Case Study - "Game-informed teaching” for creating an enhanced learning environment for a net-zero and sustainability related subject

Dr Richard Blanchard, Dr. Tom Betts and Dr. Xiangjie Chen, Wolfson School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering


This case study aims to demonstrate how “game-informed teaching” can be adopted to enhance the students’ learning experience, for sustainability and low-carbon related subject. Instead of adopting conventional calculation-based teaching content, we creatively make use of Lego blocks (with various shapes/colours) to represent different forms of energy sources (coal, natural gas, solar energy, wind, etc). This allows the students to visualise and make sense of 'abstract' numbers, get connected with the problem (European energy transition) and further investigate different possible combinations of these energy sources, their carbon reduction potentials and relevant political/environmental impacts. It also helps them to work in a team and collaboratively approach a complicated problem set (where potentially no optimal solution exist) with creativity.  

1. Background  

Reason: A lot of engineering related subjects are heavily related to fundamental principles/equations and delivered and assessed based on problem set related calculations, which often are hard to arise students’ enthusiasms. In order to create a more engaging learning environment for Masters module WSD531/WSP031/WSP631 “Renewable Energy Technologies, Economics and Policy”, we decide to incorporate “Game-informed teaching” by introducing Lego blocks into the teaching delivery.  

Preparation requirements: Students are divided into small groups (4 per each group). Moreover, teaching materials (coursework briefs) have been tailored specifically for both Distance learners and in-campus students. The workshop will take place in a classroom with round tables, and the Lego blocks and workshop manuals/hand-outs would be provided for each group. 

2. Methodology 

Working in groups, students will have the opportunity to search for relevant data related to current energy usage situation in the selected region (which assesses their ability for data analysis). Then based on the supporting materials, they can critically examine how to incorporate relevant renewable energy resources to improve energy security level. By making use of the Lego bricks they would be able to easily visualise the amount of energy saving and carbon reductions, by adding or removing certain Lego bricks (which represent different energy sources). This game-informed learning, therefore, significantly help them to approach a complicated problem set where potentially no optimal solution exists. This practice greatly enables the students to visualise the process, with freedom to explore the pathways toward net-zero and sustainability for the selected European Regions (separated into 4 parts).  A summative assessment has been adopted at the end. The students will have to demonstrate their final solution towards net-zero with critical thinking via group presentations (in-person for in-campus students; video recordings for DLs).  

All the groups are able to deliver high quality presentations, showcasing their unique solutions with appropriate level of reasonings/evidence using Lego blocks as supporting tools in the end.  

3. Issues 

This workshop works perfectly well for in-campus students but needs to be modified to accommodate DLs (who cannot join lecturers in-person). Therefore, apart from the workshop manual that is offered, a separate excel spreadsheet has been developed, with couple of TABs containing excel cells in different colours to represent the current energy conditions. This serves as the initial starting stage for DLs’ group online discussion. They can then move/add/reduce these excel cells to suit their needs, which resembles the Lego block building-up process in the classroom. This help the DLs to mitigate the difficulty of not being able to work physically in a group, but still achieving the same outcome (group presentation submitted in the form of a group video recording).   

*In order to facilitate the visualization of DLs, a video clip (see link ) has been created (with permission to share from in-campus students) and shared among DLs. 

4. Benefits 

This practice greatly gives the students tremendous freedom to visualise the process and explore the pathways toward net-zero and sustainability for the selected European region.   

5. Evidence of Success  

We received a number of very universally positive feedback from the students (both in-campus and DLs), commenting that this is an engaging learning experience and they are more motivated to participate and develop their own solutions, as evidenced in the following “I enjoyed the workshop a great deal, as it provided an easy visual representation of energy consumption and production levels”; “The methodology “Changing the game” is a better approach to relate the various trends in the energy sector, evaluating the potentials as well as the risks and model it to real life scenario”; “The Energy Transition Workshop, proved to be very good at enabling the group to dig down and look at the many variables required to meet our decarbonisation targets”.  

Literature evidence: Game-based learning (GBL) and web-based learning games have been widely used and encouraged at primary and secondary school level, as an engaging and intuitive tool to stimulate students’ enthusiasm and help to consolidate their learning outcomes. A range of issues have been addressed in the previous research works focussing on the following aspects: i) teachers’ intention to adopt games (Grove et al. 2012), as it would be quite challenging to design these games purely by the teachers themselves; ii) the motivations for deploying games (Gasares et al. 2010); iii) diversified game types (Pivec 2009); iv) different scenario design for GBL (Ney et al. 2012)  ; v) ways to assess the effects of GBL (Wastiau 2009).  

6. How Can Other Academics Reproduce This?  

For many Science and Engineering related disciplines, it is often quite challenging to deliver some topics which cross the boundaries between policy, economic, social science and technological developments (e.g. low carbon and circular economy, building renovations), as ideally the module convenors would need to equipped with multi-disciplinary skills or need a team of academia with mixed expertise. In this case, the game-informed teaching could be an ideal vehicle to deliver such kind of interdisciplinary content, especially when the student cohort is much diversified with different culture and learning background (mature students and DLs). As the cohort diversification can also trigger peer-to-peer learning, that can further booster students’ engagement and confidence. Therefore, this practice could serve as an example for academics who have a diversified cohort, to embrace individuality and inclusivity in any science and engineering-based subjects.  

7. Reflections 

The module convenors communicated well with the REST MSc programme leader, and so we jointly work on the assessment brief and marking scheme. The programme leader also supported us greatly in developing the excel spreadsheet, as part of the workshop manual for DLs.  

Before the start of the workshop, all the supporting materials (shared as Appendix for this application) are available on LEARN; allowing students to engage with the content as early as possible.  

For the coming academic year, we probably would need 1-2 coordinators to support this workshop (duration: 6 hrs). The teaching materials will need to be updated, at some point, to reflect the current state-of-the-art for the energy usage situations in Europe. 

8. References  

Aldrich, C (2005). Learning by Doing: A Comprehensive Guide to Simulation, Computer Games, and Pedagogy in e-Learning and Other Educational Experiences. Pfeiffer Wile 

De Grove, F., Bourgonjon, J., & Van Looy, J (2012). « Digital games in the classroom? A contextual approach to teachers' adoption intention of digital games in formal education ». Computers in Human Behavior. 

Pivec, P (2009). Game-based learning or game-based teaching? British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA), corp creator 

Ney, M., Emin, V., Earp, J. (2012), Paving the Way to Game Based Learning: A Question Matrix for Teacher Reflection. Procedia CS (PROCEDIA) 15:17-24.