The Maritime Business Game

News - 16 September 2019 - Webredactie 3ME

Jeroen Pruyn, Assistant Professor at the faculty of Mechanical, Maritime and Materials Engineering, uses in his teaching a ‘Maritime Business Game’ (MBG) that he developed himself. Learning through a game motivates students to master the course subject-matter; as a result, “they learn more and what they learn is retained for longer”, says Jeroen. In this interview, he explains how he came up with the idea of shaping his educational practice in this way and about his plans for the future.

How does it work?
“Instead of adding the MBG to my education module, I developed my lectures on the game itself. Students - divided in groups of three -  represent a shipping company and the game revolves around this company’s first year in business.

The course starts with short YouTube videos that give a concrete explanation of each course component and the students also receive various supporting manuals. There is also a practice round to understand how the game works and to ask questions. If necessary, students can also email me during the practice round or when playing the game.

“Before getting started as a shipping company, they must submit a business plan. This contains a market analysis, made by them, combined with a cost-benefit analysis to see whether there will be sufficient return on investment. During the game, students play out the company’s first year and test the business case. They do this in rounds that represent a week, but that only effectively take 6-15 minutes. The game has strong competitive elements and is played in a short intensive period (one day or two half-days in the same week) to keep the flow going. After the year has been played out, students are asked to analyse the achieved results and present them in the form of an annual report.”

How did you came up with the idea of ​​using a game in your teaching?

“The original idea for this game came from three professors: Ubald Nienhuis, former Professor of Ship Production at TU Delft; Hilde Meersman, and Eddy van de Voorde, both professors in Logistics Economy at the University of Antwerp, the latter also Chair of Shipping Management at TU Delft (2003-2018). They wanted students of economics to better understand the technical limitations, and technical students to better understand the economic side. In 2004, I had just graduated and started to give concrete shape to this idea: developing both the game and the lessons around it.”

What challenges have you encountered?

“The first version took a year to develop. Until mid-2015, the game ran both at TU Delft and at the University of Antwerp. However, after a few years I became dissatisfied with the consistency of the economic background in the game. For example, the inflation could be high, but at the same time all absolute costs could fall. This was not realistic. Fortunately, while engaged in my postgraduate research, I had the opportunity to develop a more consistent model. That research model now provides the economic input for the MBG. Because I was already busy with the research around it, I could immediately adjust the whole game to incorporate the necessary elements or changes.

“I would still like to add new elements to it, such as shipyards, to make it even more robust and closer to real life. However, it takes a lot of time – even several years - to develop the game so extensively and it is fortunate that I can regularly work with graduates who can pick out a piece of the puzzle for me. This way the model still remains strongly connected with my research.”

What are the results and successes?

“I am currently very satisfied with the results. As far as I know, it is the only game that combines research and education in this way. A lot of research is being done with the help of games, but until now I have not yet seen a model that is used both for research and for education on the same subject. In addition, I also use elements from the game in free student projects such as the master thesis, the research assignment and the Bachelor's End Project (BEP), to develop new elements to implement in the game.

“What makes me very happy is that this way of learning motivates students to master the material themselves. I have found that not only they learn more, but also that they well-retain that knowledge on the longer term. In fact, this has been confirmed to me by several students, on different occasions years after their graduation, who were still able to recall what they did right and wrong in the game. To me this is one of the biggest compliments they can give – to see those lessons learned sticking into the future.

“The game really bridges two disciplines: economics and technology. Because of this, I am lucky enough to be able to offer this game in seven courses: four technical maritime courses, and three economic maritime courses. Of course, I hope to expand this number even more, especially at more universities outside the Netherlands.”

What can you advise colleagues who would also like to organize this?

“I think this model of combining research and education in this way is - and will probably remain for a long time - unique. But if you get the chance to do it, I would definitely recommend it. On the other hand, the learning method is more practical when it comes to its application. The game really helps to motivate the students: they want to be the best. When it is clearly structured, they absorb the material and make it their own. A few months ago, I followed a management training myself where the same method was applied: to read the material beforehand and then discuss the correct answers in groups under teacher supervision. Not only did I learn a lot from this training, it also confirmed to me that this approach works very well.”

What else can we expect?

“I am now working on much simpler game elements, such as a VR excursion and VR exercises - but also quizzes - to apply them in one of my first year courses. The advantage of not explaining things in front of the class, but of offering instead the material in a structured way and of testing students’ knowledge through game elements, is that I can use the lecture hours for questions and to go deeper into the subject-matter with the students.”

Have you been able to develop something that other teachers could use?

“Apart from the manuals and the videos with explanation, unfortunately I do not yet have a concrete framework or construction plan. But I am always available to exchange ideas about how you can approach a similar project, and on how to achieve more student involvement and better knowledge retention on the subject, in fewer contact hours”.

If you wish to know more, please contact Jeroen at J.F.J.Pruyn@tudelft.nl