Motivate Learning Through Online Games

Lutze Pic

Holly Lutze, Ph.D.

Dr. Holly Lutze is an Assistant Professor in Business and Economics at Texas Lutheran University with 12 years of experience teaching Operations Management. She holds a B.S. in Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management from Oklahoma State University. Her M.S. in Engineering-Economic Systems and Operations Research and Ph.D. in Management Science and Engineering are from Stanford University.

Professors often have students demonstrate classroom learning through simulation games. Textbook publishers underscore the need for high quality, meaningful, and practical experiences to exercise new knowledge (Barko & Sadler, 2003). These simulation games are wonderful but are often applied only after the instruction takes place (Squire, 2003).

Simple, free, online games can effectively introduce ideas and provide playful examples for use later in a semester. My students may play with Legos, throw paper wads, or dig through my garbage. However, their interest is piqued when I ask them to bring laptops or tablets to class.

Video games can be used to stimulate learning in the classroom. Some instructors resist this practice due to time constraints or because they believe the strategy conflicts with their traditional teaching methods (Kirriemui & McFarlane, 2014; Squire, 2003) The challenge of engaging students with different interests, backgrounds, learning styles, and aptitudes is one we all face (Barko & Sadler, 2003; Kelly, 2005; Bowman, 1982).

While my classes may teeter on the edge of chaos at first, pulling a classroom into productive discussion fits well with my pedagogical strategy.  I want to form an environment where all students feel comfortable interacting with classmates and with me (Kelly, 2005). My instruction frames what students observe in a game and expands upon it (Squire, 2003). Sometimes concepts relate immediately, and sometimes I refer to the games later in the semester, as examples.

One game I use effectively in Operations Management is Patient Shuffle, available through GE Healthcare Partners. Used to introduce the differences between production organizations and service organizations, the premise of the game is to run a hospital. Patients follow different sequences of treatments, spend varying amounts of time in each room, and leave by either foot or helicopter. Student performance is measured by the number of patients treated and the general mood of the patients.

Students audibly express frustrations throughout the game, but these frustrations are exactly what I am looking for. To elicit student engagement, I follow up five rounds with the following four questions.

(1) What made this game difficult? Comments lead to discussions of measuring productivity, customization in a process focus, and resource limitations.

(2) What would have made the game easier? Comments lead to discussions of capacity planning, scheduling, and strategies for process-oriented layout.

(3) What did you do to improve over time? I point out that they already demonstrate problem solving skills that can help them be successful operations managers.

(4) Who did the best, and what was the secret to his/her success? We talk about benchmarking and, time permitting, allow students to try to improve performance at the end of the fifty-minute class.

Finding free online games that relate to my teaching goals can be tricky. If a game elicits relevant answers to the above four questions, I know I have found a good one. Bottling the magic of Pac-Man in a productive and educational learning environment (Bowman, 1982) is not impossible. 

References

Barko, T., & Sadler, T. (2013). Practicality in virtuality: Finding student meaning in video game education. Journal of Science Education & Technology, 22(2), 124-132.

Kelly, H. (2005). Games, cookies, and the future of education. Issues in Science & Technology, 21(4), 33-40.

Bowman, R. F. (1982). A pac-man theory of motivation: tactical implications for classroom instruction. Educational Technology, 22, 14-17.

Squire, K. (2003). Video games in education. International Journal of Intelligent Games & Simulation,  2, 49-62.