Gaming for graduates: exploring the use of video games to develop graduate attributes
AbstractThis work examines the effects of playing commercial video games on the development of the student abilities referred to as 'graduate attributes'. Graduate attributes are those generic skills such as critical thinking, communication, resourcefulness or adaptability which are considered desirable in graduates, particularly where employability is concerned. However, most Higher Education courses have not hitherto been explicitly designed to teach or develop these attributes. Many commercial video games, on the other hand, require players to exercise a range of such skills and competences in order to progress; for example, communicating with fellow players in order to succeed in a team-based multiplayer title. Despite suggestions from scholars including James Paul Gee, Kurt Squire, and John Seely Brown that games may be of educational and developmental benefit to players, there exists little empirical evidence for the efficacy of using commercial video games to develop these skills. The work described here addresses this lack of evidence and proposes a positive correlation between the development of specific skills and the playing of video games in a university environment. Three distinct studies are described: a small pilot study, the main experimental study, and a large cross-sectional survey. The pilot study indicated that of the attributes identified by the host institution, effective communication, adaptability, and resourcefulness were the most promising candidates for further study. The pilot was also used to identify instruments suitable for the measurement of these attributes. For the main experimental study, undergraduate students in the first and second of four years in the College of Arts were randomly assigned to either an intervention (N = 16) or a control group (N = 20). Previously validated survey-based instruments designed to measure adaptability, resourcefulness, and communication skill were administered to both groups at the beginning and at the end of the eight-week study, over the course of which the intervention group played specified video games under controlled conditions. A large effect size was observed, with mean score change 1.1, 1.15, and 0.9 standard deviations more positive in the intervention group than the control on communication, adaptability, and resourcefulness scales respectively (p = 0.004, p = 0.002, and p = 0.013 for differences in groups by unpaired t-test). A second communication measure revealed generally positive score changes for the intervention group, but the difference between control and intervention was not statistically significant. The large effect size and statistical significance of these results supported the hypothesis that playing video games can improve self-reported graduate skills. Qualitative analysis of post-intervention interviews with study participants further supported the hypothesis, and offers insight into how students perceive the potential benefits of playing video games in a university context. Interview data revealed that, in particular, students see value in exercising the communication, collaboration, and problem solving skills that are required to succeed in a commercial video game. It was also found that participants valued the opportunity to relieve stress afforded by playing video games on campus, and that playing games also allowed for players to consider wider ethical, social, and cultural issues. A large (N = 2145) survey of students' existing game play habits and attribute attainment was also conducted in order to gain insight into how the results of the laboratory-based study compared to the student population in general. The survey revealed that the effects on graduate attribute attainment observed in the experimental study were not observable in relation to existing game play habits. Indeed, non-players were often found to score best on self-report measures of graduate skills. While no causal relationship can be inferred from these survey data, it appears likely that the most effective means by which games can be used to develop such skills at university level is to deploy them in a formal learning environment, such as that described here. Furthermore, the survey revealed that the skills gained by undergraduates over their four-year degree were relatively slight, compared to the gains measured over the course of the eight-week game-based intervention. This study suggests that a game-based intervention of the type described here can be effective in developing certain graduate attributes, and indicates that such attributes may be developed in a relatively short space of time, contrary to the tacit assumption that they can only be acquired slowly over an entire degree programme.
Barr, Matthew J. (2017) Gaming for graduates: exploring the use of video games to develop graduate attributes. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.