Centre for Integrative Learning
Interactive Games for Problem-Based Learning in Operations
Project Leader: Dr Kim Tan, Business School
The project aimed to construct a new learning environment, which would encourage
students to draw connections between their practical and theoretical learning. It
involved the design and piloting of a digital (web-based) interactive problem-based
learning game for classroom teaching. The proposed ‘Just in time’ (JIT) game was used
to illustrate the differences between Western and Japanese (Lean concept)
approaches toward production and operations management. It was expected that this
group-based activity would contribute to better understanding of the lean concept,
and was aimed at developing transferable skills, such as teamwork, leadership, and
The project fits very well into the Operational Management (OM) course that is convened
by the project leader. Most of the OM modules involve a certain degree of practical
oriented exercises and learning. This digital game could be expanded and applied in
other OM modules i.e. Supply Chain Management, Decision Making, Facilities Planning,
and Quality Management. In fact, feedback from the 2007/08 course students indicated
that more interactive games should be included in the OM course to enhance learning.
Recent MA/MSc course review meetings in the Business School also highlighted the need
for experiential learning approaches, such as education interactive games. Clearly, the
proposed project is timely and has high sustainability values given that more academics
may opt to use the developed games in their teaching.
Integrative Learning Rationale
Many researchers have argued that authentic problem-based activities could provide
real-life experiences that connect prior knowledge to science context. The proposed
digital game would provide virtual environments that allow students to explore beyond
boundaries of given material, and encourage students to become self-reliant learners.
It enhances learning through visualisation, experimentation and creativity of play and
includes problems that are set to develop critical thinking which is beneficial for
operations management study.
In order to enhance students’ learning and develop their critical thinking and leadership
skills, the proposed interactive game needs to have the element of role play and
decision making. In this case, within the operations management, a simulated sea-plane
production line was created. In the simulated game, students assume the operator role
and learn the impact of their decisions on the final production outputs (within a given
duration). The Lean Management concept in the literature is used to underpin the
simulated game production planning.
To achieve this, a two-stage process was taken. Firstly, a physical hands-on simulation
game using LEGO bricks was developed. The idea was to validate, test and refine the
games through a few classroom sessions. Once the physical game was proven to be
applicable and feasible, a digital version was developed in the second stage of the
project. The digital game was web-based and provided the following benefits:
wider participation – it enabled total classroom participation. The physical LEGO
game was limited to five students. A web-based digital game had no limit on class
self-reliant learning – students could play the game to revise the lessons learned in
the classroom whenever needed;
creativity of play – more features and constraints could be added to the digital
games to create a variety of scenarios for students to explore.
The suite was chosen because of its graphical ability and high compatibility in all web-
browsers. A screen shot of the game play in final stage is shown in Figure 1.
Figure1 The Web-Based JIT Game Interface
Description of western style production
system and its simulation
Description of Lean production
system and its simulation
Final Stage – Lean production
Game result and statistics
A four phase plan was established in order to achieve the set objectives. A summary of
the four phases is given below:
Phase 1 - To develop an initial 'prototype' game and testing (mid Oct 08 -Mar 09)
Research and understand the practice, issues and challenges of operations
management classroom games. Identify the dos and don’ts, as well as the scope of
Develop an initial prototype game and subject it to peer review
Pilot test the game
Engage part-time Research Assistants (RAs) to assist in classroom testing and digital
Prepare a conference abstract
Phase 2 – To revise the game, and develop a web-based digital game (Mar-Jun 09)
Revise the game based on classroom feedback
Test the game again in classroom
Test the game with practitioners and obtain their feedback
Write-up initial results into a paper
Continue web-based digital game development
Phase 3 – To test the digital game (June-Aug 09)
Finalise the digital game and test with students
Test/get feedback from industry (EMSc module)
Phase 4 – Write-up and publish/commercialise the game (Aug 09)
A conference paper to SAGSET 39
3 journal papers
A website to roll out the digital game
To evaluate the JIT game and get some suggestions and comments from students, a
questionnaire was developed based on the previous studies (e.g., Klassen and
Willoughby, 2003). In accordance with Klassen and Willoughby’s (2003) work, ‘before’
and ‘after’ questionnaires were designed. The first questionnaire was given to the
students before the lecture, and the second questionnaire was distributed after the
game. The questionnaire includes a number of closed and open questions. We adopted
a five-point Likert scale for closed questions.
Moreover, to obtain some comments and suggestions, the students were also required to
answer a number of open questions. The questionnaire was answered by students
undertaking MSc in Operations Management. At the beginning of the lecture, a brief
introduction to the game was given from a pedagogical perspective. In order to collect
objective and reliable suggestions and comments from students, they were not told
anything about the advantages and disadvantages of the game.
JIT LEGO game
The initial test was carried out in the Lean Techniques module (41 students, Semester 1).
To evaluate the impact of the game on students’ learning, a ‘before and after’ quiz was
conducted. The testing process was also video recorded, and questionnaires to elicit
students’ feedback were completed.
Potential points (41 students) 41
Score before 4
Score after 38
Proportion correct Before 0.0976
Proportion correct After 0.9268
Table 1 JIT LEGO game
Web-based JIT game
The web-based JIT game was carried out with 35 students in Semester 2. To evaluate the
impact of the web-based educational game on students’ learning, a ‘before and after’
quiz was conducted and a questionnaire was carried out to elicit students’ feedback on
the user-friendliness of the game and their suggestions for improvement.
Potential points (35 students) 35
Score before 8
Score after 31
Proportion correct Before 0.2286
Proportion correct After 0.8857
Table 2 Web-based JIT game
The results of the ‘before’ and ‘after’ questionnaire are presented in Tables 1 and 2. It is
clear that students have a better understanding of the important elements of the Just-In-
Time concept after the JIT game than before. The first three questions were used to
investigate whether students’ understanding of the concept improved; whether they
were able to answer target questions more accurately after the game. Since the students
were not taught anything about the elements of JIT before the game, it is not surprising
that the initial scores are quite low.
In addition, a vast majority of students reported that they had not read the JIT game
chapter or any other material before the lecture. In conclusion, questions 1, 2 and 3
indicate strong evidence that there was a great improvement after the JIT game.
In addition, a number of comments and suggestions were reported by the students. The
students strongly agreed that the game reflected the real life work situations. Some
students suggested that more movie clips should be included to describe the real
production line operations. It is clear that the students’ feedback was very positive. Most
students stated that the game was very interesting and fun to play and it made it easy to
understand the concepts taught in lectures. The students were fully engaged in the
activity. In general, the evaluation results also confirmed the findings obtained by
Tompson and Dass (2000); Tan et al. (2006); Gosen and Washbush (2004). They found that
simulation games provide a positive impact on the enhancement of student learning.
References and Suggested Reading
Klassen, K.J. and Willoughby, K.A. (2003) In-class Simulation Games: Assessing Student
Learning, Journal of Information Technology Education, 2, 1-13.
Tompson, G. H., and Dass, P. (2000) Improving Students’ Self-efficacy in Strategic
Management: The Relative Impact of Cases and Simulations. Simulation & Gaming,
Tan, K.H., Muyldermans, L., Sithole, J. (2006) The Application of Management Simulation
and Gaming in Classroom Teaching, at SAGSET 36th Annual Conference, London.
Gosen, J., and Washbush, J. (2004) A Review of Scholarship on Assessing Experiential
Learning Effectiveness. Simulation & Gaming, 35 (2), 270-293.