Game-based structural debriefing. How can teachers design game-based curricula for systems thinking?

Publication Date14 October 2019
AuthorYoon Jeon Kim,Oleg Pavlov
SubjectLibrary & information science
Game-based structural debrieng
How can teachers design game-based
curricula for systems thinking?
Yoon Jeon Kim
Playful Journey Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, and
Oleg Pavlov
Department of Social Science and Policy Studies, Worcester Polytechnic Institute,
Worcester, Massachusetts, USA
Purpose The authors developed a pedagogical framework called the game-based structural debrieng
(GBSD) to leverage the affordances of video games for teaching systems thinking. By integrating system
dynamicsvisualization tools within a set of debrieng activities, GBSD helps teachersmake systems thinking
an explicitgoal of the gameplay and learning when they use available educationalgames in the classroom.
Design/methodology/approach This study usesa design-basedresearch methodology with the goals
of validating GBSD and investigating the utility of GBSD across different contexts as a design source to
develop game-based curriculum. Over the course of 12months, the authors conducted one focus group
interview and three design workshops with participating teachers and master teachers. Between the
workshops, the teamrapidly iterated the framework, as well as curricularmaterials, in collaboration with the
Findings The authors developed a curriculum unit that integrates systemsdynamics visualization tools
and a video gamefor middle school life science ecosystem curriculum.The unit was implemented by the three
teachers who participatedin the co-design. The implementations conrmed the exibility of the unit because
teachers created additional instructional materials that supplemented the GBSDprotocol and addressed the
unique limitationsand needs of their classrooms.
Originality/value GBSD builds on system dynamics, which is a distinct academic discipline and
methodology, and it uses its visualization tools, which are not widely used in the systems thinking
educational literature. GBSD is also unique, in that it applies these tools within the debrieng activities
developedfor an off-the-shelf educational game. Thispaper illustrates how a design framework can be usedto
supportteachersthoughtful integration of games in curriculumdevelopment.
Keywords Systems thinking, STEM, System dynamics, Game-based learning,
Design-based research, Video games, Causal diagrams, Structural debrieng
Paper type Research paper
The benets of digital games as a vehicle to support student learning have been well
documented. In a meta-analysisstudy, Clark et al. (2016) reported that compared to nongame
conditions, digital games had a moderate to strong effect in terms of overall learning
The authors gratefully acknowledge the nancial support of the Spencer Foundation, Grant#
201600124. They also thank BrainPOP for participating in this project. The authors are grateful to
Christine Whitlock for her excellent research assistance, and they thank two anonymous reviewers
for their insightful comments and extremely helpful suggestions.
curricula for
Received7 May 2019
Revised28 July 2019
Accepted10 September 2019
Informationand Learning
Vol.120 No. 9/10, 2019
pp. 567-588
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/ILS-05-2019-0039
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
outcomes including cognitive and interpersonal skills. Similarly, a literature review by
Boyle et al. (2016) found that games are benecial for learningof various outcomes such as
knowledge acquisition, affect, behavior change, perception, and cognition. Numerous
studies also reported academic domain-specicbenets of games for learning including
science (Li, 2013; National Research Council, 2011; Danish et al., 2017;Puttick and Tucker-
Raymond, 2018) and math (Kebritchi et al., 2010;Divjak and Tomi
c, 2011; Starkey, 2013).
Games are well suited as instructionaltools not only for children but also for adults in cases
where adults need to be educated about complex policy issues, such as the climate change
(Wu and Lee, 2015).
While the ample evidence shows that games have great potential to support learning,
Clark et al. (2016), caution that not all games are appropriate for learning because how
certain game design elements (e.g. game mechanics and narrative) are associated with the
learning goals matters. Evenwhen the game was intentionally designed for learning, only if
combined with a thoughtful curriculum that aligns the game elements with curricular
activities can it be successfulin supporting learning in classrooms (Squire, 2011). Giventhat
many classroom teachers have adopted games the Joan Ganz Cooney Centers Level Up
Learning survey indicates that74 per cent of teachers are currently using digital games for
instructional purposes with their students (Takeuchi and Vaala, 2014)further
investigation is needed to support thoughtful integration of games with existing curricular
Successful and meaningful integration of game-based learning in classrooms largely
depends on teacherspractices and classroom-contexts (Klopfer et al.,2009;Hmelo-Silver
et al., 2015). Several studies investigated the challenges of adopting game-based learning in
classrooms (Baek, 2008;Kirriemuir and McFarlane, 2003;Hmelo-Silver et al., 2015), which
include the rigidity of the curriculum, the perceived negativeeffects of gaming, unprepared
students, the lack of supportive materials, xed class schedules and limited budgets.
Moreover, ensuring that the gameplay is relevant for both the classrooms context and
curricular needs is a signicant factor without a balance between the needs of the
curriculum and the structure of the game, achieving the intended learning outcomes of the
game-based curriculum cannot be possible (Van Eck, 2006). Therefore, it is crucial to
support teachers as they select and integrate appropriate games and align them with the
goals of their curriculum (Baek, 2008). However, little is known about teacherspedagogical
roles and practices in game-based curriculum (Foster and Shah, 2015), and only few
curriculum designframeworks exist that can guide teachersefforts.
Games for systems thinking
Systems thinking (ST) skills have been recognized as part of the core science literacy, and
more recently, as critical twenty-rstcentury skills. The Next Generation Science Standards
(NGSS) reect this perspective by explicitly infusing systems thinking concepts across the
standards. While this is a signicant step forward, it poses imminent practical challenges
for teachers in terms ofhow to teach ST skills.
Educational researchsuggests that video games support systems thinking skills because
learnersunderstandingof complex systems improves when they are engaged withcomplex
phenomena in hands-on or simulated experiences (Gee, 2003; Torres, 2009; Hmelo-Silver
et al., 2015;Danish et al.,2017;Peppler et al.,2018;Puttick and Tucker-Raymond, 2018).
However, without a systematic pedagogical approach, the game remains a black boxto
students, even if they implicitly understand how the system operates (Alessi, 2000;Größler
et al., 2000;Pavlov et al.,2015;Hmelo-Silver et al.,2015;Hmelo-Silver et al.,2017). The
curriculum aimed at developing skills that are needed for investigating complex systems

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