SIMAGES 2016.1 – A Solution for “Exam-Based” Education

A Solution for “Exam-Based” Education in Hong Kong

by Yeung Siu Kit (Dennis)

As a first time participant of the NASAGA conference, I was very impressed by the exhilarating and affectionate environment. I DID play a lot and learn a lot! Taking this opportunity, I would like to express my gratitude towards the 2015 NASAGA conference committee for organizing such a wonderful event!  Also, thanks for inviting me to share my thoughts and research in SIMAGES. — Dennis

I believe in Hong Kong (and most areas in Asia), learning is far from fun. Or to be more accurate, learning in these places happens in tedious ways:  mainly endless repetition, homework and stressful exams. Recently in Hong Kong, many parents are urging our government to cancel the Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) for Primary 3 pupils (aged 9), which has exerted an unbearable workload and pressure on the kids. They are held at school after classes once a week to practice the TSA. In addition, they have to finish extra TSA homework every day leaving limited time to sleep and, of course, no time to play.

When children are trained to be exam-taking machines at school, to one end they might become what we called “high score idiots” who are experts in exams but know nothing else (such as taking care of themselves, working with people, etc.). Another extreme is that many of them simply stop, if not hate, learning and reading when there are no exams. From my observation, I am sad to say that the latter phenomenon is very common among teenagers and even young adults.

What can we do to bring back the joy of learning as well as opportunities for play at schools? I believe simulation games are a good supplementary pedagogy to “exam-based teaching.” Exam-based teaching focuses on getting the answer correctly and efficiently leaving little room for in-depth enquiry, thorough discussion, and critical and creative thinking. Also it is likely to be inferior in terms of triggering motivation and achieving affective learning outcomes (i.e. values, attitudes, and behaviors) among students.

In contrast, instructional simulation games have been widely used to achieve cognitive, affective, and skill-based outcomes. In addition, enhancing student motivation is always one of the key advantages for using simulation games. So I am interested in researching trying to figure out how and why games work.

Adopting a design-based approach, two rounds of 8-hour waste management gaming simulation have been conducted. After each round, participants’ comments about the program were collected with the aim to identify the successful and limiting factors. The result has been summarized and visualized in a conceptual framework shown in Figure 1. Taking the Input-Process-Output Game Model (Garris et al., 2002) as basis, the framework highlights the importance of self-determination theory (SDT) and experiential learning theory in different stages.


Figure 1:  Conceptual framework on gaming simulation design. Yeung Siu Kit

For the “Input” stage which decides the content and operating mechanism of the gaming simulation, SDT serves as an excellent guideline for the design work. SDT contains three key elements (1) competence, (2) autonomy and (3) relatedness, to increase participants’ motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000):

  1. Feeling of competence can be found among participants who engage in short tasks, with clear goals, and increasing level of difficulties.
  2. Autonomy is enjoyed when various tasks are available each time so that the participants can choose how to engage.
  3. Relatedness is reported when each learning task affects the overall game scores. Also, tasks that require interactions (either cooperative or competitive) among participants may increase relatedness.

Including these three elements in gaming simulations is easily achieved and the effect upon participants’ engagement is significant.

In the “Process” stage, participants have to finish various learning tasks. Thus, they have the opportunities to make judgments, take different actions, receive feedback (e.g. game scoring), and conduct reflection for further actions. These four steps themselves represent a completion of Kolb’s experiential learning cycle (Kreber, 2001). In addition to individual learning, knowledge construction is enhanced when judgments are made through collaborative work such as discussions and debates. Hence, pop-up events are suggested to excite the participants at regular intervals and allow them to conduct interactive tasks. In my own game, for example, participants have to debate and vote for some pop-up policies regarding waste management.

Regarding the “Output” stage, a final debriefing is essential before the end to consolidate the experiences in the gaming simulation. It is importance to explain the relationships between the game design and the corresponding learning objectives. Also, it is particularly useful to invite the participants to share their “stories” from the simulation.

Considering the whole framework, we can see it acts as a “meta Kolb cycle” which includes the overall involvement in the entire gaming simulation as an experiential learning adventure. From my research so far, the participants showed significant cognitive as well as affective improvements after the gaming simulation. Almost all agree that the game is engaging and they enjoyed the experience.

Hopefully my sharing can inspire you in your own simulation and game designs so that future learners can be benefit from well-designed simulation-games.



Garris, R., Ahlers, R., & Driskell, J. E. (2002). Games, motivation, and learning: A research and practice model.Simulation & Gaming, 33, 441-467.

Kreber, C. (2001). Learning experientially through case studies? A conceptual analysis. Teaching in Higher Education, 6(2), 217.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.

Yeung Siu Kit (Dennis) is currently a research Master student in the Hong Kong Institute of Education. His research interest is to design instructional gaming simulations for effective sustainability and environmental education. This is a combination of his two interests:

  1. Conveying environmental protection messages. He worked as an environmental consultant for several years after graduation, always trying to realize his dream of “Protecting the Earth.”
  2. Designing and playing gaming simulations. After participating in an extremely unforgettable gaming simulation camp, he fell in love with games and simulations and became convinced that they are a very powerful and engaging way to teach and change people’s minds.

He can be reached at

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