VERSA: European project on Soft Skills and Video games

Training entrepreneurship & open science soft skills in PhDs students through the use of commercial video games with softskills.games

Authors: Sergio Alloza
Reviewed by: Dr. Flavio Escribano

Spanish Version: Download here (bajar aquí)

Introduction

In this article we explain the content and the structure of the new educational innovation project with a start date in February 2021 and with a duration of 24 months, under the Horizon 2020 framework, Science with and for society european call with code H2020-SwafS-08-2019-2020, as a CSA Coordination and support action.

As we have shown in our previous articles, the European Union is gaining more and more awareness of the soft skills importance in academic and work environments. Therefore a series of demands for projects related to these educational innovation needs are emerging at an european level.

This project, called Video gamEs foR Skills trAining or VERSA, aims specifically at developing soft skills related to entrepreneurship and open science through the use of commercial video games and the softskills.games methodology, thus covering the explicit needs for educational innovation in soft skills and the interests of both the European Commission and the participants in the project itself.

The target of users are PhD students from the different universities of the Aurora Network that participate in the project and are part of the consortium, specifically the Universidad Rovira i Virgili, University of Innsbruck y Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. In this way, as a result and expected impact, students will acquire a fun, innovative and different training that will improve their soft skills and enrich their professional profile to empower and help them overcome the job challenges that they may face in the near future. In addition to providing an added value to the doctoral training programs of the universities involved.

Structure and methodology

The structure of the project is as follows:

  • Preparation and survey

At the beginning of the project there will be 2 months of preparation of the training modules (although they are already defined as shown below) together with the coaching sessions and standardized tests that are part of the process of evaluation and collection of qualitative and quantitative data. Besides, a survey will be carried out with interested students to assess both their current level of soft skills and their preference for the completion of certain training modules of the project.

  • Initial meeting

There will be a meeting at the end of March with all the students to do the technical onboarding. This is, the creation of the different accounts both on Steam and in softskills.games, as well as the download of Steam and possible games already chosen, and explain the project in more detail and answer questions. It was initially designed in Tarragona in a presencial way, although we anticipate that we will have to do it online given the circumstances.

  • Training modules

The 8 soft skills training modules will begin at the beginning of April. Each one of them will last between 2 and 3 months (coinciding in academic periods and excluding summer holidays), extending the duration of the skills training until November 2022. The training modules are shown in the following table and in addition to being specific to a soft skill and a video game, they also have a pre-post test evaluative model and a coaching session which objective is to help to understand the influence of the soft skill on academic performance and situations of daily life, making group dynamics about what is learned in the video game. In addition the Universities will provide the students with some ECTs if they do the 3 minimum training modules.

Video gameSoft Skill
Module 1Portal 2 Cognitive Flexibility
Module 2Cities:Skylines Creativity
Module 3Anomaly 2 Critical Thinking
Module 4Train ValleyComplex Problem Solving
Module 5Fallout Shelter People/Team Management
Module 6Mini Guns Time Management
Module 7Gems of Wars Judgement & Decision Making
Module 8Alien Swarm Reactive Drop Goal Setting
Table 1. List of training modules in VERSA.

Regarding the training and evaluation methodology, we will follow the model established by Soft Skills Games, that is, the behavior of the players within video games will dictate the soft skills of their profile.

Image by RageBear from imgur

On the basis that any soft skill, today, is trained with a series of elements that stimulate users to use these skills, the video game here plays both a motivating and stimulating role. This stimulation has already been investigated by the scientific community and classified as very positive in terms of soft skills development (some examples are improvements in problem solving: Ventura et al., 2012, creativity, Hall et al., 2019 or communication, Barr, 2017). Some educational institutions already incorporate video games in their academic curriculum in order to evolve and innovate their educational methodologies, such as Minecraft (Mojang AB, 2009) in which some studies show how motivation increases and various subjects can be taught (Short, 2012; Pusey & Pusey, 2015; Hobbs et al., 2019). In fact, we ourselves have published different articles relating video games and certain soft skills.

In this way, from softskills.games, we analyze in detail the stimulation provided by the video game and the actions of the player within it and thanks to the connection with the Steam API, we know the performance of each user based on the achievements that are obtained. These achievements are indicators of a set of actions carried out with an objective and each one of these actions, according to the bibliography, is associated with certain soft skills. For example, in cognitive flexibility training, although all games always have different rules to play with, it is more effective to train this skill through a puzzle game like Portal 2 with different rules or elements, where in addition the cognitive demand is very complete. Following this example, we could assume that the players who have completed more levels (actions/performance as an indicator) have more capacity for both adaptability and problem solving soft skills (Shute & Wang, 2015).

Image by Borja Ruete from Meristation

With this soft skill-action-achievement analysis we are able to extract the level of soft skills and their possible improvement over time, thus fitting the video game into an educational environment, meeting the objectives of learning and providing VERSA participants with a dynamic and fun training and learning method, as well as effective and complete.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that video games do not train only one soft skill, but since they are such complex tools, the stimulation received from the players ends up influencing the use and development of several soft skills at the same time. Therefore, although the VERSA modules do focus on certain soft skills, the impact of video game training will be wider and therefore more beneficial for the student.

At the end, after the soft skills training, there will be 2 months to carry out a complete and global evaluation of the entire program. In addition, before the end of the project, a final meeting will be held to give the students the opportunity to share their experiences about the project.

Bibliographic references

  • Barr, M. (2017). Video games can develop graduate skills in higher education students: A randomised trial. Computers & Education, 113, 86–97. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2017.05.016.
  • Hall, J., Stickler, U., Herodotou, C., & Iacovides, I. (2019). Player conceptualizations of creativity in digital entertainment games. Convergence, 1354856519880791.
  • Hobbs, L., Stevens, C., Hartley, J. & Hartley, C. (2019). Science Hunters: An inclusive approach to engaging with science through Minecraft. Journal of Science Communication, 18 (2).
  • Pusey, M. & Pusey, G. (2015). Using Minecraft in the Science Classroom. International Journal of Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education, 23 (3), 22-34.
  • Short, D. B. (2012). Teaching Scientific Concepts using a Virtual World – Minecraft. Teaching science, 58 (3).
  • Shute, V. J., & Wang, L. (2015). Measuring problem solving skills in Portal 2. In E-Learning Systems, Environments and Approaches (pp. 11-24). Springer, Cham.
  • Ventura, M., Shute, V., & Kim, Y. J. (2012). Video gameplay, personality and academic performance. Computers & Education, 58 (4), 1260–1266.