Students create board games to study Y2K and other problems

Imagine a Y2K board game in which you lose two turns if computers read the year "2000" as "1900" and gain 3 turns if you are Y2K compliant. Students at Fairfield University have been developing such board games under the supervision of their professor, Dr. Elia V. Chepaitis, associate professor of information systems, and they're finding there are no easy answers to the range of scenarios that are possible with the Year 2000 Millennium bug.

Dr. Chepaitis devised the unusual teaching technique as a way for students to study issues that are unstructured and fluid. Board games, she explains, are ideal for getting students "to explore the state of readiness and awareness, to identify technological problems and solutions with precision and to identify management strategies. The students learned to assign values to contrasting outcomes forecast by numerous authorities, ranging from Senator Bennett's and Dodd's Congressional Committee on the Year 2000 to scores of articles from the business and popular press on the Internet each week."

She has been impressed by the students' creativity and dogged investigation of issues. "They identified the most important questions and then developed models with sub-components, adding layers of ambiguity and complexity to scenarios in which Nature, rather than individual choice, holds disproportionate power." Nearly all the teams working on the board game project "perceived the year 2000 as a technological, political, economic and cultural phenomenon," she noted.

Sophomore Patrick Kelleher said he enjoyed "actually developing a whole concept about a specific problem (Y2K) and then figuring out ways to either fix it or face the consequences." Maureen Richa, a senior, liked the creativity it sparked in students. "I think it's a good way to learn because we had to do research to get questions." Students in her group each picked a different business or industry and investigated how they were affected by Y2K.

Board games do lack the speed, elegance and ease-of-use that one sees in electronic games, Dr. Chepaitis concedes, but board games "empower students to collect and communicate data, think carefully, experiment, slowly add layers of complexity, reject incongruities and test repeatedly."

Dr. Chepaitis is using the board game method in two other classes as well: "International Information Systems" and "Contemporary Economic Change in Russia and Eastern Europe." All three were upper-level courses and by their very nature, dynamic, multidisciplinary and international in scope.

The objective in all the classes, she explains, "is to expose students to the liveliness of debate in three changing fields, to compensate for the lack of current and comprehensive textbooks in each course, and to motivate teams of students to take command of the class."

The students, she pointed out, "built up a substantial knowledge base through their brainstorming, reading, Internet searches, interviews and continuous attention to daily events." And while Dr. Chepaitis expected the student teams to ask for guidelines, examples and other advice, she says, "I was delighted to find the students flourished in an environment of autonomy, frantic brainstorming, fact-finding, experimentation, humor and intrigue."

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647,

Posted on April 1, 1999

Vol. 31, No. 279