S5-GAM1-4 - Gaming4All: Reflecting on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Game-Based Engineering Education

3. Research Full Paper
Casper Harteveld1 , Nithesh Javvaji1, Taigo Machado1, Yevgeniya Zastavker2, Victoria Bennett3, Tarek Abdoun3
1 Northeastern University
2 Olin College
3 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Full paper: Game-based learning has long been heralded as a promise to transform education into a more engaging and experiential paradigm. Its implementation in engineering education has thus far shown that promise, yet more evidence is needed for widespread adoption. In our work, we focus on introducing game-based learning into geotechnical engineering curricula. A key hypothesis underlying our work centers on issues of equity, inclusivity and diversity, thus surfacing the question of whether game-based learning is democratizing education, benefiting each and every student. To our knowledge, this issue has thus far not received any attention notwithstanding its immediacy given the lack of diversity in engineering education and the potential for game-based learning to address it.

In this study, we implemented a mixed reality game-based pedagogy to introduce engineering students across four institutions (n = 263) to the field practice of cone-penetration testing (CPT). In this game, players take on a mock internship at a fictitious engineering company, conduct a number of CPT assignments in a virtual environment, analyze data retrieved from the assignments, and then submit a report to their company manager. We consider this a “mixed reality” game as it combines real elements (i.e., analyzing CPT data) with virtual ones (i.e., the virtual environment for field testing). In designing the game, we practiced inclusive design, critiquing and reflecting on how game elements may be perceived across different populations and conjecturing about game elements effective for various populations, including those underrepresented in engineering groups. In our study population, 67% identified themselves as male, 32% as female, and 1% reported a different gender identity (e.g., non-binary). In terms of race and ethnicity, the study population included 5% Black of African American, 27% Latino/Latina or Hispanic, 17% Asian, 47% Caucasian or White, and 4% Native American / Hawaiian or a different race/ethnicity. We collected data using surveys and in-game responses. For the survey responses, we determined reliability using Cronbach’s alpha and validity using exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses.    

Our analyses indicate that there are no differences in students’ perceived and assessed learning, engagement, or the perceived impact on the students’ career ambitions across genders or race/ethnicities. While promising, we question whether this result is transferrable to other sites and other populations and whether educational innovations, such as mixed reality game-based learning, can create more equitable, inclusive and diverse learning environments, fostering learning opportunities for all students in a way that traditional education has been unable to do. Based on the insights from our study, we outline a number of strategies to democratize education through fostering equitable and inclusive learning environments through mixed reality game-based learning initiatives in engineering education.