Title: Promoting Civic Thinking through Epistemic Game Play (2011)

Authors: Elizabeth Bagley & David Williamson Shaffer

Source: International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations

Research Questions: Did the Urban Science epistemic game help players develop urban planning knowledge, skills and values? Did the professional obstacles, specifically the stakeholders, help players develop this civic thinking?

Study Design: Computer games are one of the most popular media among American youth. Scholars have advocated using games for educational purposes because they can provide situated, experiential, interactive, and epistemological learning opportunities. Epistemic games are one promising game genre for learning because these games leverage the experiential and simulative features and embed social practices of real world professionals in gameplay. This study aimed to find empirical evidence of the benefits of epistemic games for education and examined the experiences of a group of middle school students' in one epistemic game, Urban Science.

Twelve middle school students participated in a two-day workshop about Urban Science. The gameplay in Urban Science was modeled on an ethnographic study of a graduate-level planning practicum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Extensive pre and post workshop interviews were conducted. Interviews were transcribed and coded, and paired t-tests were used to compare pre and post interview responses.

Findings: Students who participated in this workshop gained knowledge of systems thinking (city as systems) and understood more about real world processes for urban planning. Furthermore, they learned that serving the public interest is the core value in urban planning. Non-player-characters and stakeholders (e.g., Business Council, Cultural Preservation Organization, People for Greenspace) in this urban planning game provided authentic obstacles that were great contexts for the learning of civic thinking. To accommodate conflicting views on zoning from these stakeholders, students had to design a planning proposal that considers various interests of different groups. As a result, they learned civic skills and values in these negotiation processes. Because the study was small, further research is needed to build solid causal claims.

Moving Forward: Computer games have many appealing characteristics that parallel great learning experiences: they are engaging, experiential, and constantly provide feedback to players to help them improve their skills. While many educators doubt whether problem solving and other skills learned from video games are transferable to the real world, epistemic games provide a promising approach to address these concerns and have the potential to revolutionize how we help students understand and become professionals.

Image: by Marco3000 via Wikimedia Commons