Game Based Learning (gbl) and Mobile Technology: Engagement and Empathy in the Social Science Flipped Classroom

Concurrent Session 8
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

First-person game-based learning (GBL) fosters cognitive, affective, and sociocultural engagement with subject matter. In this presentation, attendees will split into small groups and use one shared mobile device to play the web-based game, Spent.  This GBL activity challenges the student to subsist on minimum wage in contemporary American society.  


John A. Donahue (Sociology, Anthropology) has been with Harford Community College since 2010, and has also taught in Baltimore and Howard Counties as well as Riverside and San Bernardino Counties in California. Originally from Baltimore, he holds a Master's of Arts in anthropology from the University of California, Riverside. While at UCR, he focused on archaeology and ethnomusicology, examining the music and performance of the Classic Maya and of Mesoamerica. With his interest in music, he has also examined performance and identity with ballet folklorico among Chicano students in Southern California. Donahue is trained in Javanese and Balinese gamelan through UCR and UMBC respectively. He has been on digs in rural Quintana Roo, in the California desert, and in Annapolis, Maryland, and has recreated a Classic Maya friction drum. In addition, he is a faculty advisor for HCC's Rainbow Alliance. He has studied the needs of LGBT students in the classroom environment, and holds a Master's of Arts in Teaching in Elementary Special Education from Towson University.

Extended Abstract

Students in our Introduction to Sociology courses represent a cross section of a campus community diverse in socioeconomic class, age, and life experiences.  These factors influence student perspectives about two key social inequality concepts, social class stratification and difficulties facing lower income workers.  Students frequently have no frame of reference and therefore struggle to understand the difficulties lower wage workers face in their daily lives.

PlaySpent simulates real world experiences through the eyes of a low-wage earning single parent of one child.  The student is challenged to make it through one month without running out of money. Game progression requires the student to make difficult choices about childcare, housing, transportation, and other facets of daily life they might otherwise take for granted, such as pet ownership and leisure activities.   Because loss aversion encourages infinite play, students synthesize broader theoretical concepts through repetitive game navigation. Additionally, the shared iPad model facilitates group collaboration and gives a voice to those students who might otherwise remain silent during large group discussions.   

Post-game discussion will address the shared iPad model and gamification elements in the context of student outcomes.  We will provide examples of discussion questions typically used in class as well as possible applications of the activity in related disciplines such as economics, political science, and education.