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STRONG and Learning with Games

Although the word “game” has various connotations and denotations, following Glazier (1973), Prensky (2001), and Rasmusen (2001), in our project, games refer to interactive learning environments designed to include the following basic components:

1. Player Roles

2. Game Rules

3. Goals and Objectives

4. Puzzles or Problems (Challenges)

5. Narrative or Story

6. Players’ Interactions

7. Payoffs and Strategies

8. Outcomes and Feedback (Embodying Concepts to be Learned)

The idea of using computer games to facilitate learning might seem like a more recent phenomena, but a visit to the library at a local university revealed a shelf-load of textbooks from the late 1950s until early 1970s, centered on using games and simulations in classrooms to facilitate learning. Klietsch (1969) in his curriculum guideline elaborates on the underlying behavioral-learning systems theory behind learning games and simulations, and the theory’s inspiration from mathematical notions of games and simulations, models of human and social behavior, media and information theory, and learning and instructional theory. Klietsch details various unique characteristics of behavior-based simulation and games (Unit A, pp. 4-5), which include: simulation goals, capabilities, resources, means, interactions, strategy, engagement, decision-making, and problem-solving requirements.

Well designed gaming environments can facilitate students’ learning both specific
domain knowledge and concepts. From their review of literature over a period of 28 years, Randel et al. (1992) concluded that gaming could be used effectively to provoke interest, teach domain knowledge, and shore up retention in math, physics, and language arts when specific instructional objectives were targeted. Computer games embody good principles of learning (Gee, 2003) and motivate players by providing them with appropriate levels of challenge, curiosity, control, and fantasy (Malone & Lepper, 1987). Brendzel (2004) argues that games are good teaching strategies because they build middle school students’ conceptual understanding. Marturano (2004) advocates the use of games to help students make meaningful connections between abstract science concepts and scientific vocabulary. Funk (2002) cites studies which found that games strengthened students’ engagement, information processing, problem-solving, social development, and academic abilities. Other educational strengths of using games and simulations include developing: a variety of cognitive objectives, transferable process skills, student-centered learning, initiative, creative thought, affective objectives, completion, and knowledge integration (Ellington et al., 1998).

Several factors might account for enhanced student learning using games. Gamers’ familiarity with the powerful visual media and gaming environments is one. Kafai (1996) noted that playing video games was often students’ first interaction with technology in their homes. Gamers’ active engagement in structured learning environments is another. Rendel et al. (1992) observed that students’ active participation during play could account for their better integrated cognitive structures, retention, and subsequent transfer. Gamers’ increased self-efficacy as their proficiency develops is another. Although temporary, Roe and Muijs (1998, cited by Mitchell & Savill-Smith, 2004) observed an increased sense of mastery, control and achievement in players as their individual gaming proficiencies improved. Gamers’ improved knowledge and conceptual understanding due to meaningful computer-based dialogue is another. Ravenscroft and Matheson (2002, cited by Mitchell & Savill-Smith, 2004) found that 30 minutes of collaborative learning through dialogue games (including exploratory talk, constructive conflict, and collaborative argumentation) produced significant improvements in students’ knowledge and conceptual understanding about the physics of motion. These findings are also consistent with the remarks of Bransford et al. (2000) and Ge and Land (2003). Gamers also continuously learn from the immediate feedback, both successes and failures, embedded in games. According to Prensky (2001), individuals’ learning through games is primarily due to the instant feedback gamers receive during play.

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