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Learning with Video Games René St-Pierre

Educational video games are inscribed in the historical continuity of a long tradition associated with the dissemination of pedagogical games. From the doll to the toy soldier, the puzzle to the role play, the presence of these artifacts indicates educational situations apparently far removed from the school context. Often the conveyors of sociocultural stereotypes, these games and toys reflect evolving techniques and mentalities; they illustrate the growing impact of scholarly knowledge on recreational learning activities. Concurrently with media education, there is a growing interest in the usage of video games as learning tools. Current research in the area is focused on usage in schools of titles marketed to the general public and of video games created specifically for the school context. As in the medieval époque when playing cards allowed analphabetic people to learn how to count, recognize symbols and develop cognitive skills, the usage of video games today allows the development of certain skills, such as hand-eye coordination (visio-haptic coordination), analysis and management of complex data, interpersonal communication, problemresolution and literacy. Can video games be used for learning? “We shape our tools, and afterwards our tools shape us,” wrote Marshall MacLuhan in 1964 about television. Today, young people subjected to the universe of the media, computer technology and video games are developing new cognitive and relational skills, and a growing number of teachers and researchers believe that video games facilitate the development of children’s abilities and so, in that sense, shape them as well. Prensky (2000) has summarized these new skills. Description of cognitive or behavioural skills: • Accelerated and simultaneous information processing;

Video games can be used in the school environment to fulfill certain pedagogical functions, such as tutoring, exploration, entertainment, attitudinal change and the practice of certain personal and social competencies or skills

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Ability to process and distinguish several types of information from various sources rapidly and simultaneously; Prevalence of image over text; Preference for searching for meaning via visual content and then spending time on text to refine, expand and explore understanding of the subject; Random and distant access instead of step-by-step and local; Ability to jump from one kernel of information to another by creating connections rather than following an information narrative or hierarchy; Familiarity with the concept of synchronous and asynchronous

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modes of access to scattered and distant resources; Activity and play rather than passivity and work; Tendency to prefer an active learning model (trial-and-error method) rather than learning in order to be able to act ; The game is valued and becomes relevant because it is played on the computer; Gratification and fantasy instead of patience and reality; Expectation of gratification based on effort; Computer universe as a metaphorical space of fantastic and entertaining discovery; digital LEARNING

july 2010

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Technology as a motivational factor; The computer is a tool for play and discovery, and it is often via video games that young people become familiarised with new technologies. Video games have demonstrated an interesting potential for the treatment of some cognitive and behavioural problems. The TEEM project reports how teachers were taught how to use video games in the classroom setting. In the study, more than 700 parents and kids were questioned about the educational potential that could come from that usage. The report stresses that the classroom usage of certain video games for the general public, such as Sim City, Age of Empires, Rollercoaster Tycoon and Championship Manager, can help in the development of some personal and social skills. Motivational factors of video games To develop a motivating educational video game environment, some qualitative criteria should be observed in order to adopt players’ or teachers’ points-of-view. An important study of 40 educational video games presented a series of players’ recommendations. Nearly eighty percent of the respondents said they used an exploratory trial-anderror method. That method is defined as the absence of a planned action strategy and involves actions/ reactions depending on the circumstances, consequences and feedback of the interface or the system. Learning about the way to play the game is acquired through accumulation, that is, observation and active participation in the game rather than reading the instructions and rules. The reasons justifying this approach are the lack of clear instructions and objectives and a desire to explore the object of the game freely. Players often begin their exploration with the trialand-error method and then possibly will look for a form of support, assistance or guidance by reading the instructions or hints appearing on the screen. Therefore, learning games must be presented in the form of an exploratory space for discovery with help functions that can be consulted in context as needed. The announcement of a purpose or objectives to be attained seems important for encouraging more commitment to this type of game. Csikszentmihalyi’s flow concept Csikszentmihalyi’s flow concept is the basis of all criteria promoting involvement 48

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and motivation in video games. Flow is the physical and mental immersion people experience when they are involved in an activity so deeply that nothing around them seems to matter. In the flow state (being in the “zone”) the proposed problem and the skill to resolve it are in balance. The flow state • Activity is structured so that participants can increase or reduce the proposed challenge’s level of difficulty to be in synch with the requirements of the [project] and their current skill level; • Activity is isolated from other external and internal stimuli, at least on the perceptual level; • Activity gives concrete feedback to users in a way that shows them how to meet performance criteria successfully; • Activity offers a range of challenges or objectives and possibly several levels of difficulty for each, thus providing users with an increasingly complex understanding of a problem; • Clear performance criteria that let users know their progress toward an objective at all times. Jones (1998) has identified linkages among the components of the flow state and its possible usages in educational video games, and Frété (2002) cites Crawford on the idea of learning needs as an essential motivational factor of games. Flow state components and their usage in educational video games • Task with clear objective: collection of elements, artefacts or points, resolving a mystery or problem or completing a quest; • Achievable task: usage of game levels: distribution of the task into small sections leading to the success of the quest in several stages; • Possibility of concentrating on the task: use of immersive and engaging metaphor; • Task with immediate feedback: tools allowing users to act on the environment as if the content were real; • Profound yet effortless involvement: environment functionally, aesthetically and cognitively stable point-ofview that keeps users in a coherent universe; • Impression of control over actions: direct manipulation and immediate

feedback with mouse and keyboard; • Sensation of immersion: feeling of involvement in which nothing else seems to have importance. Constraints on the implementation of video games in learning: • Difficult for teachers to identify what is pedagogically relevant (possible connections between game and curriculum); • Difficult to promote educational potential of video games in the teaching profession; • Lack of time and resources needed to become familiarized with the game environments and to develop pedagogical scenarios adapted to the curriculum; • Difficult to concentrate exclusively on the relevant elements of a game due to number of functions that can distract users. Conclusion and research perspective Several research questions related to learning using video games are on hold. These include investigation of the long�term effects certain types of video games may have on cognitive, identity and social development for younger generations. The study of adaptive learning systems is only in its early stages, opening the way for several types of experimentation, especially with clients who have cognitive deficits or learning disabilities. In parallel, the all�digital paradigm has encouraged the emergence of social and cultural practices that emphasize visual and iconic thought as well as social connection. This has led to the birth of a new perception of space and fragmented time, and the actual sensation of presence even when at a distance. Finally, the emergence of social networks (Web 2.0) bears the seed of a collaborative intelligence that is wide spread and very dynamic. These knowledge aggregators, by virtue of the phenomenal quantity not only of information but also of individuals whom they connect, put a much finer point on the issues of cognitive overload and the disorientation that results from virtually infinite hypermedia navigation. \\

About author

René Saint-Pierre, Montreal, Canada has been developing and applying a research/design methodology involving digital technologies for more than twenty years.


digitalLEARNING-July-2010-[47-48]-Learning with Video Games