How A Simple Board Game Became High Tech

Christina CHAI
Department of Pharmacy, Faculty of Science (FoS)

Monopoly to teach pharmaceutical chemistry? In-person and online remote simultaneously? How does this work and what are the learning points? Read on to find out how Christina introduces this innovative idea to her class.

Image courtesy of Christina Chai

There is nothing like being stranded in Singapore with nowhere to go in the period between May-July 2020 to get me thinking about how to further enhance the learning of the first year students in Pharmaceutical Chemistry. I was optimistic that Semester 1 of the new academic year (AY) would return to greater normalcy than the nightmarish Semester 2 of AY 2019/20. I wanted to develop something that would promote discussion, teamwork and was ‘’fun’’. Scouring through the literature, there were many options with card games, both in person as well as online. I wanted something that was versatile and could be tailored to the topics that I was going to teach in that semester.

Hence, I decided to design a board game that was a blend of card playing and dice rolling, a Pharmaceutical Chemistry equivalent of Monopoly, where instead of ‘’money’’ that is being made and lost, there were points that could be gained depending on which coloured squares that were landed upon the throw of the dice. Students would pick a card corresponding to the colour, which in turn reflects the different categories of questions (Mechanisms, Reagents, Synthetic Transformations, Wild Cards). The game master would keep score and ensure fair play. It all seemed pretty straightforward. The ‘’board’’ was printed on A1-size canvas (for reusability), the cards (a total of 18-20 cards per category) were printed on different coloured cardboard and cut to size to be stacked on the centrepiece of the board according to the categories (Figure 1). I bought the dice and small figurines from a toy shop in Holland Village and we were all set to go.

A piece of cake, I thought! After all, I grew up with board games…

Figure 1. The ‘’board’’ printed on canvas

When September came, it became evident that the old normal was not returning anytime soon. Although we only had about 55 students, we could not secure two suitable active learning classrooms (tables for group discussions, with social distancing) to enable us to run two sessions concurrently (a session a week) of the 3-hour workshop. In compliance with the safe management measures, half the class met each week, with each table housing five students who are socially distanced from each other.

But how did I solve the problem of the other half of the class who could not attend in person? Although there were two sessions of workshops, each session was to cover different topics and were not repeated. Enter Mr Eng Chun Heng, a Teaching Assistant (TA) in the Department who thankfully managed all the technology aspects of the workshop. This was how the game was played:

  • Each playing group had their own game channel on Microsoft Teams (Figure 2, henceforth known as “Teams”) and each player who was present in class was paired with another who was online.
  • This pair of students conferred with each other on the answers (though Teams call).
  • For each group, the game that was being played was beamed via a video camera mounted on the table through their game channel, which was connected to a laptop managed by the bodily present game master (Figure 3).
  • The virtual game master was in charge of the “hint” cards that were mounted as Google Forms (Figure 4).
  • At the end of a stipulated time, each group was asked to add their answers to a shared Google Document and everyone who was online was asked to return to the main lecture channel.
  • Representatives from each group presented their solutions to the two problems, and this was followed by my comments on their answers. The online students were able to follow this through the lecture channel.
Figure 2. What the online students saw on their game channel under posts on Teams.
Figure 3. What the online students saw in the comfort of their homes for their group.
Figure 4. The “hints” cards – on Google Forms.

All said and done, the two workshops proceeded smoothly. The low-tech board game became high tech!

When push comes to the shove, the adage “necessity is the mother of invention” holds true! We can always find solutions to obstacles—it just takes a lot more time and effort, and possibly money to procure the hardware. Notwithstanding that, I am hoping that COVID-19 goes away soon. The old normal was so much less complex than this new normal…

Oh, on a side note: I may have grown up with board games, but some students have never played board games before and do not know the rules of the game. Beware the generational gap!


Christina CHAI received her BSc (Hons) from the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, NZ and her PhD from the Australian National University, Canberra. Following her PhD, she globe-trotted around the world in various academic positions until she came to Singapore in 2005 to join A*STAR to ‘’try something different”. She returned to the world of academia when she joined the Department of Pharmacy in 2011, where she enjoys dreaming of new ideas and projects.

Christina can be reached at


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