Moderate Results from Game Based Learning

The experiment done by Tsai, Yu, and Hsaio showed moderate effects in game based learning designed to help students learn about electricity.  The study, done on sixth-graders, showed that four students performed well on a test following the game while the other four performed poorly.  The game, which was specifically designed for this experiment, required players to make the most deliveries as possible using a motorcycle that operated on batteries. Players had to effectively calculate the charge of electricity in order to keep their bike running.  Some of the students had difficulty in grasping the concept and applying it in the game. Other students when confronted with this problem neglected to spend the time to read the resources that provided the solution.

Much can be learned as a result of this experiment even if the results were less than favorable.  The data highlighted skills and topics students had trouble with such as calculating the cost of electricity.  By knowing the trouble areas teachers and/or game designer can plan to correct this. One solution is to teach the skill before playing the game with the idea that students can practice and reinforce the skill during gameplay rather than spending time on figuring what to do.  If the goal is to get students to figure this out on their own, it might be beneficial for them to work together in groups or have the game designers embed more clues within the game.  The other problem mentioned in this experiment was that students were not spending the time needed to read materials to solve a game problem.  I think this was due to a couple of reasons.  One is that many of the games that students play do not require them to use reading in the game, and so this could create conflicting expectations.  The game looked similar to a driving game and so the students may have expected the gameplay to be similar.  Students may have found it odd that they needed to do calculations at the service station to charge the motorcycle battery. A few of the students complained that doing this was a waste of time.  It does bring up an interesting point in that people don’t do this when they take their cars to gas stations.  If the calculations are essential it might be better to do different calculations.  For example, if multiple routes are available, have students calculate the distance to find the one that’s most efficient.  To add complexity, roads could have traffic lights or be congested with traffic and so students would need to calculate battery consumption in these situations.  It wasn’t clear from the experiment if students realized that saving money or energy was a key goal in the game. Connecting this action with monetary value or reward may stimulate more interest.  Game designers could slightly modify the game by telling students that they are the business owners and that their goal is to find the most efficient delivery routes and save energy.

The game alone helped some students reach the learning objectives.  But it shows that instructors are also needed when using games for an educational context especially when teaching challenging concepts. They can supervise the learning experience, provide extra support to specific students and spend additional time on troublesome topics and skills.

Fu-Hsing Tsai, Kuang-Chao Yu and Hsien-Sheng Hsiao. (July 2012). Exploring the factors influencing learning effectiveness in digital game based learning. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, Vol. 15, No. 3, 240-250.


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