108464 Shroomroot: An Action-Based Digital Game Designed to Enhance Postsecondary Learning about Mycorrhizae.
Poster Number 1213
Monday, October 23, 2017
Tampa Convention Center, East Exhibit Hall
The majority of terrestrial plants form mycorrhizal associations with fungi; hence, it is crucial that future resource managers have a solid understanding of mycorrhizal ecology. Belowground mycorrhizal systems are important to ecosystem functioning, but limited interest of postsecondary students in plants and fungi compared with animals, combined with difficulties visualizing belowground processes, present challenges for learning mycorrhizal concepts. To address this, we created the digital, plant-ecology-centric, action-based game Shroomroot for the 2nd year postsecondary Introduction to Soil Science course. To play the game, players direct the growth of a Douglas-fir root through a soil. In early levels players direct the root to collect water, inorganic nitrogen, and inorganic phosphorus, while in later levels players can “go mycorrhizal” to collect organic nutrients and form networks with other mycorrhizal roots in the soil. The game is freely available through web browsers Safari and Firefox (with download of the Unity webplugin) at http://shroomroot.com/game.html. After completion of game development, we assessed effects of Shroomroot on undergraduate students’ knowledge acquisition and engagement with the topic of mycorrhizal ecology using a pre- and post-test evaluation. Students’ knowledge of the mycorrhizal ecology content included in Shroomroot increased significantly after playing Shroomroot (from an average score of 36% on content knowledge items to 52%, n=52, p=0.008). Student engagement with mycorrhizal content tended to increase after gameplay (from 56% of 52 students Agreeing or Strongly Agreeing with the statement “Mycorrhizae and mycorrhizal networks are interesting” to 83% Agreeing or Strongly Agreeing). These results suggest positive potential for action-based plant-ecology-oriented digital games in a postsecondary science curriculum. Recommendations are included for ways to potentially improve content knowledge acquisition further by providing greater classroom support beyond Shroomroot gameplay (e.g. guided questions). Furthermore, greater understanding of mycorrhizae has the potential to improve our multi-faceted relationships with the ecosystems upon which we depend.