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Significant Progress on Paperwork for Pilot Research Study Using RPGs Within the Constraints of a University Setting

by Hawke Robinson published May 09, 2018 01:05 PM, last modified May 09, 2018 01:39 PM
Significant progress made today in the paperwork process for putting together the study on "Efficacy Assessment of Role-playing Games as an Instructional Technique within the Constraints of a University Academic Setting from the Neuropsychology Perspective"...

Significant progress made today on all the paperwork to submit for approval from the Eastern Washington University (EWU) Instituational Review Board (IRB) to proceed with the study "Efficacy Assessment of Role-playing Games as an Instructional Technique within the Constraints of a University Academic Setting from the Neuropsychology Perspective".

This is really more of a template/pilot for a future improved study, and heavily constrained by current timeline and resources available. There are a ton of confounds due to the limited resources, but the design of this study includes documents to take into considerations approaches for creating a much improved version of this study in the future, pending available resources down the road.

The ideal version of this study would have multiple educational and testing sessions rather than just one educational session (ideally a 10-16 week period comparable to typical quarterly/semester course time period), larger body of knowledge, large sample sizes, many different instructors, many GMI lead RPG groups, far better controls and blinding. better apples to apples comparison (small class size to small game room size, large class size to large game group size, etc.), sefveral different classroom conditions (large classroom/auditorium lecture, small classroom (5 students 1 instructor), online learning, large RPG classroom, small RPG classroom, TRPG vs LARP vs CRPG vs SABM, and other settings). But due to the constraints required to fit this within the June 15th deadline, only 2 groups tested (standard classroom versus RPG classroom).

Here is some of the information still in draft form, but nearly ready for submission (there are dozens of other documents related to this project, but these are the portions of interest for the IRB and summarizing the plan):

PURPOSE: Assess if the constraints of a large class-size college course, eliminate or reduce the advantages of role-playing games as an educational technique over classical education techniques. Existing research indicates that the use of role-playing can enhance the learning process. Further research also supports that tabletop role-playing games can also further enhance the learning process. Most university-level academic settings do not have the luxury of resources to provide this educational technique for the majority of students. Most of the existing research using RPGs in educational settings has not been performed in standard college-level university settings with large class sizes, limited number of instructors, limited instructor-student interaction, etc.

Neuroscience theories support the possible reasons for RPG advantages to learning, since RPG’s provide deep-level processing, “why questions”, elaboration, distinctiveness, interconnectedness, often prior knowledge components, stressors similar to the testing effect and desirable difficulties, rich mental imagery, abundant cues for encoding & retrieval, knowledge in layers, gamification aspects tend to increase intrinsic motivation and interest, and the narrative core component, theoretically explain why research studies indicate that TRPGs provide significant advantages over standard lecture & rote techniques, especially for longer-term memory and creative applications of acquired knowledge.

Most of the research for RPGs related to education has been in elementary, high school, or adjunct/extracurricular settings allowing the more natural RPG environment to optimize the experience. Research indicates the optimal TRPG experience is around 4-5 players with 1 game master (GM), over a 3-4 hour period at least once per week, in a comfortable & quiet setting. Most academic settings do not have the luxury of resources to provide this form of educational technique on such a small group scale for the majority of students.

METHODOLOGY: Participants will be randomly assigned to either a typical classroom setting or tabletop role-playing setting to learn East Asian History material over a 3 hour course of instruction. Prior to the course they will complete a basic demographics questionnaire and baseline subject knowledge test about related East Asian History topics. They will then attend the 3 hour course. They will be subsequently tested on their comprehension and retention of information through a standard written and/or online (multiple choice, fill in the blank, etc.) course test immediately at the end of the course, and then retested a few days/weeks later to determine longer term retention.

Participants will be using coded identification (SONA), and if in classroom setting using randomly assigned nicknames, to protect anonymity. Participants will complete a basic demographics survey and baseline knowledge test on East Asian History related topics. Then be randomly assigned to 1 of 2 classroom/instruction environments/techniques: The two settings are either: standard classroom or role-playing game classroom course. Participants in classrooms will receive random nicknames to maintain anonymity during course instruction. Course instruction approximately 3 hours. Course material test immediately at course ending. Course material delayed retest several days to week(s) after course. Exit survey about course & experiment experience. There is a slight deception in that the participants initially are only told the study is on “Assessing Different Educational Techniques”, and omits the focus on assessing RPGs to reduce potential initial participant response bias. Participants are informed at the end of participation about the full title and scope of the study.

The classroom assigned group will be in a standard classroom with student desks, projector, and instructor providing verbal lecture, potentially with a slide show. Students are assigned alias nicknames in case they need to interact with the instructor to ask/answer questions during the course of the lecture.

At a separate time from the classroom assigned group, the RPG group(s) members will be in a room seated around a single boardroom style table. Group size will be no larger than 5 players plus the Game Master Instructor (GMI). If there are too many participants then multiple RPG group sessions will be scheduled to accommodate. Multiple groups would help improve data value. The GMI will cover the same lecture material as the classroom setting, but using a gamified narrative approach using a standard published tabletop role-playing game (AD&D 1st Edition Oriental Adventures game system). Players will be given a choice of player characters (PCs - the characters that the players will control within the game setting) to pick from. Participants will work cooperatively with each other while they play through the narrative game setting within the 3 hours, attempting to learn the information relevant to the course material. Players and GMI will use the names of the player characters to reference each other and maintain anonymity. All interactions are verbal, while seated around table. Participants will have character sheets, pencils with erasers, a set of polyhedral game dice. The GMI will be the instructor, narrator, referee, and performer of the non-player characters (NPCs) that the PCs will interact with verbally to unravel clues, overcome challenges, and learn the appropriate information relevant to the East Asian History course.