The influence of role-playing games on student engagement with scientific data and decision making processes
Thursday, August 5, 2021
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Annie Stoeth and Mikaela Charalambous, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Queens College, CUNY, Flushing, NY, Kate Carter, National Center for Science Education
Earth and Environmental Sciences, The Graduate Center, City University of New York New York, NY, USA
Background/Question/Methods Decision-making around climate change happens at the intersection of knowledge, values and experience and often requires acting without full content knowledge. Yet, much of climate change education remains focused only on improving gaps in knowledge. Here, we provide the results of a randomized control study to assess climate change decision-making in an educational setting. Our research explores whether participants are more receptive to new information/ideas when distanced from their personal values and experiences via role-playing games. Climate Change Summit (CCS) is an immersive, town-hall style game that allows participants to role-play community members and decide how to use $100,000 earmarked for a local climate initiative. Five proposals – disaster preparation, education, solar panels, reforestation, stormwater management – are supported by characters with varying backgrounds and motivations. Participants consider the data, debate the proposals, and vote for a winner. For this study, we worked with a large introductory environmental science class at CUNY. Half the lab sections (n=4) chose their characters for CCS, selecting townspeople that aligned with their own values. The remaining sections (n=4) were randomly assigned characters. Students completed a pre-activity survey (assessing climate knowledge, societal values, and current behavior) and a post-activity survey (asking which proposal they supported and why). Results/Conclusions Initial results show that 20% of participants across both treatment groups ultimately changed their minds about which proposal to support. Students most likely to change their minds during CCS were those with low knowledge of climate change, but high interest/concern about it; students with high knowledge and high concern also changed their minds frequently (38.5% of vote changers). In general, when students personally identified with a proposal (e.g., they had chosen their character) they voted for proposals that were idealistic and group-oriented. When students were assigned characters, however, they selected proposals that were more individualistic and results oriented. A chi-square test shows the vote proportions shows statistical significance (p<0.001). CCS has broad implications for educators and science communicators. Overcoming the knowledge to action gap in climate change communication will require an acknowledgement of how lived experience and values influence knowledge and climate action. Role-playing games such as Climate Change Summit can promote this reckoning in a safe, fictionalized space, while also empowering participants talk about data, take positions, and practice decision-making with incomplete information. CCS highlights – and normalizes – the uncertainty that complicates climate forecasting, legislation, and consensus building, and empowers participants to join the conversation nonetheless.