The Health Care Game: An Evaluation of a Heuristic, Web-Based Simulation

Article excerpt

The results of an evaluation of a new web-based educational game centred on the health sector are presented in this article. The game is designed to promote information-seeking skills and provide students with opportunities to interact with each other and the health system. The discussion is based on the context of literatures on new technologies in education, games and simulations. Evaluation of a trial of the game was conducted using pre and postgame student questionnaires and a focus group discussion with student participants. Results demonstrated the effectiveness of the game in improving learning outcomes.

"Technology can offer the means for learner control where students have greater flexibility and self-determination to construct their own meaning and acquire active knowledge" (Koppi, Lublin, & Chaloupka, 1998)

Recent years have witnessed a profusion of new educational strategies in higher education. Here some key strands of the literature on these strategies are reviewed and the evaluation of the Health Care Game, a new web-based, learner-centred, heuristic tool designed for Australian teachers and students involved with medical, health science, or health services management curricula are discussed.

Among a rapidly expanding list, there are various claims for the successful use of problem-based learning in medical education (Boud & Feletti, 1991; Barrows, 1986); inquiry-based learning in nursing education (Feletti, 1993); learner-centred approaches for radiography students (McKay & Kember, 1997); computer-presented problems for doctors (Thompson, Jolly, Macdonald, Gookson, Holman, & Keech, 1987); and computer-based medical quiz games (Mooney & Bligh, 1998). Educators are developing computer packages designed to simulate various aspects of the health system including, for example, the management of a day surgery (Jones, Latif, Murray, & Hedley, 1992) and the use of IThink! for modeling hospital organisational complexity (Senge, Roberts, Ross, Smith, & Kleiner, 1994).

More broadly, there is widespread use of simulations, role-plays, software packages, interactive multimedia, and web-based learning tools in an attempt to deepen and broaden the learning experience. No academic discipline appears to be untouched, with recent reports of applications in fields as diverse as, for example, accounting (Benson, Alison, & Arger, 1996), strategic management (Perry, 1995), business administration (Schoenecker, Martell, & Michlitsch, 1997), economics (Gremmen & Potters, 1997), and welfare work (Hughes, 1992).

The increased use of new techniques does not of itself provide empirically sustainable justification that their application improves teaching outcomes or the learning experience. Each case must be dealt with on its own merits. Soundly designed and executed evaluation strategies become extremely important. Although there are no data available, logic suggests that expenditure levels on computerised games, simulations, and online teaching must be considerable and rising. Although the use of economic cost-benefit analyses is clearly difficult to apply in teaching and learning, evaluation is possible and warranted in the case of the release of new games and simulations, even in the absence of an economic component to the assessment process.

Technologically Sophisticated Games and Simulations in Higher Education

There appears to be strong but by no means ubiquitous support for technologically oriented games and simulations in the higher education literature. Adherents argue, inter alia, that technology-based games and simulations afford participants opportunities to learn under "real life" conditions (Coppard, 1976; Perry & Delahaye, 1990), that decision-making dynamics can be simulated to be closer to organisational processes (Wolfe, 1985), that they help model complexity (Hughes, 1992; Boulding, 1956; Rowlands, 1989), and they illuminate behaviour in social systems (Checkland, 1981). …