GAME-BASED STRUCTURAL DEBRIEFING: A DESIGN TOOL FOR SYSTEMS THINKING CURRICULUM
, O. Pavlov2
1Massachusetts Institute of Technology (UNITED STATES)
2Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) (UNITED STATES)
Natural, social, and business systems include many parts, which interact through complex webs of feedback causality. The presence of interdependent, interconnected, dynamic, and often invisible components in complex systems (Wilensky & Resnick, 1999) makes them difficult to grasp (Feltovich, Coulson, & Spiro, 2001). Systems thinking (ST) skills are required for understanding complex systems, and they have been recognized as a core of science literacy education (National Research Council, 1996). The current standards for U.S. science education (NGSS, 2013) reflect this perspective by explicitly infusing concepts and practices of ST across the standards. While this is a significant step forward, this poses imminent practical challenges for teachers in terms of how to teach ST.
One medium that has been used to teach systems thinking skills is video games (Salen, 2011; Shute et al., 2010). While studies have shown that playing games can facilitate students’ ST skills (Torres, 2009; Peppler, Danish, & Phelps, 2013), little is known about how teachers can use video games in the classroom to support systems thinking (DeVane, Durga, & Squire, 2010). Simply playing a game might not be sufficient because the game can be viewed as a “black-box” by students even if they implicitly understand how the game works (Größler et al., 2000). We propose a pedagogical framework called Game-Based Structural Debriefing (GBSD) as a means for bridging affordances of video games with curriculum activities.
GBSD supplements a video game with structural debriefing, which consists of activities that can help students acquire an understanding of the internal causal structure of a complex system (Pavlov, Saeed, & Robinson, 2015) by allowing students (or teachers) to explicitly relate game components (e.g., goals, rules, variable behaviors) to system concepts (e.g., causal relationships, feedbacks, accumulations and delays). We investigate how this framework can be adopted by teachers by using the design-based research approach (Collins, Joseph, & Bielaczyc, 2004). Our study includes (a) a collaborative curriculum design and professional development with three participating teachers, (b) an iterative refinement of the GBSD framework, and (c) a qualitative analysis of teachers’ curriculum implementation. The primary question that we addressed during this phase of the study is: How do teachers use the GBSD framework to create game-based systems thinking activities?
We selected an online game called Food Fight, a freely available turn-based multiplayer game. The goal of the game is for each player to grow the population of a selected animal, for example eagles or rhinos, by carefully adding animals and plants to the biome. We selected this game because it is a good example of games that use complex systems as the core mechanic in that modeled populations compete for limited resources. For this presentation, we will primarily discuss how teachers used this framework and how we refined the framework based on their input. For instance, while the teachers felt the game provided a concrete context to discuss ST concepts, they also felt “limited” by the features of the game. In this case, because reinforcing loops were not directly observable in the game, the teachers chose to explicitly explain feedback outside of the game. They also observed that the students might benefit from more time using the systems thinking language coupled with more time playing the game.