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Epic wins: engaging students globally with game-based learning

By Jay Bhatt and Daniel Christe, Drexel University | Oct 24, 2016

Drexel University engineering librarian Jay Bhatt and engineering students

Photo caption | Drexel University game makers: L-R Savannah Lee, Krishna Dhanani, Jay Bhatt, Rishiraj Mathur, Daniel Christe, (not pictured: Chris Badurek, Krzysztof Mazur and Matthew Morton)



The Association of College & Research Libraries’ expanded definition of information literacy emphasizes dynamism, flexibility, individual growth and community learning.1 All of these attributes can be addressed in a game designed to develop active learning and critical thinking skills. The Drexel University engineering librarian and six engineering students, in conjunction with Elsevier, helped to develop such a game to demonstrate key functionalities of databases and library resources, and illustrate their role in empowering innovations and solutions to civilization’s grand challenges.



Game-based learning


Games are a form of structured play where we impose unnecessary obstacles and voluntarily overcome them. Take the game of golf.  At its core, golf is about getting a small ball into a small hole. You could just pick up the ball and put it directly in the hole, but there would be no fun in that. Instead you hit it with a stick some distance away and then are at the mercy of the ambient environment and your own skill, so there is uncertainty in the outcome. This makes the game engaging.


Game design principles correlate nicely with principles of active learning. They get progressively harder as we go through them and achieve different levels. Gamers spend about 80 percent of their time failing, but in a learning context this should be considered in a positive light.2 As in real life, gamers observe the world, develop a hypothesis, test it, iteratively learn and revise their approach in the next attempt. Sounds a lot like something called the scientific method.



Engineering Academic Challenge


The Engineering Academic Challenge is an immersive interdisciplinary problem-set based competition that uses two powerful databases, Knovel and Engineering Village. It began on October 10 and a new problem-set of questions will be posted until November 13.


Engineering Academic Challenge symbolKnovel provides access to approximately 3,500 reference items and 90,000 interactive tables, graphs and equations. Engineering Village indexes the two largest engineering databases, Inspec and Compendex, which has content dating back to 1884. In combination these tools can provide the background information engineering students need, with the scholarly scientific literature, to build on to their final projects.  


The game is based on five broad transdisciplinary themes, such as energy for a sustainable future and the future of transportation. The themes are grounded in the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges for Engineering, which were decided by a global committee in 2008 as key advancements for civilization.3 Behind every one of the challenges is an interdisciplinary core of engineering expertise expressing the notion of engineering as the liberal art of the 21st century. 


At Drexel University, the Challenge was kicked off with a live event where more than 60 people dropped in over a three-hour period. The gaming environment was transformed into a commons where learners and researchers from all fields could intermix and work together, fostering innovation, collaboration and problem solving. The engineering librarian and the Drexel development team was also on hand to mentor players on using the library’s resources, with a majority (80 percent) indicating they would use Knovel and Engineering Village beyond the game.



Drexel student learning priorities 


Students graduating from Drexel University demonstrate competencies in core intellectual and practical skill areas such as information literacy, self-directed learning and technology use. A gaming approach integrates these core areas using active and engaged learning among students participating in the Engineering Academic Challenge.


The Engineering Academic Challenge may be a game, but it is also a thoughtful and deliberate way to engage learners across the world, while supporting the four key directions of Drexel University Libraries’ current strategic plan4:


  • Ensure access to ideas and authoritative information sources
  • Deepen Drexel’s connections with scholarship through expert guidance across knowledge communities, authoritative publications and unique data sources
  • Build learning environments in physical and cyber spaces
  • Model a collaborative and entrepreneurial library organization that effectively leverages university and external resources to serve students, enhance teaching, and support researchers


The Engineering Academic Challenge addresses these priorities in a creative, engaging and interactive fashion. 



More information


Librarians who would like to launch the game at their institution can find resources at: 



A Game-based Learning Approach to Information Literacy coverDOWNLOAD the white paper “A Game-based Learning Approach to Information Literacy” to learn more about how online games can be used to promote information literacy in engineering students.


Watch the Library Connect webinar “Trends in teaching information literacy” for Jay Bhatt and Daniel Christe's presentation "A Game-based Learning Approach to STEM Information Literacy" (second segment).




  2. McGonigal, Jane. Superbetter: An Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver, and More Resilient. Penguin Press (2015), New York, NY.