There has been a marked increase in the use of commercial-off-the-shelf games for learning and, in some cases, a steady move towards the adaptation of these games or their game engines, for more specific uses in the field of education. One such example is the development of SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge! (http://www.simcityedu.org/) by GlassLab, based on, or more accurately modified from, the popular SimCity game series. In 2013, GlassLab developed this educational game to teach students about environmental issues and pollution in cities, and to provide an integrated assessment methodology for the students. GlassLab aims to develop further games in this educational series in the future.
Complex simulations and turn based strategy games such as SimCity, Second Life and Civilisation have been used in classrooms for years in an attempt to utilise particular features of the games in an effective, pedagogical manner. Simulations have their advantages for learning, as they require critical thinking rather than putting an emphasis on any traditional rote learning. Students engage in decision-making and can test these decisions in risk free environments void of real world consequences. They aim to allow users to transfer the knowledge and skills learned in the game to the real world by using it in an educational context. But simulations are, in essence, overly simplified versions of environments and, games like SimCity and Civilisation in particular, are vastly complex in-game environments where users can essentially roam free. An old case study on the benefits of SimCity and Second Life as planning tools had pointed to a lack of fidelity in the responses and actions of the characters as a significant flaw but noted the use of evaluation tools such as graphs as aiding the analysis of decisions made. (Oswald, 1998)
SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge! addresses these and other issues by adding structure and constraints to the environment to enhance learning and by chunking information and tasks into 10 minute sessions to make them more suitable for the classroom. The game offers teachers a set of tools to organise classes and their work, track student progress, archive work and further expand the game. Lesson plans and cheat sheets aid the teacher in integrating the game in the classroom as quickly and as effectively as possible. The game encourages students to plan ahead but also take risks, each mission requires an objective to be met but also includes further objectives for students to complete as a bonus which also encourages repeated playing. Students become invested in the town they’re creating, thus encouraging them to analyse the decisions they have made and plan for a more successful town in the future. SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge! boasts a facility to monitor student progress by gathering information about their decisions. Mouse tracking assesses how the students come to their decision based on the elements of the interface that they interact with allowing teachers to see how they are developing with their critical-thinking and decision making skills. While the game developers are still carrying out beta testing on the game with schools, they have integrated a number of changes already in response to teacher requests, such as allowing students to carry out missions in a non-linear fashion.
Games are best suited as a support rather than a replacement for traditional teaching methods and may help to engage or motivate students who have been found to have difficulties learning through books. The development of this game draws on the dynamic and interdependent character of resource management games to tackle urban issues in an educational field. The game allows for risk free, experimental learning to take place as the user takes control of their virtual world under the guidance of their teacher.