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Apr 10 2017 - 12:00am
Complex Computational Thinking in Gameplay

While computational thinking has been recognized as a valuable educational practice, there has been little research examining this skill in everyday practices. Computational thinking is not necessarily tied to a computer environment and instead can be applied to many planning tasks such as packing for a trip or playing a board game. This study examined computational thinking embedded in the collaborative play of a cooperative board game.

Undergraduate students were observed playing the collaborative board game Pandemic in small groups of between two and four. In this game, players take on roles of disease-fighting specialists to slow the spread of diseases that have broken out across the world. The students played one of four modified versions of the game. Players were given the game with its existing rules and pieces but were also given one additional rule that contrasted across conditions.

Strategic board games were chosen as a case of computational thinking as players have to perform calculations and develop group strategies to beat the game. One specific condition where players were tasked with collaborating to play for a hypothetical additional ghost player demonstrated the highest overall computational thinking. This modification was the most collaborative of the four modifications which included the ghost player, no modification, a version where players were asked to complete a cheat sheet for a subsequent group, and a rule where players had to modify the game to teach more about diseases. Players used different computational logic such as conditional or branching logic, algorithm building, and debugging across the different game conditions.

The results of the study suggest that computational thinking can be used when playing an everyday board game. This study’s results counter discourses that describe core computer science concepts as inherently difficult. The implications of this study may serve to broaden what is considered as computational thinking, what is most difficult about this process, and how computational thinking can be fostered. While tabletop games may not make someone a good programmer, they do indicate how educators can leverage students’ existing computational thinking skills. These results demonstrate the importance of considering how to connect students' interest-driven experiences like playing board games with core programming content knowledge.

Berland, M., & Duncan, S. (2016). Computational thinking in the wild: Uncovering complex collaborative thinking through gameplay. Educational Technology, 56(3), 29–35.

Image: Pandemic Legacy Season 1 by yoppy via Flickr
Posted in: New Learning TimesResearch Digest|By: Caitlin Davey|202 Reads