The Impact of Educational Games on Learning, Engagement, and Equity in Geosciences

Wednesday 11:15-11:45am PT / 12:15-12:45pm MT / 1:15-1:45pm CT / 2:15-2:45pm ET Online


Rowan Martindale, The University of Texas at Austin
Barbara Sulbaran, The University of Texas at Austin
Estefania Salgado-Jauregui, Servicio Geologico Colombiano
North Cooc, The University of Texas at Austin
Kathy Ellins, The University of Texas at Austin

Incorporating play in classrooms has been shown to improve student learning (Griggs et al., 2009); however, the advantages may not be equal across all learners. Some studies have suggested that gender, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic background may correlate with students' likelihood of engaging in educational games (e.g., Andrews, 2008; Martindale and Weiss, 2020). Here, we assess the efficacy of educational board games in geoscience classrooms among different demographic groups. We hypothesize that utilizing high-context games as an educational medium will ameliorate the gap in educational gains between groups with different cultural backgrounds. We also present a new educational game, "Reef Survivor'', designed to help players learn about reef ecology, evolution, extinction, and resilience in the face of environmental change. In the game, players (or teams) are conservation experts in charge of preserving their reef, while they are challenged with changing conditions like evolution (e.g., mutations, migration) and biotic or environmental disturbances (e.g., hurricanes, global warming). Online versions of the games "Reef Survivor" and "Taphonomy: Dead and Fossilized" were developed in Google Jamboard, so they could be played in a web-based geoscience course during the COVID-19 pandemic. The efficacy of these games was evaluated with undergraduate geoscience students in the freshman class "Life Through Time" at the Jackson School of Geosciences (n=58). Four lab sections (11 to 17 students) were observed and learning gains were assessed across the two games over two 2-hour lab sessions. Two sections had competitive gaming conditions with one control group and the other with a positive priming condition (stereotype threat counter). The other two sections played collaboratively and competitively (teams of two), again with one control and one group with positive priming conditions. Evaluation instruments include pre/post surveys completed by students and an observation protocol adapted from Kern et al. (2007).