Over the years, gaming has become more accessible, forward-thinking and popular. From Pac-Man chasing cherries and ghosts to virtual reality video games, technology continues in a forward trajectory. But where does gaming belong in the world of education?
Over the last decade there has been a variety of research revealing the good, the bad and the ugly about the effects of gaming both inside and outside of the classroom. To take a closer look at the varying perspectives, we’ve examined three different studies and reports on educational gaming from three different countries.
Unpacking the potential of educational gaming
The first study was based in Canada and contained a review of the research done on computer-based educational gaming, noted the lack of research done in this area and concluded with a field trial of research software they created.
This study tended to focus on the positive attributes of gaming in the classroom, highlighting the trends found in existing research that show educational gaming can have a positive outcome. This study examined research on factors of game-based learning that are paralleled by learning principles found in supported learning theories. These factors included situated experiential learning, game attributes and motivation as well as building a sense of community and expertise.
Situated experiential learning
One way that gaming is related to existing cognitive theories is through situated experiential learning. Believe it or not, some students find the traditional methods of teaching a little boring. Sitting through a lecture or taking notes from slides can make it difficult to capture the attention of learners, as what they are learning is harder to relate to things they actually like. However, past research shows that educational gaming allowed for students to learn in situations they are actually invested in. Games might be virtual but they can create a new way for students to immerse themselves into what is happening and allow them to understand new information in a different way.
When students become personally invested in a game, learning becomes easier. They can create a place for users to better understand complex ideas, allowing for a space where they can make stronger connections between the lesson at hand and how it relates to real-life, solvable situations. Certain games also incorporate trial-and-error situations allowing students to strengthen their problem solving skills and learn to overcome challenges.
Game attributes and motivation
The actual game itself, including the setting, story and characters, can impact educational learning. These attributes include a semi-realistic setting that students can get immersed in, a virtual identity they can relate to with a captivating narrative and the creation of a feeling of power by controlling the level of achievement through their virtual identity. Combining these game attributes can lead to students committing themselves to the game, having an engaging experience and the persistence to achieve goals. Games also tend to get progressively harder, pushing players to learn new strategies and different ways of thinking as they go along.
Motivation is also a key factor in producing successful results using video games. Generally as one moves through a game, the rewards get larger, pushing players to continue. In addition, users respond to near-immediate feedback, motivating them to find ways to resolve anything that is holding them back from moving forward in the game.
As the study pointed out, when it comes to learning, being faced with challenges, setting goals and quick feedback are important motivators when it comes to learning. It has also been shown that as one’s knowledge expands, students are more likely to want to continue in their studies and solve harder problems.
Building a community
The researchers also pointed out the value of creating and being a part of a community when it comes to gaming. Whether it is a game that actually requires teamwork or a game that involves the use of digital platforms to relay information like tips or advice, communities are built. You might start as an outsider trying to decipher how the community functions, eventually becoming part of the group and offering help to other beginners.
These communities built through gaming can be mirrored in real-life learning situations and provide an area to ‘practice’ learning tasks that might be encountered in everyday life. The concept of helping others learn who are at a lower level also exhibits theories studied by Lev Vygotsky like the Zone of Proximal Development and scaffolding, using the knowledge of others to help the less experienced learn. Research showed that becoming an expert in a game can also teach users how to become experts in specific fields in real-world situations.
Although this study took a positive look at educational gaming, a study conducted out of Northern Ireland had a different perspective.
Ict & me
In this study, the realm of Information Communication Technology (computers, gaming, social media etc.) was looked at generally in terms of how it affected secondary school education for those in deprived neighbourhoods of Northern Ireland.
For parents and teachers, gaming was noted as being thought of as a negative source when it came to student achievement. Teachers also showed concern in terms of the level of gaming impacting attendance in class as well as being on time and motivated – however, this study did not find any evidence of gaming impacting attendance.
In regards to educational gaming in this study, the findings were relative to the time spent playing the game. Results showed that the 41 percent of respondents who said they used portable gaming devices several times throughout the day were achieving lower grades than the 71 percent of students who said they rarely gamed. The survey also found that boys were more likely to game more frequently than girls.