A. Signa1, G. Città2, V. Dal Grande2, M. Gentile3, D. La Guardia2, F. Lo Presti2, S. Ottaviano2, S. Perna1, M. Allegra2

1Institute for Educational Technology, National Research Council of Italy / Department of Engineering, University of Palermo (ITALY)
2Institute for Educational Technology, National Research Council of Italy (ITALY)
3Institute for Educational Technology, National Research Council of Italy / Dipartimento di Informatica, Università di Torino (ITALY)
Within school systems where curricula focus primarily on the theoretical and neglect the practical, preventing students from acquiring problem-solving and other soft skills, the transition from school to work is dramatically slow and problematic.

School-to-work alternation (SWA) is a relatively recent educational approach designed to enable students to acquire technical and soft skills through experiential learning in a real-world work environment. Through participation in SWA programs, students can overcome their lack of work experience, one of the preeminent causes of difficulty in the school-to-work transition.

As one of the states with the most problematic SWA, Italy introduced in 2015 (and made compulsory in 2019) an amount of SWA time to be included in the secondary school curricula. Thanks to this programme, students can get first-hand experience of the work dynamics and subsequently enter the labour market, having already acquired soft-skills and specific job-related skills.

The COVID-19 pandemic has strongly challenged the current educational infrastructure pushing the need to pursue new solutions, often digital, to the problems posed by social distancing. In a world where students can’t all physically stay in the same classroom, teachers had to quickly find ways to ensure that the right to an education was fulfilled, often without having the time needed to explore, test and validate existing solutions. Amidst this crisis, SWA paths were considered to be a lower priority. They were hit harder than other school-related activities, often completely frozen or postponed to a better time in the future. What COVID-19 has taught us, though, is that we need to radically change the way we live and approach social activities (such as education) and that we might never come back to the way the world worked that we used to know.

Virtual simulated environments, such as those provided by Serious Games, can answer these needs by providing students with opportunities to exercise skills and make experiences that would otherwise not be possible. We also believe that the work landscape is rapidly changing as well. Therefore, soft-skills such as problem-solving and risk management and entrepreneur skills are becoming more important in the transition between School and Work that students face. For these reasons, we have tuned and adjusted the uManager Serious Game, a management and construction Serious Game in which students play the role of the manager of a tourism business, to be used as an SWA path. In this paper, we will discuss the adjustment made to the game aimed at empowering the learning process in a structured context as well as describe the trials made with two Italian Schools that involved more than 50 students.