Game-Based Learning: A Hands-On Experiment

Game-Based Learning: A Hands-On Experiment

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Finnish elementary school began a new semester on the tenth of August with the new school year. Just prior to this, I took part in Bittileiri (Finnish for “bit camp”), a cross between a summer camp and LAN party.

Read on to find out what TeacherGaming got up to with the campers:

A Hands-On Experiment

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Bittileiri presented us with an opportunity to test out Universe Sandbox ² with TeacherGaming Desk integration with an ideal focus group of 12-15-year-olds. This research was part of my thesis for the Tampere University of Applied Sciences computer science program, where the use of commercial off-the-shelf games in education is studied.

Bittileiri is a place where participants come to play games such as Overwatch or League of Legends, not to study school subjects. The goal was to test out cognitive strategies endorsed by TeacherGaming and see how educational games would fare in a suboptimal learning environment. I assumed that not all of Robert Gagné’s conditions for learning would be met, but on the other hand, earlier camps had had great success with lessons concerning information security and assembling computers - both topics that were relevant to the attendees’ interests and hobbies.

Quiz Time!

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The 6-8th grader campers had an elementary understanding of the subject at hand: at school, they’d touched upon astronomy topics, but not in detail. The topics for our lesson were tidal forces and the Roche limit. During the lesson, the group were first taught the relevant theory and then asked to find an answer to the following question: what is the distance of the Roche limit between Earth and the Moon?

In terms of research, the most important part of the lesson was the quiz held two days later. None of the lesson topics were reviewed, nor were the students suggested to make notes or work on any homework between the lesson and the quiz. Therefore it can be stated that Gagné’s conditions were not met, because the learning process was not reinforced in any way.

Considering all of the above, the test produced a surprisingly positive result, because two out of the four students quizzed were able to correctly define the Roche limit in question and recall how it was calculated and what its distance was. As for the two other students, one had mediocre answers and the last one had learned practically nothing.

Alternative Ways of Learning

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With such a small sampling, the results can only be suggestive, but the positive experiences of the students likely indicate that teaching with video games is both credible and desirable. It is also important to remember that video games alone cannot replace good teaching, requirements for learning or proper reviewing of learned material.

Different people learn in different ways, and most people can learn in several different ways. For example, a VARK questionnaire done with nursing students (Lujan & DiCarlo 2006) revealed that roughly 64% of the students utilized several different methods of learning. In our Universe Sandbox ² experiment, one of the students that thrived in the quiz gave feedback wishing that schools would include more independent and hands-on work.

This combined with Lujan and DiCarlo’s results, where roughly 18% learned solely kinesthetically, would mean that in a class of 23 students, up 4 students are completely out of their element with textbooks and paper quizzes. Universe Sandbox ² gives numbers and formulas a real, tangible form and therefore assists learners who learn solely in a kinesthetic way.

Up Close and Personal

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It is worth noting that the students played the game on the HTC Vive virtual reality system. The use of virtual reality in teaching is a relatively new phenomenon, so there are relatively few peer-reviewed studies as of yet. However, it has received a clearly enthusiastic reception. For example, the journal of Educational Technology & Society writes of a 2007 study conducted in Taiwan, where 21 6th grade students got to acquaint themselves with the orbit of the Earth with a desktop app. The conclusion from the experiment was that virtual presentation serves to make perceiving things easier.

During the Bittileiri experiment, I noted that students experienced genuine learning when observing distances with the virtual reality glasses. When close to the Earth, the Moon was the size of a football, but next to Saturn it shrunk down to the size of a nail. In other words, the experiences of the students reinforced the findings of the Taiwanese experiment. It was surprisingly easy for the teacher to ask questions and then let the students find the answers with the help of the simulation. The chosen manner of presentation can therefore help the learning process and make it more effective - always better than having the students memorize topics without any real learning or understanding.

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