Pharmaceutical games with Professor Melissa Murfin

Posted on: May 5, 2014 | By: Caroline Klidonas | Filed under: Instructional Technologies

Dr. Melissa Murfin, Assistant Professor of Physician Assistant Studies, is adapting well-known games for her classroom, helping her students to engage with the material. I had the privilege of observing her Pharmacology class,  in which her students battled one another in the pharmaceutical version of Catch Phrase, pictured right.

Students playing Catch Phrase

Students in Dr. Murfin’s Pharmacology course play Catch Phrase to review for a test.

Dr. Murfin divided the class in half to determine two teams. Two students from each team approached a table at the front of the classroom, on which they found a stack of index cards and a buzzer. Each index card had a pharmaceutical drug name on it, which the students had to describe to their teammate, so that their teammate could guess it correctly. The teams alternated until time ran out. The team stuck with the buzzer when it sounded lost the round. 

Games: a pharmaceutical history

Dr. Murfin has used a range of games in her classroom over the past 2 to 3 years, including Jeopardy, Pictionary, Apples to Apples, and even Clue, which was a student request. “Clue was hard,” Dr. Murfin explained. “It took me awhile to figure out how to incorporate it into the class. I actually had to buy it and make my family play it with me.”

In the game of Clue, players must solve a murder mystery by correctly deducing the murderer, the room in which the murder was committed, and the weapon used. They do so by moving from room to room in the Clue mansion, pictured on the game board. To represent the Clue characters and rooms, Dr. Murfin took pictures of faculty in various rooms in the Physician Assistant’s building, which can be seen on the PowerPoint slide below.


A sample slide from Dr. Murfin’s PowerPoint, showing the professors who “died” from the use of a particular pharmaceutical drug for her version of Clue.

Instead of falling victim to an attack, however, the faculty member characters had each taken a different medication. “I gave [the students] different clues for each medication. I started with harder clues, and got down to easier ones.” It was the students’ job to deduce the correct medication, based on the clues. “As they moved around to each room, like you do in the [board] game, they could ask a question or make a suggestion, and come up with what [medication] they thought the professor had taken.”

Looking forward

At the moment, Dr. Murfin primarily uses games for review, but she has higher aspirations. “I’m working toward using them for actual content delivery, if I can get more electronic and e-learning type games.” Dr. Murfin recognizes that she would have to develop these online games herself, however, “because the content is so specific.”

Still, the information Dr. Murfin teaches in Pharmacology translates well to a game-like format, both for learning and studying purposes. “It’s so much information in a short period of time,” she said. “I would like it to be something the students can do at home, on an individual basis, so they can go through however many times they need to to be able to learn it.”

Student takeaway

Another benefit of working with game models is the way in which it appeals to different styles of learning. “Students seem to connect to the information on a different level, and in a way, it helps them get their brain around the material,” she said. For example, Dr. Murfin noticed her kinesthetic students were able to connect with the drawings of the different pharmaceutical drugs that they created in Pictionary, rather than just memorizing names.

Though Dr. Murfin has not been incorporating games long enough to acquire real data on its effect on students’ performance, she has received positive student feedback. The students especially loved Clue. “I saved the thank you notes,” she laughed. “They really appreciated the effort that went into [the games], and it did seem to help them.”

More information

To read more about the use of “serious games” in the classroom, check out these links:


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