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        Graduate Programs, Management, Students

        Doctoral student earns award for utilizing board games in business education

        June 30, 2021 By Joe McAdory

        All News



        "The doctoral program at the Harbert College of Business has provided as solid grounding in both methodological training, theoretical and the more practical aspects of writing a journal article and developing a research stream."                                                                                                                                               — Ian Mercer, sixth-year doctoral student

        The Harbert College is dedicated to providing students with relevant, forward-looking and engaging curricula, instruction and high-impact experiential learning opportunities.

        Ian Mercer, a sixth-year doctoral student in management at the Harbert College of Business, recently earned the “Best Symposium in Management Education and Development” award and will be presented by McGraw Hill Education at the virtual Academy of Management conference July 29 to August 4.

        How? Board games … World of Warcraft, Dungeons & Dragons and Escape Curse of the Temple, which offer real-life simulations that can be applied to business practice.


        Ian Mercer will share his findings at the IMEX America Conference November 9-11.

        Mercer, with scholars from Georgia Southern, the University of Mississippi, Quinnipiac University and Towson University, examined the use of board games in management education and highlighted how various board games have been used in management courses — including Leadership, Organizational Behavior, Human Resource Management, Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management — as experiential learning activities.

        “We discussed how commercially available games can be modified and adapted for management education and how games and their designs can be implemented to illustrate management course material,” said Mercer. “From an educator's perspective, board games lend themselves well to experiential use. For example, in a cooperative game, we can designate leadership responsibilities or introduce pressures of time or resource use to impact decision making. We find that students who experience the situation improve in their knowledge acquisition of the relevant topic.”

        Mercer noted though board games date more than 4,000 years, business-simulation games gained traction in the early 1930s.

        “In a recent class I taught on Human Resource Management, I had students create their ideal human resource manager, endowing them with the traits, characteristics, and abilities they believed were necessary to succeed,” he added. “Each characteristic was assigned a point score, like how characters are created in the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game. The students then used their character in various scenarios based on concepts taught during the class. The character traits they chose impacted success or failure in the given situation. As part of the project, students had to write a reflection paper on what character traits were particularly useful, drawing from class concepts. Empirical data collected suggested that knowledge acquisition improved through using the exercise and student motivation also increased.”

        Mercer said the Academy of Management’s recognition of he and his team’s study to be validation this field of research is useful. “In such a nascent area of research within the management field, it is great to be pioneering the way,” he said. “We are starting to see interest from management journals in this area who are now recognizing the benefits of such studies.”

        Mercer recognized Harbert College’s management faculty, including dissertation chair Alan Walker, Lei Huang and Jeremy Mackey, for supporting his doctoral journey at Auburn University.

        “I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Auburn,” he said. “As I complete my program of study, I’m excited to enter the field in a more professional capacity. The doctoral program at the Harbert College of Business has provided as solid grounding in both methodological training, theatrical knowledge and the more practical aspects of writing a journal article and developing a research stream. The Department of Management has been incredibly supportive of attending conferences, which is considerably beneficial in broadening your professional network. That is how I met the writing and research team I work with developing ideas around using gaming in management education and research.”

        Mercer will continue to share his findings November 9-11 through a number of presentations at the IMEX America Conference in Las Vegas, an event for global leaders in hospitality, tourism and event management.

        “We will give participants hands on experience of gameplay with games that can develop team leadership skills to a large presentation to a few hundred people on how we can leverage game play in training and development,” said Mercer. “They look at CSR, leadership and sustainability amongst other areas. We believe it is a great platform to showcase the versatility of our research and highlight how we can equip organizations with fun and informative ways to train and develop employees in the 21st century.”