traditional lecture classroom

Opportunities for Innovation:
Game-based Learning in Engineering Senior Design

A Dissertation in Curriculum & Instruction by Erica B. Walker

Game-based learning is a novel approach for teaching a studio design course, especially within the domain of engineering, a field which although innovative by nature, is often focused on left-brained thought processes (Felder, 1996; Herrmann, 1995; Lumsdaine & Lumsdaine, 1995). Studio design courses attempt to mimic the design process that students will enter into after graduation, giving them real-world experience and a chance to practice design and innovation while still in the protected environment of the university setting. In recent years, many involved in education have indicated that 21st century skills and epistemic frames are vital ingredients for the success of the next generation of innovators. Design courses are ripe with opportunity to embed these important skills into the curriculum (Brouwer, Sykes, & Vander Leest, 2011; Lee & Wong, 2014; Matthew, Monroe-White, Turrentine, Shartrand, & Jariwala, n.d.; Zappe, Hochstedt, Kisenwether, & Shartrand, 2013) (cite). With this work, I present my investigation of using game-based learning as a vehicle for embedding 21st century skills and epistemic frames within the domain content of a Senior Design course in Bioengineering. The resulting narrative provides an investigative look into the process of converting a lecture-based bioengineering design course into a game-based course.

In my first course as a graduate student, I was given an assignment to come up with a mini-proposal for a research project. Having just been accepted into the program, I did not yet know which direction my research was likely to take, however, I had a keen interest in entrepreneurial education, a term that later I felt was best defined as the transference of 21st century skills to students in a classroom setting. In my experience as an entrepreneur, a student, a parent, and more recently, as an educator, I observed that the education system was very good at teaching and assessing factual knowledge, but that students were not necessarily grasping how those separate facts would later become relevant to their lives after graduation. From what I saw, there were plenty of intelligent students enrolled in college, but many of them did not seem to be equipped with the entrepreneurial traits (such as working well in groups, communication skills, creative problem solving, etc.) necessary to excel in leadership roles within today’s competitive job market.

That early assignment was the first time I looked into the research literature to try to understand what I was observing in the students around me. Up until that point, I had nothing other than my personal observations and conversations with other faculty from which to decipher what I was seeing in my classroom and, more broadly, in formal education as a whole. Due to the demands of current educational practices, students in K–12 are being taught with a focus on standards-driven curriculum (Nodoushan & Ali, 2009). In order to ensure success on the required exams, teachers are forced to spend large amounts of time each school year preparing students for standardized tests. It seemed that by encouraging students, for the first twelve years of their formal education, to respond with the “correct answer” to a question formal education could leave them entrenched in a dualistic mindset. Students with a dualistic mindset believe that there is only one right answer, that information comes directly from authorities, and that knowledge is either right or wrong, black or white (Perry, 1968). The disadvantage of measuring school achievement in this way is that we are encouraging students to all have the same “right” answers rather than encouraging individual, innovative thought and active participation in the creative problem solving process (Perry, 1968, 1999; Woods, Felder, Rugarcia, & Stice, 2000). Yet, in recent years, the demand for a workforce that can produce innovative solutions has steadily increased. Companies need employees that are able to transform their products and processes, they are not looking to hire graduates who can simply answer questions correctly (Arastoopour, Golnaz, Chesler, & Shaffer, 2014; Coalition, 2014; Ernst, 1996; Shuman, Besterfield-Sacre, & McGourty, 2005).

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Erica B. Walker, Ph.D. Candidate at Clemson University || All rights reserved © 2016