Serious Games in Chemistry Education: Student Perspectives

This case study describes a small research project entitled ‘Serious Games in Chemistry Education: Student Perspectives’. The one-year project was carried out with level 4 and 5 students on a bioscience/biochemistry foundation degree course and concerned their experience of serious games in their chemistry units . It was led by myself (academic tutor). A research intern and a voluntary collaborator (both alumni) played significant roles in the project from inception to completion including writing the draft report upon which this case study is based – students as researchers and inquirers (Healy and Jenkins 2009) and students as co – authors (Healy, Marquis and Vajoczki 2013). The project was funded by the AoC.

Research context

The HEI concerned serves a low - income area and the small student cohort typically includes young parents and others returning to education. Their chemistry background is mixed ranging from recent A level experience to, often less than positive, exposure some years ago. Hence teaching such a cohort presents considerable challenges.

Active learning and serious games

In recent years I have increasingly made use of inexpensive ‘low tech’ games. Murphy (2012) claims, serious games can provide a valuable method of students being able to acquire knowledge due to their motivational engagement. Rastegapour and Marashi (2011) assert that through the use of games, the learning of difficult chemistry concepts could be improved. There would seem to be a strong case for this pedagogy and always keen to inject variety and enjoyment into my teaching, I decided to make more of this approach.

There is very little in the literature about student perceptions, and seemingly no work on the use of serious games in CBHE science. Hence this project aimed to discover how our CBHE students felt about these ‘low tech’ games.

The games I use include jigsaws, matching card games, board games and a question and answer game called ‘I am/am not’

Most of the games can be played in teams or individually and can be pitched at an appropriate level. With ‘I am/am not’ particularly, over the course of the module the rules can become progressively tighter requiring players to have greater knowledge and deeper understanding.

Research design

Data was obtained from a (one-hour) focus group. The group comprised 1 level 5, 5 level 4 and 1 previous student(s). All had experienced serious games in their chemistry modules.

The questions, pre-planned by the intern and collaborator, were: 

  1. What impact have the games had on you as a learner? 
  2. Have these games had an effect on your overall disciplinary knowledge? 
  3. Do you feel the games have affected your ability to self-assess and reflect on your work? 
  4. Are there any games that you find more useful? Or less? 

Results

Responses were overwhelmingly positive.

The students enjoyed the games and greatly valued the opportunities created to learn from each other. The term ‘bouncing off’ each other was used on several occasions. There was strong support for the way the games built their confidence. They were positive about how the games provided a less formal and relaxing way to learn but this did not detract from their usefulness. They noted that the games triggered self-assessment and promoted follow up action. There was a feeling the games aided retention and summarising. Some preferred the group games for the peer support and for some the jigsaw type games were most useful as they could see ‘the answer’ in writing rather than hearing it spoken. The few negative comments concerned feeling awkward working with new classmates in the early days of the course and with feeling ‘exposed’ playing I am/am not, again early in the course.

Conclusion  

This study aimed to discover whether these low-tech games were valuable to students studying chemistry in a CBHE setting. Overwhelmingly, the feedback was positive, with students finding the games valuable in building their knowledge and instilling confidence and motivation. This is consistent with Murphy (2012) and Rastegapour and Marashi  (2011) cited above.

This was a small study with one specific group of CBHE students in one CBHE setting, but given the student demographic typically associated with CBHE, there is every reason to believe that the focus group comments would be echoed in other CBHE settings.

Personal reflections

My perceptions were always that through the games, students engaged, learned from each other and increased their confidence. I was sure their understanding improved. The focus group appears to support this.

The games are good ‘ice breakers’ breaking down barriers and building relationships. During the games I can intervene, clarify, advise etc. The games take a little time to prepare but this is a once and for all investment. I see no reason why they could not be adapted for other subjects recognising that their use is restricted to smaller groups and acknowledging that the games would not easily translate to subjects which are more opinion or discussion based. There does need to be a ‘right answer’.

In my planning I will bear in mind comments about seeing the answer in writing, feeling awkward and ‘not learning in this way’. I am motivated to develop further serious games.

Authors

David Cross is chemistry lecturer on the Bioscience/Biochemistry Foundation Degree course at University Campus North Lincolnshire (UCNL) in Scunthorpe. His co-authors are Katie Anderson, alumni, student intern on the project, now teacher of science; and Hollie Shaw, alumni, voluntary collaborator on the project, now PhD student.

For further information on this case-study, please contact David on david.cross@northlindsey.ac.uk

References

Healy, M and Jenkins, A. Developing Undergraduate Research and Inquiry [Internet]. (2009). Available https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/developingundergraduate_final.pdf

Healy, M., Marquis. and Vajozki, S. (2013) Exploring SoTL through international collaborative writing groups. Teaching and Learning Enquiry, 1(2):

Murphy, M. Why games work and the science of learning. Report [Internet]. 2012. Available http://www.goodgamesbydesign.com/Files/WhyGamesWork_TheScienceOfLearning_CMurphy_2011.pdf.  [Accessed 13 September 2019]

Rastegarpour, H., Marashi, P. (2012) The effect of card games and computer games on learning of chemistry concepts. Procedia Social and Behavioural Sciences31:579 – 601