaire results.

The questionnaire responses revealed increased participant scores across knowledge transfer, while attitude change and platform usability showed limited gains. All 10 knowledge items had significantly higher scores after students played the game, indicating that participants felt more knowledgeable about urban tourism concepts. Conversely, only 3 of the 12 attitude items had significantly higher scores while the other 9 items for attitude did not have any significant change between pre-and post-session questionnaires. Most of the platform usability scores displayed little change between questionnaires except for one item, “the design of the game is educational”, which significantly decreased. In comparing the game to other learning methods, students generally responded positively to questions about knowledge, attitude, and usability. Particularly, results showed students learned more from the game compared to past lectures or discussions.

The open-ended section of the questionnaire revealed participants considered the game informative about urban tourism, indicating successful knowledge transfer. However, they felt more background information, such as a supplemental presentation, would have illustrated some of the concepts presented in the game, better. Regarding attitude, most participants focused on the needs of citizens in the hypothetical city and wanted to ensure the economic costs and burdens of tourism would be distributed equitably. In terms of usability, participants liked the game's character design, voice-over, and storyline, but had some technical complaints about the voice-over's speed. Participants also wanted the game to provide more decision-making options and illustrate their consequences more clearly.

This study had limitations. The questionnaire responses were self-reported by the participants, meaning the data were subjected to personal biases. Knowledge was measured through self-reporting rather than assessment and may not accurately represent participants' knowledge. The study had a small sample size of self-identified volunteers as opposed to a randomly selected pool of participants, so the study may not be fully representative of the undergraduate population. Further, the study participants were compensated, which may have influenced the integrity of the data. Finally, the game and background information were subjective, both in the game design and the moderator who presented the information, which may have influenced the results of the study.

The researchers concluded the game caused knowledge gain and some attitude change based on the all-around improvement of knowledge scores, and the improvement of some attitude scores. They stated game-based learning may not fully replace traditional or field-based learning but could provide core knowledge about a subject in place of or in addition to traditional lectures. The researchers advocated for more research on how the participants made their decisions in the game, and how to improve the usability of games to be more effective.

The Bottom Line

<p>Game-based learning can model real-world environmental systems under different conditions such as climate change and development. This study examined the effectiveness of knowledge transfer, attitude change, and platform usability for undergraduate students that played a scenario game focused on urban tourism and decision-making. A voluntary sample of 30 full-time undergraduate students played a game in which participants role-played as destination marketing organization (DMO) employees and made urban tourism development decisions for a hypothetical city. Participants answered pre- and post-questionnaires that the researchers analyzed. Each of the knowledge-related items had significantly higher scores after the students played the game, indicating that participants felt more knowledgeable about urban tourism concepts. The researchers concluded game-based learning may not fully replace traditional learning but could provide core knowledge about a subject in place of or in addition to lectures or field visits.</p>

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