You are undoubtedly familiar with some computer games. Indeed, quite likely you have played a variety of computer games. As you read this introductory material and browse this Website, I want you to think about computer games from a teaching and learning point of view.
Educational use of computer games received increased legitimacy in October of 2003 when MIT and others announced an initiative to study educational roles of computer games (Games-to-Teach Project). There is a steadily growing literature in this field. An annotated bibliography is given at the end of this Web page.
What You Might Learn From This Web Page
Reading these materials and browsing some of the linked Websites are learning experiences. But, from a teacher point of view, what might you learn? You know about constructivismthat the learner constructs new knowledge by linking to current knowledge. The "old" knowledge is added to and expanded, or perhaps rejected and reconstructed.
When you read that sentence, perhaps you thought: "Aha, Piagetian theory." If this connection did not occur to you, then perhaps you will wonder what I am talking about, and then use the Web to go look for an answer . In some sense, I am playing a computer game with you and your mind. I could tell you an answer, but I believe that more learning will occur if you take the initiative and do some Web research to find an answer.
The "I could tell you" is one approach to education, and discovering answers for yourself is another approach to education. The "telling" approach to education certainly dominates in our current educational system. In my opinion, our educational system can be considerably improved by a decrease in emphasis on "telling" and an increase in "you can and should discover and figure it out for yourself" approaches to teaching and learning.
So, here is an idea for teaching. Help your students to learn to pose problems, questions, and tasks that they can then solve, answer, carry out through use of their minds and aids to their minds such as Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Help them to learn that this is a "fun game" that they can play on a computer connected to the Internet. Help them to learn variations on the game, such as posing a challenge to a fellow student.
Increasing Your Repetoire of Teaching Techniques
You know a lot about teaching. Presumably you will interpret the computer games materials I am discussing here in terms of your knowledge and skills in teaching. I hope that you will find some tidbits of information that you will decide is a useful addition to your teaching repertoire.
Here is an example from the some recent reading I did as I worked on this Web page. One of the articles I read talked about computer games and noted:
I found these two paragraphs interesting because they fit well with knowledge I already have and they extend that knowledge. For example, the second paragraph increased my knowledge of pitfalls in uses of games in education and tied in well with my understanding of constructivism. It also emphasizes an important role of teachers or mentors in a teaching and learning situation.
The two paragraphs fit in well with some similar things I have learned about computer-assisted learning (CAL). In my mind, CAL and learning via computer games are related. I think of some sort of scale, such as the one given below.
This scale represents my first thoughts about tying in what I know about CAL with what I just read about in the Conati and Klaws article. It also fits in well with my knowledge of the need to have authentic assessment that is tied in with authentic content and authentic instruction. So, my mind wandered off on these topics for awhile. Computer games do not tend to be aligned with the standardly taught curriculum content, and I am wondering about how one assesses the learning that occurs as students make use of computer games.
When I am reading academic materials, I often create scales and diagrams that help to summarize or represent key ideas. As I thought about the diagram given above, it occurred to me that many years ago I had memorized that CAL can be divided into categories such as drill and practice, tutorials, simulations, and microworlds. I see that my diagram isn't as good as I first thought. Perhaps the following diagram is a better fit with my past understanding.
What I am doing here is reflecting on my constructivist process, as I add to my knowledge and understanding, and I think about how to communicate this knowledge and understanding.
When I think about CAL and related topics such as the diagram illustrates, I also think about the role of the teachers. Can and will CAL replace teachers? What are roles of teachers as CAL and educational computer simulations, microworlds, and games continue to improve? The Conati and Klaws article makes it clear that the game itself is not sufficient. The desired curriculum-oriented learning is highly dependent on the actions of the teacher.
Of course, it is possible that a computer game achieves some desirable learning outcomes independently of a teacher, and perhaps even without the knowledge of the learner.
In essence, Rosser has learned that students who had become skilled at certain types of computer games turned out to be especially skillful at laparoscopic surgery. Of course, relatively few computer game players will become laparoscopic surgeons!
Making the Implicit More Explicit
Thinking about this makes me think about what other things a young person might be learning through playing computer gamesthings that might be useful later in the student's education and career. For example, the game player learns s/he will get better through practice. Each game has a learning curve, and some are steeper than others. For each game, there tends to be some transfer of learning from previously played games.
Let's put this idea together with the ideas from the Conati and Klaws article. One of the important ideas in education is learning to learn and learning about oneself as a learner. With some explicit intervention with a game learner, I can help the learner learn more about him or herself as a learner. In this activity I would undoubtedly slip in a little information about what I have been learning about brain science. For example, I might share my thoughts such as the following:
I then begin to think about some of the big ideas of ICT in education. For me, by far the biggest idea is that ICT provides aids to the human mind/brain and the human body they work to solve problems and accomplish tasks. I have written a number of books about problem solving, and I consider problem solving as the absolutely core concept in ICT.
What roles do computer games play in helping students learn about problem solving? As I think about this, my mind wanders away from my purely academic insights into problems and problem solving to other issues such as the problem each person faces of being entertained or finding activities that stimulate the production of dopamine, resulting in feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. This reminds me of an article that I have just read that mentioned the idea of "flow" and the work of Csikszentmihalyi. Quoting from the article:
I am a game player. I have experienced "flow" in playing games. I have also experienced "flow" in working with spreadsheets and in certain other academic activities such as teaching and writing. "Flow" is a perfectly respectable academic topic. Do you think your students should learn something about it?
Now, returning to problem solving. Typically, a computer game is based on some sort of environment, scenario, or microworld. Within the environment, the players encounter situations that require action. The action tends to be of a problem-solving, task-accomplishing nature. That is, problem solving is central activity in playing such games.
The problem solving may require very quick analysis and response, or it may allow careful deliberation. I, personally, do not like the quick response ("twitch") games. Mentally and physically, "quick response" does not describe me very well. Thus, I do poorly in quick response games, and that does not stimulate my pleasure centers.
Now, let me drift off the topic a little more. In my youth, I was a very good student in chemistry, math, and physics. This gave me pleasure. Eventually I settled on math as the area in which to take a Ph.D. I was good at math, and doing math well made me feel good. That, in turn, helped to motivate me to put still more time and effort into learning math and doing math.
I think about this and try to relate it both to education in general, and to use of computer games. Some people make a career through computer games and playing computer games. I have a daughter who builds much of her current life around such games. Among other things, she writes books and articles about computer games, she plays games, she serves as a mentor in games and a referee in gaming tournaments, and she sometimes helps in the computer programming aspects of game development. Computer games playing is also an important aspect of her social life, as she really likes cooperative multiplayer games played on the Internet
Now, let me summarize. Computer games provide an environment in which one solves problems, accomplishes tasks, perhaps works cooperatively with other game plays, and so on. Through introspection and perhaps with the help of appropriate instruction, the game play can learn a great deal about him or herself, about other people, and about solving problems and accomplishing tasks. By luck or design, this learning may well transfer into other domains, or may lead to a career based on various aspects of game playing.
Students Developing Games
The article Kafai (2001) focuses on the idea of students developing games. Kafai has explored the student learning process as young children (for example, 10 year olds) designed and implemented games using the Logo programming language. His main thesis is that this is a constructivist process and is a better learning environment than can be created by merely having students play a game developed by someone else. Quoting from the end of the article:
Computer games tend to have three characteristics that make them of interest to educators:
Computer "games" (simulations) can be designed specifically to be educational. A flight (airplane, space ship) simulator, for example, can be designed so that it is near enough to the "real thing" so that the learning occurring when playing the game (getting trained in the pilot simulator) transfers readily to the real world.
Indeed, such simulations are considered to be one form of computer-assisted learning, and they are a very successful component of CAL.
It has become common to integrate some game-like characteristics into CAL materials. The hope has been that the this will lead to improving the education of students. Often this is more hope and hype than actual research-supported learning data.
From an "educational value" point of view, a key issue is the transfer of learning. Quite a lot is known about transfer of learning. Over the past two decades, the "near transfer, far transfer" theory has given way to other more useful theories, such as the "high road, low-road" theory. People developing educational games need to pay careful attention to current theories of learning and transfer of learning. If you want to learn more about transfer of learning, take a look at page 22 in:
There are a number of games such as chess, checkers, backgammon, bridge, and Scrabble that have been quite popular when played in non-computer environments, but that computers can now play quite well. Such game-playing computer programs can be used as opponents as one builds and maintains skill in playing a game.
Chess provides a good example. The "skill level" of a computer chess program can easily be adjusted to be at a level to fit the needs of its human opponent. It has become common for chess players, ranging from novices to grand masters, to make use of computer programs as they build and maintain their chess knowledge and skills.
The early history of Artificial intelligence includes many efforts to develop compute programs that could play various games quiet well. You can learn more about this topic and other educational aspects of AI in education through my book:
To close this section, I want to share a brief news item I read about two years ago.
COMPUTER GAMES ARE GOOD FOR YOU
Topics to be Added to the Discussion Given Above
1. Single player, no-opponent games. Solitaire card games provide an excellent example. So does a crossword puzzle and many word games in which one forms words (perhaps in a Scrabble-like setting), perhpas in a limited amount opf time. Computers assist in the mechanics of such games. One of the things that a person can learn is "look ahead" or exploring the consequence of possible moves before making the moves. This is a key idea in problem solving in all areas. In solving a problem, one carries out one or more steps or actions. A person can think about the consequences of these steps or actions in advance of carrying them out. If the likely results or consequences are not what one wants, then don't carry out those steps. Do some more thinking and develop an alternant plan.
2.Games played against one opponent or a small number of opponents. Many card games such as bridge and hearts fall into this category. Games such as chess and checkers fall into this category. Many board games such as monopoly fall into this category. The computer can facilitate connectivity with an opponent and/or team members and opponents. In addition, a computer can play the role of team members and/or opponents.
There are many single opponent skill games such as chess, checkers, and backgammon, for which computer programs have been written to serve as an opponent. Typically the human user of the game can set the level of skill and knowledge that the opponent has. This creates an environment that is at an appropriate competitive level for the human. (In many areas, the best computer programs now play at or above the level of the best human experts.)
One of the very important ideas in problem solving is that in an environment in which the same problems or closely related problems reoccur, one can get a lot better by study and practice.
Here is where a good teacher (who might be a human, but who might also be a computer program) comes in. When I play a game against a computer, I learn by analyzing my successes and failures. I plan a move, think about the consequences, and make the move. If the outcome is not as favorable as I had expected, I can think about why this was the case. I can then "take back" the move, and plan a different move.
In many computerized versions of games, I can ask for a "hint" from he computer. What is its suggestion of a good move? I can analyze its suggestion and perhaps learn so general principles.
If my opponent is a knowledgeable human opponent, my human opponent will likely be able to point out some general strategies that I could think about and that would likely improve my game. For example, two important strategies in chess are "center control" and "mobility." If someone (a book, a human tutor, a computer) can help me to learn these strategies and help me learn when and how to use them, it will significantly improve how well I play chess.
If I have a human opponent or mentor, or an appropriately programmed computer, I can get "just in time, at a teachable moment" feedback and instruction.
If you use Microsoft Word on an equivalently powerful word processor, think about some of its mentor or game-like features. For example, you key in a word, and the computer underlines it in read to indicate that this might be a misspelled word. At your request, the computer offers suggestions as to possible corrections to your word. Similarly, the grammar checker uses a green underline to indicate possible errors in grammar. At your request, the grammar checker provides suggestions for possible improvements along with a very short tutorial on the grammar aspect that it thinks is relevant. If you are interested in writing at a particular readability level, the software will compute a Flesh Reading Ease or a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level "score" for your writing. You will notice, however, that this readability software does not include a built-in tutorial on how to increase or decrease the reading level, with the tutorial being specific to the document you are writing.
3.Multiplayer games, perhaps with many team members and many opponents. The computer facilitates this game, interacting with players and teams of players. The computer serves as an opponent in situations where a non-human opponent is needed, and facilitates/referees interactions between opponents or teams of opponents.
In all of the above, a human game player can learn some of the capabilities and limitations of computers as problem solvers. What is it that the computer does in making it move decisions that is better than what a human might do, and what is worse? What aspects of the computer's decision making process do I want to learn or increase my skills in, and what aspeces are clearly things a computer can do much better than a human?
For example, I have recently been playing a game named Word Slinger. In it, a the human player has available a list of words from which to build words in a Scrabble-board-like setting. The human player can ask the computer for a "hint" (but, only a limited number of hints per round). The computer is fast enough to try every possible word in the list of words, and determine which placement of a word will be best according to a criteria that it has. My computer is fast enough so that this happens literally in a "blink of the eye," [Actually, I don't know how this part of the program has been implemented. Quite likely the computer prepares in advance for what to do if the user asks for a hint. That is, the computer uses the time between moves while the human is thinking.] But, the computer's hint is not always the best choice from the point of view of what is possible in future moves. Moreover, the computer does not provide me with any instruction about what constitutes a "good" move.
There are many other things that one can learn through playing and analyzing computer games. Consider the inteactive video games. Whatever you see on the compture screen is being generated by the comptuer quickly enough so that the motion is relatively smooth. As computers get faster and the algorithms being used get better, the movement is smoother and the details of the scenery and moving fitures gets better.
Reverse engineering. How does a computer decide on its moves?
Game Use in Research
See: Simulation and Gaming Accessed 2/8/05: http://www.abtassociates.com/Page.cfm?
This also ties in with research into complex problem solving.One establishes a complex problem-solving situation in a game format, and then studies how people perform in taht environment.
Additional References Suggested by Readers and Not Yet Incorporated into the List
From Mark Horney:
Another reference for information about the educational aspects of gaming is "What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy" by James Paul Gee
Home - Game Manufacturers Association
You will probably have to register (free) to access pages such as
Publications - Game Manufacturers Association
"Questions and Answers about Role-Playing Games" is aimed largely at parents who have concerns about the nature of these games.
lower left corner "Certification"
Using games and simulation to learn soft or hard skills. This is the subject of my doctoral studies.
Thanks, Dave. To the bibliography on computer games and learning, you might add:
Mitchell, A. & Savill-Smith, C. (2004). The use of computer and video games for learning: A review of the literature. London: Learning and Skills Development Agency. Available: http://www.lsda.org.uk/files/PDF/1529.pdf
Hi Dave. We are creating a simPortal within our www.simschool.org site. We will post, highlight and catalog resourcess for all educators interested in games and simulations for the classroom. It will be open and free for all.
We are also putting the finishing touches on a survey looking at the effects of games and usage on future teachers' learning both in and out of the classroom. If anyone is interested in having their preservice class participate, let me know. More later,
A Google search on research on effectiveness of educational computer games done on 2/5/05 produced 478,000 hits.
(Becta) British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta). Accessed 2/5/05: http://www.becta.org.uk/search.cfm. Use the search term "games" to access a number of projects. The search produced 78 hits on their site on 2/5/05. Quoting from the Becta home page:
Conati, Crista and Klawe, Maria (2000). Socially Intelligent Agents to Improve the Effectiveness of Educational Games. Accessed 2/5/05: www.cs.ubc.ca/nest/lci/papers/ 2000/
(DiGRA) Digital Games Research Association. Accessed 2/5/05) http://www.digra.org/index.php. Quoting from the Website:
Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) is a non-profit, international association of academics and practitioners whose work focuses on digital games and associated activities.
Games-to-Teach Project. Accessed 2/5/05: http://www.educationarcade.org/gtt/. Quoting from the (old) Website:
The Games-to-Teach Project is a partnership between MIT and Microsoft to develop conceptual prototypes for the next generation of interactive educational entertainment. In our first year, we developed conceptual frameworks of games for math, science, and engineering education. This year, we are developing prototypes of two of these titles for testing and developing five more conceptual frameworks of games in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Directed by MIT's Program in Comparative Media Studies, Games-to-Teach is funded as a part of Microsoft's Campus and supported by the Learning Sciences and Technologies Lab at Microsoft Research.
Game Studies. The international journal of computer game research. Accessed 2/6/05: http://www.gamestudies.org/ Quoting from the Website:
Kafai, Yasmin B. (2001). The Educational Potential of Electronic Games: From GamesToTeach to GamesToLearn. Accessed 2/6/05: http://culturalpolicy.uchicago.edu/
Kirriemuir, John and McFarlane, Angela (2004). Literature Review in Games and Learning. NESTA Futurelab. Accessed 2/5/05: http://www.nestafuturelab.org/research/reviews/08_01.htm. This extensive reportalso available as a 21 page PDF that was very slow to load for meprovides a nice history and overview of the literature Here are some quotes from the Website:
Linderoth, Jonas, Annika Lantz-Andersson & Berner Lindström (2002). Electronic Exaggerations and Virtual Worries: mapping research of computer games relevant to the understanding of childrens game play. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, Volume 3, Number 2, 2002. Accessed 2/5/05: http://www.wwwords.co.uk/pdf/validate.asp?
Simulation and Gaming: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Theory, Practice and Research. Accessed 2/6/05: http://www.unice.fr/sg/. Quoting from the Website:
Squire, Kurt. Reframing the Cultural Space of Computer and Video Games. Accessed 2//5/05: http://cms.mit.edu/games/education/research-vision.html.
Kurt Squire is associated with the Games-to-Teach Project. This article provides an excellent overview and history of the field of educational uses of computer games. The bibliography is extensive. Quoting from the Website:
Terdiman, Daniel. Games Join Space Race. Wired News. Accessed 2/5/05: http://www.wired.com/news/space/
The Educational Arcade. Accessed 2/5/05: http://www.educationarcade.org/ Quoting from this Website:
Video games 'stimulate learning' (18 March, 2002). BBC News. Accessed 2/5/05: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/
This news item reports on research that looked at the educational value of the following games:
Parents and teachers also thought their children's mathematics, reading and spelling improved.
The investigation into the habits of 700 children aged seven to 16 also found that, far from being a solitary activity, children preferred to play games in pairs or small groups.
The director of Teem, Professor Angela McFarlane, said there was much to learn from the games industry in terms of developing scenarios that really challenged and engaged children, rather than reproducing text books on the screen.
"Adventure, quest and simulation type games have a lot of benefit - they're quite complex and create a context in which children can develop important skills," said Professor McFarlane.
Xie, Fei (02/02/2005) Video game doctor: Linking video gaming to surgical abilities. The California Aggie. Accessed 2/5/05: http://www.californiaaggie.com/article/?id=7296. Quoting from the article: