The design and use of simulation computer games in education

НазваниеThe design and use of simulation computer games in education
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Principle 1: Games Employ Play Theory, Cycles of Learning, & Engagement

  • Principle 2: Games Employ Problem-Based Learning

  • Principle 3: Games Embody Situated Cognition & Learning

  • Principle 4: Games Encourage Question-Asking Through Cognitive Disequilibrium and Scaffolding

    These principles do not apply to all games, and my purpose in generating them was not to outline how games work in general, but to talk about how we might build intelligent learning games by drawing from multiple fields of research. This, in fact, is what I will close this chapter with, as it encompasses the last three of the ten areas I described earlier. The next section will describe some of the theories from which these principles arose. My hope is to illustrate the explanatory power of a multidisciplinary approach to DGBL, and how the synergy it generates can thus lead to new theories and models in this emerging discipline.

    Cognitive Benefits of Games. There is a documented increase in average scores on intelligence tests across all cultures that use these tests. The increase was discovered by James Flynn, a political scientist from New Zealand, and was dubbed the Flynn Effect. The increase varies according to study and population, but overall it appears to equate to a three-point increase every ten years (e.g., Colom, Lluis-Font, & Andres-Pueyo, 2005). The increase tends to be in the lower half of the distributions of these tests, which has led to speculation that these increases were due to nutritional factors (e.g., Colom et al., 2005) but evidence exists for these increases even in countries during times where general nutrition declined (Wikipedia, 2006). Others speculated that the increases were the result of increased access to and time spent in education settings because the tests in part measure educational factors and content (e.g., Jensen, 1989), but tests such as the Raven Progressive Matrices (Raven, 1938) which are heavily weighted measures of general intelligence, or "g", that measure abstract, nonverbal reasoning using visual patterns, are among those that show the greatest increase (Johnson, 2005). Among the alternative explanations for this effect is the increase in leisure time across many cultures and the concomitant exposure to increasingly cognitively complex mass entertainment such as video games. Given recent evidence (e.g., Green & Bavalier, 2003) that video games improve visual processing of a variety of information, this hypothesis seems plausible (the Raven Progressive Matrices are heavily dependent on interpreting abstract visual patterns).

    Whether one chooses to accept this hypothesis or not, it nevertheless raises some very interesting questions about games and cognition. What might the "cognitive complexity" of games look like, and how can it be explained by existing theory and research?

    Play Theory. Play theory says that play is the most effective instructional technique regardless of domain. This conclusion is based largely on the observation that we learn more in the first years of life than we do in any other corresponding time in our lives (Lepper & Chabay, 1985). Only mammals and birds engage in play, indicating that the role of play in fostering higher learning is critical (Crawford, 1982). Rieber (1996) says research in “anthropology, psychology, and education indicates that play is an important mediator for learning and socialization throughout life” (p. 44) and that “Having children play games to learn is simply asking them to do what comes naturally. . . . However, playing a game successfully can require extensive critical thinking and problem-solving skills” (p. 52).

    The problem, according to play theory, is that at some point in our development, play is replaced by work, which may account for poor motivation in schools today. In Kindergarten, the dominant mode of learning is play, and we accept that. As one progesses through higher grades, however, play is gradually decreased. By the time an individual enters the workforce, we see play as leisure rather than learning. “Work is respectable, play is not” (Rieber, 1996, p. 43), and so our school and work lives are dominated by work instead of play. Far from being opposites, however, play and work can be synonymous when work is its own reward (Rieber).

    Play itself is complex, just as games and learning are complex processes. But complexity itself is not enough explanation; what is it about play and its attendant complexity that makes it so effective as an instructional strategy? Part of this answer can be derived from examining the interaction inherent in play activities. Play requires interaction--it is not possible to be passive during play. To be sure, play in its most free-form sense (e.g., kids in a backyard) appears to be unconstrained, but closer examination reveals that even such open-ended play is in fact guided by rules and goals, just as games are. These rules may change frequently during play, but they demand and constrain actions on the part of each player; anyone who does not "play by the rules" will suffer consequences (in the game, socially, or both).

    The constant cycle of action and reaction that occurs in play also sheds light on the complexity and effectiveness of play. The turns we take in board games, at bat, or on offense and defense are a constant cycle of interaction. Likewise, when we roll dice, twirl spinners, perform an action, and respond the actions of those around us, we are actively participating and engaged in the activity in physical and/or mental ways. Each of our actions, in turn, results in some form of feedback, often contiguous to the action, whether social (from players) or informational (from the game materials and rules). This constant cycle of action, feedback, and reaction according to the constraints of the rules is in large part what drives the learning and engagement that occurs during games.

    Flow. Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi describes an internal state called flow, which he argues is the optimal learning state (1990). In flow, learners (or game players) are immersed to the extent that they lose track of time and the outside world. Connections between and among concepts are made rapidly, physical and mental efforts are perfectly synchronized, and every action flows one from the other in a seamless experience in which one's attention is completely absorbed.10 Games (at least successful ones) promote flow. Flow and engagement, if not one and the same thing, are certainly highly related constructs within game experience. Players who rank games as "good" often report flow-like conditions (e.g., Lazzaro, 2004). This may be one reason that games are so effective at teaching.

    Games Keep Players in the "Zone". Another theory, proposed by Vygotsky (1962, 1978), called the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) has some explanatory value for games and learning. This theory, loosely speaking, holds that there are three categories of tasks in learning. Those tasks that learners can accomplish autonomously, without any assistance, those that they cannot accomplish no matter how much assistance they are given (whether for developmental reasons, a lack of prerequisite skills, etc.), and those that are within their reach when provided minimal support (which he called scaffolding) by another. This last category of tasks define the ZPD, and represent the ideal state of learning. It may already have occurred to you that this "zone" may also be related to flow, in that flow during learning is most likely to occur within the ZPD. To promote maximum learning, learners should be in the ZPD for as much of the learning as is possible, and the scaffolding should be the minimum support necessary for the learner to make progress, and require the maximum cognitive effort on the part of the learner. When this happens, learning is encoded more effectively, connected to existing knowledge structures in more ways and more efficiently, and as a result is retained better.

    Consider now how games and game players interact. Raph Koster (2005) writes in his book of his observations of his children as they played tic-tac-toe. They enjoyed this game and played it frequently until suddenly, almost overnight, they stopped and never went back to it. They had mastered the game and realized it was a non-winnable game at that point. He also observed this in his own game play, as well as the opposite reaction in which a game he contemplated playing would result in a repeated cycle of failure. The games we engage in retain sufficient challenge for us that we cannot automatically solve them, yet not so much that they are beyond our reach. Challenge must be optimized for the learner in order for the game to be intrinsically motivating, for the learner to be in the ZPD, and for the learner to experience flow.

    It is important to note that we are supported (scaffolded) within the game through several factors. First, games often have a tutorial mode or initial mission which, while ostensibly part of the fantasy world of the game, are in actually designed to bring all players up to a common set of prerequisite knowledge and skills. We can generally not proceed until we have demonstrated each of these skills, and with each error, the game provides scaffolding and support. For instance, in the war game Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, we begin in a boot camp where we master navigation (turning, moving, crouching, climbing, jumping) weapon and tool use, etc. In each case, we are given instructions and told to demonstrate the skills. If we wait too long, we are reminded and prompted (to hit the tab key to see our objectives or last instructions, for instance). Another example is in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which begins with a narrative movie that leads up to our character awakening to the calls of a friend who is there to help us get off the ship which is under attack. In reality, this is a training mission for interacting with the game, and he provides guidance if and as needed until we have mastered the progressively more complex skills and escaped. Once these missions are completed, we move on to the "real" game.

    Secondly, games have levels of difficulty, with each level requiring more and more knowledge. Often, this entails combining previous skills (akin to assembling rules to solve novel problems) as well as new knowledge. As we master each level, we are promoted on to increasingly complex levels (leveling up). Novices then take a long time with early levels, while more skilled players move through initial levels quickly, but both eventually reach a level of appropriate challenge.

    Thirdly, games often have difficulty settings, allowing the player to self-select the challenge level (e.g., easy, medium, difficult). Each selection requires more or less of the player as a result, allowing expert players to up the difficulty so that the early levels are more challenging, and the novice player to make it easier to complete these levels. What is interesting is that players will choose harder settings to challenge themselves--a factor not often seen when school children are working on traditional homework assignments!

    Finally, games provide extensive and pervasive feedback in situated ways (pressing on a locked door produces an "oomph," and "It's locked! I'll have to find a key somewhere"). This constant scaffolding is buttressed by hint books, hints on the game website, cheats and walkthroughs generated by other game players which together provide enough resources for the player to self-regulate their progress and select just enough information at just the right time to continue to make progress.11

    Accommodation, Assimilation, & Cognitive Disequilibrium. Piaget held, among other things, that knowledge was generated through individuals working with new information in a process of assimilation or accommodation. Assimilation occurs when we encounter new facts that are compatible with our existing schemas and mental models and we are able to fit that information into existing "slots". For example, when a child encounters granite for the first time and correctly identifies it as a "rock" because it shares characteristics with her mental model of rocks (hard, irregular in shape, etc.). Accommodation occurs when the internal representations of knowledge must be altered to accommodate the new information. For example, when a child sees a bear and mis-identifies it as a kind of dog because her model for dog is insufficiently constructed (e.g., anything with 4 legs and fur is a dog) and her parents warn her to run rather than pet it, she must accommodate the information by revising her model for dog AND generating another for bear. Assimilation is the easiest process, and accommodation the hardest. In reality, assimilation and accommodation co-occur regularly, which together accounts for many misconceptions (because we assimilate when really we should accommodate).

    Piaget believed that the key accommodation was a process called cognitive disequilibrium. Cognitive disequilibrium occurs most often when assimilation fails12 and we are confronted (either implicitly in the environment when we attempt to pet the bear and it attacks us, or explicitly through feedback and instruction, as when our parents yell for us to run away), by contradictory information. Put another way, when we think we know what something is and find that it is in fact something else, we are in a state of cognitive disequilibrium.

    Games promote accommodation by generating cognitive disequilibrium. In fact, these two theories (ZPD and cognitive disequilibrium) go a long way toward explaining what makes a game engaging. If the challenge is too low, cognitive disequilibrium is never triggered. If challenge is too high, cognitive disequilibrium can never be resolved. Games engage by constantly presenting the player with challenges that are within their ability to solve, but which require significant effort to do so (enough that support is often required and provided within and without the game).

    Problem Solving & Question Asking. But cognitive disequilibrium is only the starting point; resolving cognitive disequilibrium is where the learning actually takes place, and is another area in which games excel. What happens when cognitive disequilibrium is triggered is that the player automatically enters into a problem-solving mode in which hypotheses are formulated, tested, and revised until accommodation (or assimilation) occurs. Games reward this kind of problem-solving; the very kind we hope to promote in scientific inquiry for instance. They are particularly successful at this in part because they are closed systems within which the player knows there is a solution, unlike in the real world when effort may be put forth forever with no resolution. This in turn promotes persistence, perseverance, and motivation, which in turn promote self-efficacy and autonomy.

    This cycle of problem-solving is keyed by yet another theory of learning that games promote. Question asking (a part of the larger field of discourse) has been shown be critical to the learning process (Graesser and Person, 1994), which is critical to the learning process. Unfortunately, question-asking is rarely done (Otero & Graesser, 2001). Students generally ask 6-8 questions per hour (Graesser et al., 1999), for example, most of which are shallow (e.g., Graesser and Person, 1994). Research not only shows that question-asking is key to comprehension, problem solving, reasoning, and other cognitive activities, it also shows that students who are trained to ask good questions become better learners (Otero & Graesser, 2001).

    Questions are also related to the concepts of self-regulation and metacognition in learning. Good learners constantly make predictions and ask themselves questions. Question asking itself is a way of activating and examining existing schemas which is key to effective encoding of new information. Questions help emphasize, refine, and build the relationships between and among concepts and ideas. Cognitive disequilibrium and concomitant problem-solving in games results in frequent question formulation and answering (assuming the player continues to interact with the game rather than quit).

    Moving Beyond the Distinctions

    These theories, and the many others that are discussed in DGBL, illustrate that DGBL is not so much a new way of learning so much as it is a very efficient way of embodying some of the most effective learning theories known to the learning sciences. There is a term in counseling called occupational psychosis, which refers to the tendency for us to view the world through the glass of our occupations. Thus, policemen tend to ascribe base motives to actions because this is what they see most of their professional lives. We have got to resist this kind of psychosis, to move beyond the distinctions created by our professions and to recognize that while there appear to be hard lines between disciplines and between the concepts and instantiations of theory within games, games are effective because they blur these lines rather than emphasize them. We tend to view learning as a discrete set of stages because doing so allows us to attend to those stages during the design process. However, when we then preserve those distinctions within the instruction, we make it nearly impossible to implement the kinds of learning that games do naturally. Assessment and practice are seamlessly integrated with knowledge acquisition within the game. One never learns something without demonstrating it if not immediately, then nearly so. One never demonstrates something without immediate feedback. One does not flounder within a game for long without getting (or seeking) scaffolding to allow them to move on. This type of assessment is radically different from our conceptual view of assessment within schools, which may help explain why our schools are failing in so many respects; we've replaced the natural modes of learning and assessment (play, situated practice, etc.) with artificial ones that strip all context from knowledge.

    Just as the events of learning are seamless in games, so are many of the distinctions we make about the theoretical perspectives we take about DGBL. Games, instructional design, cognitive psychology, communication, etc. are all part of the same process when it comes to DGBL, and we have to stop making the distinction between games and learning that have characterized much of the debates between our professions as we struggle to become a discipline. In the next section, I will discuss some of the things that I think instructional design has to offer DGBL now.

    Contributions of Instructional Design

    I mentioned earlier that we must be cognizant of research and theories from multiple fields; one of the best ways to do that is to read what those in other fields have to say about DGBL and its related precepts from within those fields. It follows, then, that we must also write about DGBL from within our professions so that others can read and incorporate our ideas. There are three reasons why I think that instructional design can contribute meaningfully to the field of DGBL.

    First, instructional design is itself and interdisciplinary field, having its origins in psychology, education, and communication. Essentially a systems view of designing learning and now human performance technology, it has evolved slowly over time as the intersection of these three fields. Many of the texts in our classes come from researchers and scholars in these fields as well, although we do not make those distinctions per se, and much of our research is published in journals within these and other fields (computer science, learning sciences, etc). So when we think about DGBL from an instructional design point of view, we are in some ways thinking about it from the perspective of all of these fields.

    Second, instructional design takes a systems view of designing effective learning and performance solutions to human learning and performance problems in any setting, any domain, with any learner. This systems approach to analyzing, designing, developing, implementing, and evaluating instructional or performance solutions is particularly well-suited, in my opinion, to looking at DGBL. It forces one to consider the wide range of environmental, social, political, and individual learner characteristics in developing or implementing DGBL.

    Third, the field of instructional design has its roots in the audio/visual instruction movement in the first half of the last century, which became the larger movement of media studies in general. Because of this, and because of the problems we've seen in technology integration during the last 30 years, instructional design is as often as not referred to as instructional design and technology. This latter term reflects both our origins and our adoption and participation in technology integration. We are used to examining, from a systems perspective, the strengths and weaknesses of a medium and aligning instructional outcomes with affordances of the medium. What follows, then, are some of the specific contributions of ID(T) to the emerging discipline of DGBL.

    Not All Games Are Alike. There is a tendency to speak of all games as a single instructional medium. To be sure, this is accurate when speaking of the field as a whole, as we do when speaking of all books as "literature" and all movies as "cinema". But just as doing so collapses important boundaries in cinema, for example, (few would argue that the Battleship Potemkin is the same kind of movie as Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure!) lumping all games together collapses critical differences in the function and role of different games. And it is not just a matter of genres, as the film examples above might seem to indicate; what film studies do is examine all of the critical features (cinematography, acting, direction, script, etc.) that make films unique. So while it sometimes makes sense to talk of games as a medium, and while it also makes sense to talk about different game genres (adventure, strategy, role-playing, etc.), it is also important to talk about the critical features and attributes of different kinds of games for supporting different kinds of experiences and interactions, which in turn has implications for instructional uses of games.13

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