Is a Board Game Suitable for Teaching Complex Natural Systems? Yes




ecosystem services, board game, natural science, GBL, educational games


The quality of people’s daily lives is dependent on the functioning of natural systems - ecosystem services. These services are essential for social and economic development of our society and for ensuring the well-being of humans. This dependency is not easily understandable, as it is non-linear. The use of games has been proven a successful method in teaching complex systems. Games can improve, besides knowledge, students’ social and academic achievement, promote students’ motivation, improve their critical thinking and co-operation skills. In this research we assessed how an ecosystem services themed board game „End of the World Begins in Kurtna” supports students’ ability to understand the relationship between humans and nature. We evaluated the game’s potential as an educational tool to foster better comprehension of the concept of ecosystem services. To validate the game’s usability and learning value, game sessions were conducted with more than a hundred students. To collect their knowledge about both ecosystem services and nature, their attitudes towards the game and their subjective assessment of their own knowledge, pre-test and post-test questionnaires were used and the data was analysed using mixed methods. The results present that the game enhances the understanding of relations between humans and nature and helps to notice causality related to the subject. The game makes players perceive the human impact on nature and creates a positive attitude towards protecting the natural environment. The majority of respondents found the game to be interesting and engaging. Since interest and engagement are closely related to motivation we conclude that the game also has a positive effect on learning motivation. We conclude that board games can be suitable means for understanding complex terms such as ecosystem services. The game is applicable for enriching natural science education and is a good supporting material for teaching. However, since we did not measure knowledge retention over a long period of time we cannot confirm the game’s ability to enable deeper understanding of the subject. 

Keywords: ecosystem services, board game, natural sciences, GBL, educational games