Chemical engineering student perceptions of communication development from participation in game-based activities

Abigail Jane Kulhanek, Cheryl A. Bodnar

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Workplace surveys show communication skills are essential to success in engineering practices; however, a large gap has been identified between workplace needs and engineering graduates' skills. A contributing factor to this could be that engineering programs rarely require students to take courses exclusively focused on developing skills in public speaking, presentation, or technical communication which in combination with students' attitudes that communication is not necessarily a key skill to engineering can exacerbate the problem. Despite efforts to increase the focus on communication in the engineering curriculum, recent engineering graduates entering the workplace are still reported to be deficient in written and oral communication skills. This work investigates student perception of written and oral communication skills after their participation in game-based activities as a means to determine whether game-based pedagogy could serve as a potential tool to enhance these skills in engineering undergraduates. Game-based learning incorporates game design elements in non-game contexts, balancing subject matter and game play to help players engage in the information being presented, while allowing them to learn how to apply it in real world contexts, such as communication in industry. Game-based communication activities were incorporated into one section of Introduction to Chemical Product Design including 86 chemical engineering undergraduates in the spring of 2015. Three different game-based communication activities were covered with the students. "Professional Slide" was a game-based activity where students acted as employees for a company in distress, explaining to customers in a single slide why a recall had been issued on their product. In the "ROYGBIV" game-based activity, students received cards with a code and had to describe the components of their cards with only oral communication in an attempt to decode their card and solve the class based problem. Finally, "Mystery Liquid" was a gamebased activity where students had to describe an unknown liquid to their team members based on appearance, smell and feel solely through written communication so their team could correctly identify the liquid without ever seeing it. Reflection-based homework assignments were developed to obtain students' perception of these game-based communication activities as prior research showed that use of these game-based communication activities resulted in positive improvement in both students' oral and written communication skills. The coding scheme for the reflections was developed using a grounded, emergent qualitative analysis. The reflections were then content analyzed by two analysts. An inter-rater reliability measure based on Cohen's Kappa was calculated for each game-based activity. The inter-rater reliability for the "Professional Slide," "ROYGBIV," and "Mystery Liquid" game-based activities were calculated to be 0.641, 0.647, and 0.597 respectively, reflecting a fair level of agreement. Reflections were also analyzed to determine which themes were more prominent in each game-based activity, whether differences existed in these themes based on student gender, and what that meant for the students' perceptions of communication. For example, the top three themes for the "Professional Slide" game-based activity were {approach - framing}, {audience perception - understanding/listening}, and {approach - presentation}. When looking at the differences between genders for this game-based activity, the top three themes for females were {approach - framing}, {audience perception - understanding/listening}, and {approach - detail} and the top three themes for males were {approach - detail}, {audience perception - understanding/listening}, and {approach - presentation}. As can be seen by these top themes, there was little variation observed between male and female reflections on the game-based communication activities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jun 24 2017
Event124th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - Columbus, United States
Duration: Jun 25 2017Jun 28 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering


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