Building Virtual Eco Cities: Middle School Students' Environmental Attitude and Awareness of Sustainable Development

Belen Garcia de Hurtado, Purdue University


The purpose of this study is to examine the development of the environmental attitudes of eighth grade students playing the persuasive game, SimCity Edu, compared with a control group using traditional classroom activities. In addition, this study investigated how participants in the treatment group perceived their awareness of sustainable development and their engagement level after building virtual eco cities in SimCity Edu. This research study follows the concurrent triangulation design with a control group (n=50) and a treatment group (n=52) of middle school students in eighth grade. The administered pre- and post-tests were composed of demographic questions and the attitude section of the survey “Children’s Environmental Attitudes and Knowledge Scale (CHEAKS)” (Leeming, Dwyer & Bracken, 1995). The participants answered the pre-test before playing the game and then they completed the four missions during their science class. Other data sources analyzed were: treatment group students’ journal entries and interviews. The pre- and post-test were analyzed with descriptive statistics and a paired t-test calculated at the 5% significance level. The quantitative data analysis showed that the participants had an increase in the overall attitudes score after analyzing pre- and post-test scores for the treatment group and the control group. For both groups, the results of the paired t-test were statistically significant for the actual commitment section and the affect section. The results from the treatment and control groups followed similar trends, but the control group had a slightly higher increase than the treatment group. Female participants of the treatment group had a positive change in the actual commitment, affect and overall attitudes but a decrease in their verbal commitment. However, their scores were higher than the scores for the control group and the entire treatment group, making the findings stronger for the female participants that played the persuasive game. Male participants performed better in the game missions than female participants, obtaining higher game scores and more frequently getting on the top list of performance players. Despite their game performance, male participants showed no change in their environmental attitudes for control and treatment group. The male participants interviewed described no change on their environmental attitudes, while female participants reported an increment citing specific behaviors changed. The findings related to sustainable development included three major thematic groups: environmental, economic, and social awareness. The participants recognized causes and consequences of air pollution, how certain businesses increased the level of air pollution more than others, how having jobs affect the city and the citizens, and how using different energy sources affect the air pollution level, the city’s economy, and the residents’ well-being. The main conclusion of the research is that playing SimCity Edu promoted sustainable development awareness by allowing participants to grasp the complex relationship that environmental issues have with economic and social issues. Consistent with the literature, the treatment group participants showed a stronger level of engagement than the control group. During the first mission, the participants displayed frustration; as they continued playing they learned to overcome the challenges that represented building virtual eco cities with economic growth, even finding opportunities for cooperation and competition.




Watson, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Environmental education|Middle School education|Educational technology

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