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Draft version – originally published in: Zechner, J.; Ebner, M. (2011), Playing a Game in Civil Engineering.

- in: 14th International Conference on Interactive Collaborative Learning (ICL2011) ̶ 11th International Conference Virtual University (vu'11). (2011), S. 417 - 422

Playing a Game in Civil Engineering
The Internal Force Master for Structural Analysis
Jürgen Zechner
Institute for Structural Analysis Graz University of Technology Graz, Austria juergen.zechner@tugraz.at

Martin Ebner
Social Learning / Computer and Information Services Graz University of Technology Graz, Austria martin.ebner@tugraz.at Engineering, 2002) has been started at Graz University of Technology with the aim to develop animations, visualizations, interactive learning objects as well as an online game with special focus on the civil engineering student audience [3]. Civil engineering studies cover a wide spectrum of different subjects and usually start with basic lectures such as math and mechanics. This basic knowledge is applied to more practical topics like timber construction, concrete design, steel structures, hydraulic construction, soil- and undergroundengineering. Structural analysis is one of the most important lectures providing the practical basis to all those topics. In this publication we focus on Game Based Learning (GBL). This paper is divided into the following parts: First, a short introduction to GBL-theory is given also explaining why games are useful for the learning processes and why it is interesting for the civil engineering education in particular. Then, a short introduction to the design and the concept of the game as well as the basic setting of the research study is given. A chapter shows the outcome and results of the survey. A concluding discussion points out the strengths and weaknesses of the game’s application to the lecture of structural analysis. II. THEORY

Abstract— The goal of our research work was to find out whether in-depth learning of complex theoretical engineering knowledge at higher education level could be improved by the use of online games. In this context we addressed the research question to what extent online games contribute to the students learning outcome. The corresponding online game was used for the first time during a lecture on Structural Analysis at bachelor’s level with 159 students of the third semester. We used a pre-/post-test design with questionnaires and an independent online tracking. As a result we can point out that playing the game did not increase the learning outcome per se and the didactical scenario should be reconsidered. Nevertheless, the usage of the game for learning purposes was underlined by the oral feedback given which says that students enjoyed playing the game more than learning in a traditional way. Keywords: e-learning, civil engineering, game based learning

I.

INTRODUCTION

We are living in a digital world – the World Wide Web is part of our everyday life. Therefore it is not surprising that also teaching and learning is influenced by digital technology more and more. E-Learning initiatives as well as different activities became popular about the turn of the millennium more than ten years ago. Multimedia as well as Interactive Learning Objects have been used to enhance teaching and learning. It was shown that visualizations and animations are particularly appropriate for usage in engineering education [1]. Due to the fact that civil engineering students need intuitive understanding of structural behavior the traditional civil engineering education is strongly based on visualization. In [2] it is mentioned that the “language of (civil engineers) intuition is visual, just as the language of analysis is abstract and symbolic”. Consequently a number of research-work has been done dealing with web-based technologies and developing multimedia objects [10]. Generally, one has to bear in mind that learning is an active process and clearly the learner’s duty. The task can only be done by the learner himself [5] [6] [4]. This means that multimedia learning objects per se will not improve the learning process or the learning outcome [7]. But there are two additional and remarkable factors related to learning: educational experiences should be enjoyable [8] and motivating [9] [11] [12]. Strongly following these factors the project iVISiCE (interactive Visualization in Civil

A. Structural Analysis Before designing a structure the engineer needs to have knowledge of external and internal forces as well as boundary conditions of the construction elements. Additionally, so called "influence lines" show how internal forces change when a unit load is moving along the structure. Theoretically the problem can be formulated as a differential equation that can be solved analytically. In practice it's much more important to know the relationship between external and internal forces along the beam. The shear force represents the slope of the moment diagram, the external force the slope of the shear force diagram. This means that if the external force is constant, the shear force has to be linear and the moment therefore quadratic. [insert figure 1]
Figure 1. Statical structure with external load and internal forces

Those and other qualitative relationships are very important to an engineer doing structural analysis. Fig. 1 shows a

Draft version – originally published in: Zechner, J.; Ebner, M. (2011), Playing a Game in Civil Engineering. - in: 14th International Conference on Interactive Collaborative Learning (ICL2011) ̶ 11th International Conference Virtual University (vu'11). (2011), S. 417 - 422

structure with a given external load and the resulting internal forces. Today structures are invariable analyzed by computers and this has some impact on the education of students. Fig. 2 shows the result in the program RuckZuck [13]. One of the skills required is to spot internal force diagrams that cannot be right. This is why the Internal Force Master (IFM) was conceived as an online game back in 2002 [14]. The game has been built on Flash-technology and tested on civil engineering students during the lecture of concrete design winter term 2003/2004. B. Game Based Learning Despite the fact that playing is maybe the most important learning strategy of babies and young children, it is true that games are also used in elementary and secondary education. But there is little evidence of the usage in higher education. Per definition GBL is comparable to Problem Based Learning (PBL): a specific problem or learning scenario is stated within a game based scenario [15]. Considering the essential characteristics of games like unknown outcome, multiple paths and collaboration the similarity to PBL is obvious. But games provide also other interesting elements like competition and chance. Malone [16] pointed out that the main reason for playing games is just fun and therefore one has to consider witch measures make games enjoyable to play in a learning context. Malone concludes that enjoyable learning games mainly consist of the three essential characteristics [17] challenge, fantasy and curiosity. Due to the fact that the presented game has a real background, fantasy will not play a dominant role in our context. Therefore the developers and researchers focused their work in the game design phase on the aspects of challenge and curiosity. Malone postulated that a challenging game must encompass a clear goal and has to provide performance feedback regarding the end-user’s imminence to accomplish the objective. Furthermore, adjustable difficulty levels, scorekeeping and uncertain, not predictable outcomes are obligatory aspects. Finally, an optimal level of information complexity [18] should provoke the end-users curiosity. Malone [16] suggested that games or similar environments should be neither too complicated nor too simple with respect to the end-user’s existing knowledge. However, the development team strongly focused on these facts to build a game for a particular target group: students of civil engineering in bachelor degree. III. GAME DESIGN Based on the research study of [14] and from the feedback of the playing students a considerable rework of the prototype has become necessary. A complete redesign should enhance the user experience, the look and the underlying technology. Nowadays, from a technical point of view the Flash-technology has some remarkable disadvantages related to mobile browser technologies. Following that the game should be based on different and portable modern web technologies to make it usable with mobile devices like smartphones or tablets. Additionally and not less important the content has to be adapted to the lectures on structural analysis. [insert figure 2]

Figure 2. Main screen

The IFM is a purely visual single choice game. Given is a sketch of a structure together with its loading. Beneath three possible solutions for the internal forces of this problem are presented. All quantities are given in a qualitative way, so that there are no calculations involved and the solution can be found either by exclusion principle or direct identification. Goal of this game is to gather as many points as possible by choosing the correct answer as fast as possible. The faster a correct answer is done the more points are received. If a wrong answer is chosen the game is over and the points for the current level are lost. Points of the previous levels are kept. If the player doesn't know the right solution it is recommended that he just let the time pass which preserves the current points in a level. There are several stages of difficulty represented by different kinds of structures like simple beams, cantilever beams and three hinged arches as well as different kind of loadings like single point forces or distributed loads. Structural systems of the same kind are bundled in 6 collections with a pool of approximately 70 examples each. Every question has one unique and a pool of 4 wrong solutions (only two of the wrong solutions are displayed randomly). 11 game-levels were built upon those collections and 5 examples are chosen randomly at each stage. With increasing level the maximum amount of time available for answering is decreased and the maximum possible points per question are increased. The IFM game has been designed with usability in mind. The developers took care of that for the lecturers and users in the same way. Technically the online game has been realized with common web technologies. The game itself has been programmed in PHP and JavaScript. The database providing all user data as well as the collection- and level-design uses MySQL and the visual appearance makes extensible use of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). The appearance of the game was designed by a professional in a typical sketch style with very simple navigation elements. Also, a toolset of symbols has been developed to provide a unique design for all examples. Additionally, a professional backend-application has been

Draft version – originally published in: Zechner, J.; Ebner, M. (2011), Playing a Game in Civil Engineering. - in: 14th International Conference on Interactive Collaborative Learning (ICL2011) ̶ 11th International Conference Virtual University (vu'11). (2011), S. 417 - 422

realized for the lecturers. This tool simplified the task of leveldesign and creating groups of examples. Also the creation of different levels for different lectures or certain stages during the semester could be possible. The implementation was done as a stand-alone application, but due to the fact that students are familiar with it the IFM has been incorporated into the university-wide learning management system which is used by most lecturers to provide learning material. Since the students log in with an unique account their gameplay could be easily tracked through a database. The data of course has been anonymized for that purpose. The game has been opened up as an international competition. At the "Registration" page the player can choose for which country he wants to play. There is a national ranking in the "Hall Of Fame". After registration the player quickly proceeds to the main game as described (Fig. 3). In "GameResults" the player can see his overall game statistics, in "High-Score" his overall ranking compared to the other students of the lecture (Fig. 5). The "Hall Of Fame" shows the best scores of all all students as well as a national ranking. The "Help"-screen (Fig. 4) describes the game details and is always accessible except from the game-screen. In-game-help can be obtained by clicking on the info-button which makes a small paper appear with a sketch of the definition of internal forces on it. [insert fig. 4] [insert fig.5]

The study has been carried out in a three-step-procedure including a pre-test, the game and the post-test. Additionally, the game has been evaluated by the students in a questionnaire. As pre-test an example question of the IFM has been chosen. The test was held during the first exam and weighted with maximum 10 points out of 60. The game ran for 3 weeks right before the second and final exam. As a post-test again a similar question to those implemented in the IFM has been asked, allocated with the same points as in the pre-test.

TABLE II AVERAGE ON FINAL RESULTS (N=90) Pre-Test 6,1 Post-Test 6,4 Delta 0,4 Plays 19 Highscore 7314

TABLE III RESULTS OF NON-PLAYING GROUP (AVERAGED, N=40) Pre-Test 5,5 Post-Test 5,9 Delta 0,4 Plays 5 Highscore 4436

TABLE IV RESULTS OF PLAYING GROUP (AVERAGED, N=50) Pre-Test 6,5 Post-Test 6,9 Delta 0,3 Plays 30 Highscore 9617

TABLE V Group All Non-playing Playing

RELATIONSHIP PRE- AND POST-TEST n 90 40 50 Significance p 0,069 0,191 0,110

IV.

SURVEY

V.

RESULTS

The serious game has been used during the basic lecture of "Structural Analysis" held by the Institute for Structural Analysis in winter term 2010/11 at Graz University of Technology. The grading of students is done with a point system. Students reaching at least 61 points get a positive mark. By playing IFM three additional lecture-points could be gained depending on the game-score. This was designed to motivate students to play the game. Table I shows the distribution of points in the lecture.

The research question we would like to address within this contribution is: “Does playing specific games lead to a better learning-outcome than learning in a traditional way?” The IFM has been offered students to train their skills at home, but did not play an active part in the lecture. With the help of a competition the lecturers tried to motivate students to play the game again and again since a particular level has to be reached for a certain amount of lecture points. It must be pointed out that this study was a real-life experiment and students were not forced directly to play the game. Due to the fact that they got some lecture-points by reaching a defined game-level it could be assumed that many students will play the game just for reaching this goal. Nevertheless, playing the game was in general voluntarily. In general 159 students took part at least at one test (pre- or post-test). 69 of 159 students missed one of the two tests. This means that a full dataset is available for 90 students in total. The pre- and post-test consisted of 4 questions related to one example with a defined difficulty level appropriate to the expected learning-progress. The maximum points for the preand post-test have been 10. In order to relate both tests to each other the increased level of difficulty of the post-test induced the need of weighted pre-test points. The weighting has been done by the experienced lecturers.

TABLE I DISTRIBUTION OF POINTS FOR THE LECTURE
Assessment Points

Unannounced Test #1 Exam #1 including pre-test Unannounced Test #2 IFM Competition Exam #1 including post-test

4 60 3 3 60

Draft version – originally published in: Zechner, J.; Ebner, M. (2011), Playing a Game in Civil Engineering. - in: 14th International Conference on Interactive Collaborative Learning (ICL2011) ̶ 11th International Conference Virtual University (vu'11). (2011), S. 417 - 422

Table II shows the average of the overall results. 90 students gained 6,1 points in the pre-test and 6,4 points in the final post-test resulting in an averaged point-increase of 0,4. The students played the game 19 times and reached a score of 7314 points. Furthermore, the students have been divided into a nonplaying and a playing group. If a student played the game more than ten times he/she has been assigned to the playing group, all other students to the non-playing group. Table III shows the results for the non-playing group. Averaged, members of this group got 5,5 points in the pre-test and 5,9 points in the posttest. Compared to the playing group shown in Table IV, this is one point less. Table V points out the significance of the increasing points between the pre- und post-test. The T-Test shows that p for all groups is not significant (p > 0,05), but that there is a strong trend that the students’ post-tests are better than their pre-tests and that their learning results are increasing. Finally the students had the opportunity to evaluate the game by answering a questionnaire and by giving direct oral feedback. 35 students took the possibility to do so. Table VI shows the results from a technical point of view with the average of a rating from 1 to 4, where 1 means “good” and 4 means “bad”. It can be seen that the implementation was well done. Students reported just minor bugs and problems related to slow internet-connections or the implementation of the accounting. The evaluation also showed that the usability, navigation and in-game help have been well implemented. The assessment of the oral feedback related to the GBL-effects has been very positive. Students called the game “addictive”, “well done” and agreed that this has been a “great learning-tool” for the lecture. Also, they really appreciate for the idea of giving lecture points and making an in-lecture competition.

or not. Possibly, the weak significance is related to a too small user group. But by comparing Tables III and IV it can be shown that there is just a small increase of the group-averages. A deeper study of the results points out that the playing group in the pre-test gained one point more than the nonplaying group. This leads to the question if a higher preknowledge is motivating the students to play more often because of the generally higher enthusiasm to the subject. The answer is given by a correlation test between the pre-test and the number of played games that showed a coefficient of 0,086. Related to that it can be stated that a higher pre-knowledge does not automatically lead to higher number of played games. But otherwise, it is clearly observable that students with higher knowledge-level played the game more often. Moreover, this fact leads to the assumption that playing students are motivated and engaged because of their existing knowledge. The playing group seems to be kind of special and closely related to computer games or computer work in general. This assumption has to be addressed more closely in future. In both groups (non-playing and playing) the increase of the learning outcome is similar and not dramatically different. Due to the fact that the playing group has no relative results it can be asked if the game has any positive effect on the learning results anyway. Are students with higher knowledge-level per se the more motivated and engaged ones? Unfortunately this effect could have implications to the real-life experiment and might be a weakness of the implementation for this study. This statement is encouraged by analyzing the behavior of the playing group and by revising the desired outcome of the game and the lecture goals. However, from a lecturer’s point of view game-playing should be done especially by students with weaknesses in their knowledge of structural analysis and that was clearly not the case. The evaluation and oral feedback of the students on the other hand has been very positive. They really appreciate the effort done for using the online-game in structural analysis. At least most of the students had fun playing and really enjoyed the game and that is clearly an additional value for the lecture. In general the usability of the online game has been rated as “good” by students as well as by lecturers and level-designers. VII. CONCLUSION We reported on the application of the specific learning game “Internal Force Master” to the civil engineering lecture of structural analysis in winter term 2010/2011 at Graz University of Technology. The learners could play the game on a voluntary basis and gain some extra points for their final lecture-mark. The pre- and post-test for two different usergroups (playing and non-playing) pointed out that the learners increased their learning outcome in general. But there is no evidence that there is a difference in the learning outcome if one played the game more often or not. A remarkable fact is that the playing students have a higher knowledge-level of the topic than the non-playing ones. That leads to the assumption that only motivated and dedicated students could be elated to play and that for this group playing is really fun. Also, the research study points out that the game itself did not lead to a more in-depth learning or an increased knowledge. Concluding that, the didactical scenario has to be rethought in the future.

TABLE VI

EVALUATION FEEDBACK (N=35) rating 1,31 1,74 1,56 1,91 2,06

Question Graphical design and appearance In-game navigation Game instructions and help Design of the degree of difficulty Provided time per level

VI.

DISCUSSION

In the following we would like to discuss the outcome of the survey. Table V shows that there is a significant improvement in the learning outcome of all students in general. It can be stated that during the semester all students increased their knowledge in structural analysis. Bearing in mind that playing the game has been more or less voluntarily it cannot be assumed that the game itself was the driving force for that. A closer look to the learning outcome has been taken by dividing the students into a non-playing and playing group. In both cases the results were not significant compared to all students. This means that the learning outcome did not increase whether by playing the game intensively (more than ten times)

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