A board game is helping high school students gain confidence in pursuing a business degree, and it’s making a big difference in a region of Tasmania that needs it most. 

According to government statistics, the north-west coast of Tasmania has one of the lowest rates in Australia of year 12 students going on to study at university, TAFE, or private colleges. But it’s possible to get these students excited about higher education, said Steve Allen from the University of Tasmania – you just have to know how to engage them.

The University’s Cradle Coast campus has a big focus on engaging the community and encouraging year 12 students to enter higher education. And as the only member of the Tasmanian School of Business and Economics located there, Mr Allen has been devoting his time to recruiting young adults into business degrees.

For the past six years, Mr Allen has been running the University Connections Program (UCP) at the University of Tasmania, and he’s been visiting schools all across the state to spread the word.

The aim of this program is to give high school students the experience of university study, to show that it’s not scary at all, and to also encourage them to take on a University course.

“This is something I’m particularly interested in.”

The Program allows high school students to study with Mr Allen and gain a University unit while they’re still completing year 11 or 12.

And it’s not just the extra credit that makes the experience so valuable. Students are also connected with graduates and professionals who talk about their own experiences with higher education, including how it’s helped them rise up the ranks in their careers. 

Make your own mogul

The true value of the Program lies in the learning design that underpins it, says Mr Allen, who also teaches accounting and finance subjects at the University. He says it’s about shifting the focus away from traditional lectures to more applied learning methods that can create a lasting experience.

And what better way to create that lasting experience than to gamify it.

“Applied learning, in my view, is what students want these days,” said Mr Allen. “Gaming and simulation learning engenders a deeper learning experience than a face-to-face lecture can.”

Mr Allen has created a unique board game, which requires students to separate into teams to run a hypothetical company. These ‘companies’ then compete against each other in class to run the most successful business.

As they play the board game, the students are tasked with producing and selling a product. The winning team is the one that gains the biggest profit from its shareholders.

“Through running their businesses over the course of the simulation, they develop the skills and knowledge I want them to learn, in a fun environment,” said Mr Allen.

He adds that the purpose of the exercise is not just about learning how business works – the students also develop leadership and team-building skills. Students elect and take on responsibilities within their companies, such as who is named CEO, and who’s charge of finance and sales.

“They learn real-world skills and real business skills – and in fact, real finance skills – in a fun, visual, and competitive environment,” said Mr Allen.

The students need to learn how to work as a team and adopt a role to run a company in a highly competitive environment.

Mr Allen has since taken a similar approach in the two-day seminars he runs for business degree students at the University, and says the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with some participants saying it’s the best business learning experience they’ve ever had. 

Mr Allen’s teaching methods are creating an impression on many. One past student still sees him occasionally on the Cradle Coast campus, and recalls the Program fondly.

“He still comes up to me and says, ‘Gee, I still can still remember that simulation you ran,’” said Mr Allen. 

“The Program is something I’m invested in and proud of.”

Find out about studying Business and Economics at the University of Tasmania here.

About Mr Stephen Allen

Mr Allen's career has been devoted to excellence in accounting and business education at undergraduate and post graduate levels. He couples practical work experience at management level in large and small organisations with a superior set of teaching and learning skills and knowledge in order to design varied learning experiences for his students. He regularly provides training and consultancy services to local, national and global organisations and regularly teaches at universities overseas.

View Mr Stephen Allen's full researcher profile