A review of “Digital Game- Based Learning It’s Not Just the Digital Natives Who Are Restless”
This original paper is by Richard Van Eck, Associate Professor at the University of North Dakota and published in March/April 2006 EDUCAUSE review http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/erm0620.pdf

In a thought provoking paper, Richard Van Eck suggests that proponents of digital game-based learning (DGBL) should move from the promotion of DGBL to a critical analysis of DGBL. “Like the person who is still yelling after the sudden cessation of loud music at a party” we now have the world’s attention and its time to do critical analysis of what exactly we are promoting.

He identifies three kinds of DGBL:
  • have students build games;
  • have educators and/or developers build educational games; and
  • integrate commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) games into the classroom

He believes that student built games are not likely to be widely accepted because:

  • not all teachers have the skill sets needed for game design,
  • not all teach in areas that allow for good content,
  • not all can devote the time needed to implement this type of DGBL,
  • and many teach within the traditional institutional structure, which does not easily allow for interdisciplinarity.

The skill sets needed for game design

I believe that student built games are the kind of DGBL with the most promise.

Though teachers may not have good game design skills, it is wrong to assume that teachers need to have strong game or IT skills to run an effective class. Many of today’s and tomorrow’s students will have IT skills which surpass their teachers. In a world where content has an ever decreasing half life, an important role of the teacher is to provide an environment where students can engage in constructivist self-directed learning. The teacher has in important role in providing and maintaining this environment and in teaching higher order cognitive and metacognitive skills but is less and less a teacher of content down a one way pipeline. The teacher can no longer expect to be the expert in the content but is still an expert in learning.

Areas that allow for good content

Though not all areas of old curriculum fit easily with game creation, many do. Games: student made, edugames or COTS will never cover all areas of education.

The skills which have been identified as necessary for a digital age are not necessarily those of the old curriculum. The Essential Learning Standards http://vels.vcaa.vic.edu.au/index.html recognises that:

In our rapidly changing and globalised world, with the pervasive influence of high speed, interactive information and communications technology (ICT), knowledge is a major resource. ….. This is accompanied by the realisation that students can no longer prepare for one career in life and therefore need to develop a commitment to life-long learning in all occupations and facets of life, and a capacity to manage change…The Essential Learning Standards consciously seek to reduce the crowding of the curriculum to give students time to explore the underlying concepts of tasks and problems they are set, to process information they gather or receive, and to make connections to other information they already possess.

Though student game creation may be a poor match to some areas in the old curriculum, it is a good match for the kind of learning needed for the future.

The time needed to implement student game creation

With a game programming tool like Gamemaker students are creating their first game within an hour. From the outset, they are highly motivated and are involved in deep learning which spans literacy, numeracy and generalised higher order cognitive skills.

The traditional institutional structure does not allow for interdisciplinarity

Interdisciplinary learning has been identified as one of the key features of education, see the Essential Learning Standards. If schools are not offering interdisciplinary learning, they should be.

COTS games

Van Eck suggests that COTS games can be extended into the classroom through instruction and projects which preserve the context of the game. The idea being presumably that the motivation and “flow” will be carried back to the classroom if there is a close parallel between the game and the class work.. So the real learning is taking place outside of the game and the game is mainly setting the students into an appropriate state for learning. If time in game is not time on task, can COTS games be that effective?

He quotes Malone and Lepper who identify fantasy (endogenous and exogenous) as one of four main areas that make games intrinsically motivating. Hence the transfer of motivation from the game to the class relates to the preservation of the fantasy which is endogenous to the game. Recent research questions the importance of endogenous fantasy.

The study, “Intrinsic Fantasy: Motivation and Affect in Educational Games Made by Children. M. P. Jacob Habgood”, http://www.informatics.sussex.ac.uk/users/gr20/aied05/finalVersion/JHabgood.pdf found that children create games with extrinsic fantasy, both for “curriculum” and “non-curriculum” games. This questions the importance of endogenous fantasy to children.

Much more important than fantasy is having a sense of ownership. When students can influence the set task and can create an object of real value and relevance to their peers, then they are really motivated.

For these reasons, I believe that student created games is the area with the most promise in DGBL

Tony Forster,
ASISTM Computer Game Design, Programming, Multimedia and Mathematics Cluster. forster at ozonline dot com dot au