The purpose of this study was to investigate the affordances of participatory simulations by comparing students' models of engagement and science learning outcomes in a multi-team participatory simulated game (MPSG) and a single-team participatory simulated game (SPSG). Two versions of a mobile-based game about marine fishery management were created. Participants were 105 seventh-grade students in Taiwan. Research instruments included a Science Game Engagement questionnaire and a Marine Ecosystem and Sustainability Test. Students' interviews and classroom videos were also collected. Students' models of engagement were analyzed by using Partial Least Squares Structural Equation Modeling, and comparisons of subscales of engagement and learning outcomes were made by Analysis of Covariance statistics. The results showed that the students in the MPSG group had a higher level of behavioral engagement and better learning achievement than the students in the SPSG group did. Also, in exploring the interrelationships among the subscales of students' engagement, we found that, in the SPSG group, students' behavioral engagement was positively predicted by their emotional engagement, while in the MPSG group, it was positively predicted by their social engagement. In both groups, behavioral engagement predicted cognitive engagement. This finding was supported by the video data in that more interactions among the group members were observed in the MPSG group. This indicated that the multi-agent, dynamic modeling in the MPSG may have shifted the quality of the learners' social interactions. The affordances of participatory simulated games are discussed, and future research directions are provided. Practitioner notes What is already known about this topic Participatory simulations allow users to participate in simulations by controlling one of the roles in the system which models real-life settings. Dynamic modeling is an essential feature of participatory simulations that allows the learners to see the exact impact of their participation on changes in the system. Students who learned with the participatory simulations showed significantly better reasoning in concept building and fewer misconceptions than with conventional simulations. However learners can overly emphasize racing to win in multi-agent participatory simulations and tasks in participatory simulations can be too challenging for some learners. What this paper adds We compared students' engagement models in two versions of a participatory game–a multi-team participatory simulated game (MPSG) and a single-team participatory simulated game (SPSG). We found that in the MPSG social engagement predicted behavioral engagement while in the SPSG students' emotional engagement played an important role. Students who participated in the MPSG had better performance in system thinking than the students in the SPSG. Implications for practice and/or policy Dynamic modeling is not only authentic for simulating certain scientific phenomena but also it offers the affordances of improving the quality of learners' social interactions. This should be taken into account in the future design of educational simulations. A multi-team design of participatory simulation taking advantage of competition among teams and collaboration within teams can help students to learn complex phenomena.
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