KAEE Member Feature: Jennifer Adler


Jennifer Adler is a longtime KAEE member and past board member. She is an assistant professor of biology at Maysville Community and Technical College in Paris, KY. Jennifer has long been an advocate for the intersection of games and EE concepts and has led numerous sessions on these topics. We asked her to share a bit about her experience in educating through game play and the value of EE games in the following interview. We hope you enjoy it!


1. How would you define a quality EE game and why do you think they are important to use in the traditional or non-traditional classroom?

Games are widely used to teach content because games are engaging. But there are certainly gradations. Gamifying refers to using a generic game to learn (or more often review) content. Think of a Jeopardy or Candy Land type game. Simulations encourage critical thinking but tend to have one outcome that students work toward. Quality games (or games-based learning) use the mechanics or rules of the game to teach the topic. Quality games can teach processes in addition to content because they are one and the same.


Games often have a competitive aspect that takes the engagement up a notch. However, some students have trouble learning when intimidated by a competitive group. Of course, good planning and class management skills can mitigate this. But especially when working with a new group of students, cooperative games are an easy solution. Cooperative games can still have competition, but the students work together to compete against the game or the teacher.


2. What do you find most valuable about playing EE games with your own students at the undergraduate level?

I often have students of various ages and backgrounds, so I use games at the beginning of the semester to encourage students to get to know each other. I also use games to encourage critical thinking and systems thinking. When people play board games, they accept that strategy is part of the process. But so many learners don't employ that flexible mindset when absorbing new material. Games in the classroom bridge that divide.

3. What suggestions might you have for formal and non-formal educators about how to adapt EE games into their curriculum?

Educators who want to create their own games should simply play games, for fun, all the time! The more comfortable you become with game mechanics, the easier it is to look at a game and think, 'I can take this game mechanic (of tile placement) and use it to explain habitat restoration!'.

Also, keep it simple! Although I love to play complex board games which contain a booklet of rules, those don't translate well to shorter time frames. But I have successfully taken a board game and just stripped out some of the rules to get to the core of the competency that I'm trying to teach. Lastly, if you are already using a simulation in your class, it may be easy to gamify it. Just try to make the gamification make sense.


4. What are your top four EE game recommendations?

I frequently use these four games that employ game-based learning design. I keep coming back to them because they are extremely easy to teach, are great for any age, and adaptable to multiple topics.


1) "Biodiversity Game" from The Systems Thinking Playbook for Climate Change

This is a nested set of triangles that is manipulated to show relationships between the parts of a system.

2) "Oh Deer” from Project WILD

This is such a classic! If you fear an adult group wouldn't enjoy running around, create a table-top version using pictures.

3) "Dynamic Systems Dance” from Project Learning Tree’s Southeastern Forests and Climate Change.

4) "Carbon on the Move", also from Southeastern Forests and Climate Change.

For older students and adults, I like modifying existing board games. For example, a stripped-down version of 'Pandemic' is great for teaching growth curves or the spread of invasive species or diseases. There are also a slew of games by Genius Games that focus on accurate game mechanics for biology topics.

5. What is the best way to adapt EE gameplay in our current virtual state?

There are so many online products now, it makes my head spin! As I've transitioned to online and hybrid classes, I've started using gamifying simulations such as: MinuteLabs, BioInteractive, and 'The Habitable Planet: A Systems Approach to Environmental Science' from Annenberg Learner.


Another option is using game creation as a learning process. For example, ask students to design character cards that they will later use to play a game. Creating art will be therapeutic and students will have time to do the necessary research. Think outside the box. States of water could be your characters with attributes of strength, fluidity, and cellular damage.


If you're teaching older students, try an internet search for 'serious games' and the topic you're teaching. 'Serious games' are more complex video games (or board games) whose primary purpose is to teach the players. There are a few for younger audiences, such as "Morphy" at the Smithsonian Science Education Center website. This is a growing field. Just check out Eco for a look at the future fusion of online games and environmental education.