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C2C Digital Magazine (Fall 2015 / Winter 2016)

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...Part 4: Promoting Science Learning with Games

(from "Book Review:  All Things Gamification")

Figure 1:  A Crossword Puzzle (created with SoftChalk) 

Gamification is thought to have promise in science learning because of the affordances of targeted simulations, visualizations, replay / repetition, and the setup of various logical thinking and problem-solving contexts for learning. 

Ricardo Javier Rudemacher Mena, in “The Quest for a Massively Multiplayer Online Game that Teaches Physics” (Ch. 46), describes a seven-year effort to combine Physics Education Research with a massive multiplayer online game to create an online virtual world dedicated to teaching Newtonian physics. At the time of publication, the product was not yet ready for primetime in either commercial or academic applications; however, there were three real-world projects on-going and the insight that such efforts are non-trivial and demanding.

In “Green Chemistry: Classroom Implementation of an Educational Board Game Illustrating Environmental Sustainable Development in Chemical Manufacturing” (Ch. 36), Mike Coffey describes a print-and-play game based on chemical manufacturing based on a dozen green (environmentally sound) chemistry principles, such as “prevention of waste is better than treatment” and “use renewable or sustainable feedstock” and “use selective catalysts, improving on stoichiometry” (Coffey, 2015, p. 717). This printable board game (for face-to-face play) is designed to be modifiable, so it may be used in a variety of learning contexts. The author shares the Green Chemistry board game design criteria, which may be a helpful template for other designed science games (Coffey, 2015, p. 720).

Figure 2:  A Climate Change Model on NetLogo

Recruiting for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. In reviewing five academic articles about why women are so under-represented in the STEM sector, in “Lessons from the STEM Sector” (Ch. 2), Vachon M.C. Pugh suggests lack of interest, lack of skill / ability, anticipated work-family conflict may affect lower numbers of female employees in particular industries. Ways to mitigate this include increasing women’s confidence in their actual skills and abilities, supporting female role models, promoting mentorship, and conducting community outreach programs for interested women. Another insight was that interventions have to start very young, and the interest in science fields should be supported at every step.

Is gaming a gateway to selecting computer science as a major? Jill Denner, Eloy Ortiz, and Linda Werner explore the prior question in “Women and Men in Computer Science: The Role of Gaming in their Educational Goals” (Ch. 92). These authors found that playing more frequently is not associated with a greater interest in studying computer science. They summarized,

Interest in CS was highest among men who were motivated to play in order to increase skills, be with friends, connect with the game features, and by the art or graphics. However, CS interest was highest among women who consider themselves to be more serious gamers, play racing and puzzle games, play on a game console, and are motivated by fun, relaxation and social interaction” (Denner, Ortiz, & Werner, 2015, p. 1830).

Meixun Zheng and Hiller A. Spires’ “Experience in a Digital Game-based Science Learning Environment” (Ch. 73) describes a mixed methods study examining the “flow” (deep engagement) experiences of 5th graders while playing a science-based game, with either a solo or a collaborative gameplay approach. The 3-D narrative-based science learning game, funded by the NSF, is Crystal Island. The researchers found that flow experiences were not contingent on whether students were playing solo or collaboratively. Also, solo and collaborative game players did not differ in terms of learning gains from pre- to post-content knowledge in any statistically significant way (p. 1442). Rather, four game design features—“balance of challenge and perceived skills, play-ability, gamefulness, and game-frame / background story”--were important for gameplayer senses of flow (Zheng & Spires, 2015, pp. 1441 -1442). Student personal factors—particularly reading proficiency—was important for player sense of flow. The flow experience though did not necessarily predict learning gains. The authors write: “Residual gain scores for the science content test (post-pre) were calculated for all students. A multiple regression analysis was then conducted to examine how flow experience predicted science learning gains. Results indicated that, none of the 4 flow subscales significantly predicted science content learning gains” (Zheng & Spires, 2015, p. 1443).

Thomas Hainey, Mario Soflano, and Thomas M. Connolly conduct research on the efficacy of an adaptive game in supporting the teaching of Structured Query Language (SQL) in higher education. The research team used three modes in the game: non-adaptivity, a learning-style-based customization (with profiling based on a pre-use questionnaire), and an in-game adaptive system based on learner interactions with the game. The authors conducted a randomized control trial with 30 students in a control group (in a paper-based method), and 30 in each of the three digital game modes. The result were that the digital game produced improved learning outcomes (both speed of acquisition and learning depth) than textbook learning alone, no matter what the game modes were (Hainey, Soflano, & Connolly, 2015, pp. 1346 – 1347). In “A Randomised Controlled Trial to Evaluate Learning Effectiveness Using an Adaptive Serious Game to Teach SQL at Higher Education Level” (Ch. 68), adaptive game-based learning was found to be more effective for learning than either the non-adaptive or the learning-styles based modes (p. 1348).

In Beth Ferholt, Anders Jansson, Monica Nilsson, and Karin Alnervik’s “Creativity in Education: Play and Exploratory Learning” (Ch. 8), the authors suggest the centrality of play and exploration in human learning in complex environments. The human imagination has enabled people to adapt and change. In this light, they emphasize the importance of infusing creativity in the Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) framework in education.

Christos Kouroupetroglou’s “Training, Teaching, and Learning” (Ch. 10) provides generalized suggestions for the creation of gamified learning based on a qualitative meta-analysis of some of the research. Patricia Boechler, Karon Dragon, and Ewa Wasniewski’s “Digital Literacy Concepts and Definitions: Implications for Educational Assessment and Practice” (Ch. 11) is a foundational work that describes “digital literacy” and its contested meanings from differing perspectives; it suggests some early steps in formalizing curriculum standards in digital literacy at local, national, and international levels, for K-12 and post-secondary levels. 

Figure 3:  A Screenshot of Second Life(R) from Wikimedia Commons 

An immersive and addictive game environment. Zaheer Hussain and Mark D. Griffiths’ “A Qualitative Analysis of Online Gaming: Social Interaction, Community, and Game Design” (Ch. 14) offers a high-level view of gaming from 71 interviews with gamers in World of Warcraft (an MMORPG) and hailing from 11 different countries. The authors reported a disparate range of thematic insights. They write:

Many themes emerged from the analyses of the interview transcripts including (i) engaging in social interaction, (ii) being part of a community, (iii) learning real-life skills, (iv) gaining in-game rewards, (v) playing never-ending games (vi) escaping from real life, (vii) playing longer than intended, and (viii) being obligated towards other gamers in-game. These findings specifically showed the many positives of online gaming (including the social interaction and the community aspects of belonging) as well as the in-game features within MMORPGs that in some cases can lead to excessive online gaming” (Hussain & Griffiths, 2015, p. 296).

One of the takeaways is that some players end up playing longer than they intended and lose a sense of time. This work offers some insights on immersive gaming on a hot (but cooling) platform. 

Figure 4:  "World of Warcraft" Image (by BagoGames on Flickr and released through CC License) 

Improving logical thinking with games. Rosa Maria Bottino, Michela Ott, and Mauro Tavella, in “Serious Gaming at School: Reflections on Students’ Performance, Engagement and Motivation” (Ch. 15), explore a number of games designed to improve the reasoning, problem-solving, and logical analysis abilities of primary school students. They found that young learners enjoyed the digital gameplay (in TreeTent, in Pathological). While there is a “strong correlation between school achievement and the ability to play and solve digital mind games” (p. 315), an association is not suggesting causation, and general intelligence may explain both phenomena. These researchers used the norm-referenced test LOGIVALI (LOGIcal thinking eVALuatIon) to assess reasoning skills.

Figure 5:  A Screenshot of "Pathological," an Open-Source Game 

Amalia Kallergi and Fons J. Verbeek’s “Playful Interfaces for Scientific Image Data: A Case for Storytelling” (Ch. 16) describes the design of a prototype game with the objective of enhancing human engagement with scientific images using user-created storytelling. The game designers posited the importance of having playful interfaces because of the importance of playfulness in learning. Theirs is a system designed to amplify human cognition, creativity, and analysis. The authors clarify that they think of creativity in a research-grounded way, of methodically and creatively solving problems in a particular domain; there is “nothing mystical or romantic here, no muse visitations or bursts of inspiration” (Kallergi & Verbeek, 2015, p. 331). They integrate storytelling not in an artificial overlay way but as something inherent in the work, with the game player interacting with images and articulating about them as an ice breaker of interdisciplinary professionals during a project meeting in a simulated coffee table scenario. This is played as a multiplayer game with apparently either in-virtual world or physically collocated players.

Judy Shasek’s “ExerLearning®: Movement, Fitness, Technology, and Learning” (Ch. 17) posits “the direct connection between regular, rhythmic aerobic activity, balance, eye-foot coordination and academic success” (2015, p. 349). Sedentary lifestyles have led to a range of health challenges in the West and elsewhere, and having activity breaks may improve health and mental alertness. The author writes, “The brain is made up of one hundred billion neurons that chat with one another by way of hundreds of different chemicals. Physical activity can enhance the availability and delivery of those chemicals” (Shasek, 2015, p. 349). The company that the author represents creates technology-based exergames and computer peripherals to “require standing, balance and rhythmic movement” to improve student learning (p. 350). One of their products is a FootPoWR peripheral: users plug in the pad as input device / controller and use their feet movements to move the cursor (Shasek, 2015, p. 353).

The next section is Part 5: Quality Assurance in Game Design (and Conclusion).

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