Independent Learning: Students on Games

Independent Learning: Students on Games

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Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.

This old proverb remains true: teach a student to learn on their own, and they will keep on learning. When it comes to today’s school and any learning difficulties with its students, the problem can’t really be the average student’s ability (the IQ of newer generations has been steadily increasing ever since the 1930s in what is dubbed as the “Flynn effect”.) So the problem is most likely student motivation and engagement.

One way to approach student disinterest is to grant students control with their own learning. While some topics and subjects are too complex or outright difficult for independent learning (at least in the beginning), many can be tackled with the aid of books, documentaries and video games.

Read on to hear students' thoughts on the latter: 


During our time in the game-based learning field, we've had time to conduct quite a few pilot studies on how students react to different mediums and ways of presenting material. Earlier this year, we had US elementary students play a few TeacherGaming Desk games, including the scientific puzzle-platformer The Electric Shocktopus, cooperation strategy game Stranded and a few others. In the case of the former, students were excited about the game’s level editor, which allows the creation of your own designs.

Students loved the chance to make their own levels. Not merely a creative exercise, students can try out the levels created by others and must understand the underlying mechanics of the game to be able to make levels. In the The Electric Shocktopus, everything revolves around electromagnetism. The titular shocktopus is a microscopic being capable of emitting a positive charge, allowing it to interact with the electric and magnetic fields in the levels. The shocktopus reacts to these fields like a real positively charged particle would.


One distinct element that students repeatedly mentioned was challenge. Children love being challenged, especially when the challenge itself is fun, the goal clear and difficult without being too difficult. The Electric Shocktopus handles this beautifully: the difficulty ramps up slowly, the goal of each challenge is clear (get to the always-visible exit door) and the game is simply fun.

Multiple students also mentioned the stars in the game. In The Electric Shocktopus, stars are optional challenges that exist in every level in the form of stars. Each level has three unique stars, requiring expert platforming and/or puzzle solving, such as the advanced use of magnetic fields and breakneck speed. This seems to indicate that optional tasks, especially if they are fun, can be a very powerful motivator for students.


In the other game, Stranded, students repeatedly answered that the most fun they had in the game was in the voting process. In Stranded, students play together as shipwrecked sailors on an island. They gather resources (such as wood, stone and food) and vote what to do with these resources. Each student has a single vote in each vote, and the building with the most votes gets built.

In all honesty, the fact that students love the voting completely surprised us. What makes it so thrilling? Is it the chance that your pick does not get built? Is it the teamwork required to choose the best strategy? Is it the chance to make a choice that has real tangible consequences? The data we reviewed did not specify. This, however, has some positive implications. If elementary students can be this excited about voting in a video game, it may be possible to increase voting turnouts in the future by teaching students to vote with games.

And Much More

These were just the tip of the iceberg, and just two games. Just like how videos and digital exercises came to the classroom, game-based learning is the next quintessential teaching tool. When student engagement, complex topics and independent learning are what you need, look no further than innovative and engaging learning games.