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Academic pioneers teaching ethics to business students through gaming

The first known virtual game created to teach business ethics to students is in advanced stages of development at the University of Roehampton – and its creator says private sector firms have already shown interest in using it to educate employees.

Posted: 16 March 2016

Watch the Virtual Values game trailer to see how users learn as they play.

Virtual Values helps students familiarise themselves with typical ethical dilemmas they might meet in the workplace as well as linking actions with their personal values. The game is based in a virtual company and players meet characters, collect clues and make business decisions involving ethical dilemmas.

Dr Suzy Jagger, from the University’s Roehampton Business School has been developing the content and learning in the Virtual Values game since 2012. Her research has found it to be the first ever 3-D animated game to use a virtual environment for teaching business ethics. Students learn in ‘real world’ scenarios operating in three main environments – an office, a park, and a party.

Each decision players make leads to a different end result in the game, so they can see the impact their choices have. The game is designed to help students develop their ethical awareness by seeing the outcome of their decisions within the context of the game storyline.

“We don’t try to teach people what is right or wrong – that is for them to work out themselves” said Dr Jagger. “We help them see the impact of the actions they take on other stakeholders – hopefully in a fun way – and help them gain a deeper understanding of what their personal values may be.” Examples of dilemmas designed to encourage students to think about ethics in the workplace include:

  • What would you tell a colleague who asks for advice having lied on their CV to get a job?
  • What are the possible repercussions of personal comments about work on social media?
  • What are the impacts of whistleblowing?
  • What does responsible business mean?
  • How can a code of conduct help in making everyday decisions?

Her research into how to teach ethics to business students has directly informed the development of the game, which students now use as part of their studies. This is a prime example of how research informs teaching at Roehampton.

Dr Stephen Driver, the University’s Deputy Provost for Teaching and Learning said: “We’re proud that so much of what our academic staff teach to their students is informed by their research. Dr Jagger’s game is a great example of how this happens every day in our classrooms. Her innovative approach to helping students understand and deal with ethical issues in practice will be hugely beneficial to them as they lead businesses and firms around the world after graduation.

“Instilling ethical values in anyone using traditional lecturing and ‘book learning’ is notoriously difficult so it is really pleasing to see gamification technology being used to encourage students to learn in this way."

The Virtual Values game includes five levels for players to work through, with dilemmas and decisions graduating in difficulty as the player progresses. Every level builds on the knowledge gained and includes an interactive quiz. The theoretecial underpinning of the game is based on Dr Jagger’s research into the area of moral development which began with her PhD.

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