Edutainment

Edutainment is the marriage of “education” and “entertainment” combing the fun aspects of games with the more learning-oriented aspects of education. True edutainment seeks to enhance education by making it entertaining for the learner. Like other instructional media, games have taken some to register on the academic radar screen. Today, researchers from fields as diverse as graphic design, computer science, educational technology, cognitive psychology, film studies, and sociology have contributed to the understanding of the phenomenon of educational games.

Much of the early research and development in edutainment have focused on the primary grades. However, the Games-to-Teach project at MIT demonstrates the pedagogical potentials of games by developing a range of conceptual frameworks that show how games can be deployed to teach math, science, and engineering at an advanced secondary or early undergraduate level. Over the past decade, a great number of research-driven educational games projects were developed by universities and organizations to support learning. Some of these projects are: ThinkerTools (University of California, Berkeley), GenScope (The Concord Consortium), StarLogo (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Games-to-Teach Project (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Quest Atlantis (Indiana University), and Learning Villages (Chinese University of Hong Kong), and Mad City (University of Wisconsin-Madison).

According to Subrahmanyam & Greenfield, psychologists have discovered that children learn important cognitive skills by playing video games, such as the ability to maintain attention and to orient things in space. In a research study conducted by Rosas and his colleagues, they studied 1,274 elementary students in Chile and found the students who played video games were more motivated, more likely to pay attention in class, and substantially less likely to be disruptive. Teachers, even those who were initially skeptical about the use video games in the curriculum, recognized significant improvements in the classroom, and asked to be able to continue using the games in all their classrooms.

Another study conducted by Tim Rylands in his class at the Chew Magna Carta School in Bristol, England showed positive results on playing computer games. His students are gaining top SAT scores and are excelling in creating thinking. The appeal of computer gaming is the personal involvement that students have in the task on the screens. Results such as Rylands have encouraged other teachers to incorporate computer gaming into their curricula.

James Gee, in his book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, asserts that video games teach better than our decontextualized, skill-and-drill classrooms. Video games present simulated semiotic domains and give information an embodied and contextualized presence that lends itself better to how we are psychologically structured to learn. Gee states that video games “situate meaning in a multimodal space through embodied experiences to solve problems and reflect on the intricacies of the design of imagined worlds and the design of both real and imagined social relationships in the modern world.” Video games simulate identities, experiences, contexts, and social relationships in designed spaces. A player learns to think critically about the simulation while at the same time gaining embodied knowledge through interacting with it: taking on new avatarial identities within it, solving problems through trial and error within it, and gaining expertise, or literacy, within it. Gee argues that the best games offer a model learning experience and suggests teachers can learn useful lesson by observing how games draw players in and motivated them to concentrate and tackle complex problems.

Gee further argues that the learning supported by computer gaming could replace traditional teaching models — where teachers speak and students take notes — with arenas in which students are active consumers who are engaged by simulations that literally allow them to interact with and manipulate virtual worlds. By learning a subject like science in a way that encourages problem-solving, lateral thinking and critical analysis, the consequence would be a population confident in their knowledge, and the ability to apply it in everyday life.

I think educational games can enhance the students learning experience in a practical manner. The educational games offers a new possibility for combining motivation, critical thinking, problem solving, hands-on and self-regulated learning within a constructivist framework. Moreover, educational games promote practice with unknown situations, allow repeat experience and exploration of different alternatives, provide the freedom of experimentation and “play” that is typically absent in other pedagogy.

With the average of digital natives spending over 10,000 hours in playing video games before age 21, I think educational games have great potentials in learning. I expect more high quality educational games will be developed and teachers will integrate them into their curricula to support learning. To learn more about the research and development on educational games, I recommend the following resources:

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About Steve Yuen

I am a Professor Emeritus of Instructional Technology and Design at The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States.
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13 Responses to Edutainment

  1. Alishia says:

    Though your posting is discussion edutainment as it refers to video gaming (virtual), I would like to hear your opinion on learning through play and games (actual). For example, my niece (4 y.o.) is enrolled in a Chinese language class at Jabberu – http://www.jabberu.com – and she is learning very quickly through games and play and interaction within the group and instructor. Are the results the same? Better results when both are applied at the same time?

  2. James M. Thompson says:

    This is definitely not a surprise! In America, we have many latchkey children that are practically raising themselves. Even when their mother arrives at home after a long day of work, these children must continue to entertain themselves. In many instances, these children spend countless of hours in front of a television or playing some type of video game. They find much pleasure operating the joystick and attempting to beat the computer or a fellow relative or companion. While this task may seem easy to an ordinary bystander, it is not because it requires a high-level of hand-eye coordination. Individuals that are involved in videogames are actually using their creative part of the brain opposed to just listening to a boring lecture. Furthermore, individuals playing video games are actively engaged and actively learning. Sitting in class and listening to a lecture is simply a form of passive learning.
    I believe that if it requires more energy and intelligence to play a video game, educators should attempt to shift into that direction. Although it may seem as an unorthodox method of teaching, it may result in improvements for everyone. There are many students in today’s classrooms that are just simply bored to death after hearing lecture after lecture. There are even research articles that demonstrate that lecturing is one of the least effective teaching strategies. Since this is the case, utilizing fun and interactive technology, such as video games, may turn a boring lesson of animal cell into a surreal way of walking students through a cell and actually seeing and feeling each part of the cell in action.

  3. Christopher Tisdale says:

    I really believe that video games improve learning, and they make learning fun and interesting. For example, my godson is a video game fanatic. He was struggling to identify letters and numbers, but I bought this game called Konami Kids Playground: Alphabet Circus, and this game helped him recognize letters within a week. I was helping him the traditional way; I bought books and flash cards, which were unsuccessful. This video game kept his attention and he learned from the game. I know that parents don’t have a lot of time anymore to just sit down and help their children learn; most parents depend on the school system to educate their children, but it takes more than an educator to teach a child. Playing video games with your kids increases learning; playing v-smile with my godson very often I saw how much he has learned just by using a video game. Kids really enjoy it when a parent is engaged in an activity with them. (my opinion)

    I actually did a test on whether technology does improve learning, and I can say it does. I gave my students a test and reviewed them the traditional way (study guide); my class average on that test was 75%. On the second test review I incorporated Jeopardy into my lesson using the smart board, and my class average on that test was 82%. Games increase learning regardless of whether or not they are used with an electronic device. I turned my dry erase board into a game board for my students. I believe games increase learning tremendously. When my students don’t understand something, the first thing they say is, “Let’s play Jeopardy!” When I create my Jeopardy game, I try to cover all levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, which can be very difficult at times, but it is worth the challenge. Learning takes place with video games; I encourage schools to embrace video games. I teach typing and as reinforcement I let the students play this typing game called Micro type Pro which helps students build speed and accuracy. After students completed keyboarding, I noticed in my other classes students will ask to get on Micro type Pro. This software still has the attention of my students after they have completed the class; this is just another example how technology helps the learner.

  4. Tim Bryant says:

    The only concerns I have had with video games is that the money is not there for educational games. The games that kids want to play are the cutting edge games, and the older ones become bored quickly by most educational games out there today. If the money were there to pair the two, you would come up with a winning solution, but video game companies are driven by money, and they know that blood and guts will sell, learning your multiplication tables will not.

    In the classroom it can be a fantastic way to engage students, and it’s definitely more exciting than the normal lecture. While we won’t see educational games of high quality on the Xbox 360 any time soon, the PC in the classroom combined with an interactive white board can do the job if the teacher is creative and confident. Confidence is the biggest factor, teachers need to be trained and have the skills to work with the technology in their classroom. Children will be bored quickly waiting on the teacher to troubleshoot a problem, or call the helpdesk to get it fixed.

    The problem now is getting the teacher to buy into the process. I think the best way this could possibly be done is for professional development for teachers to include gaming. It could be a simple Jeopardy game to quiz them on Depth of Knowledge, but we should be teaching them using the same tools that they will be using in the classroom so that they can see how it can improve learning, and so that they can become more comfortable with it.

  5. Lou Ellen says:

    I have somewhat struggled with this notion of edutainment. The idea that you could combine education and entertainment seems possible, but at the same time, a little far fetched. There are few children who would believe you if you told them that they would be mixing the two. However, without fully realizing it, education and entertainment begin to mix with us at a very young age. Toys taught us all kinds of think as we were growing up. Baby Einstein products are educational instruments for our infants and toddlers, but they are also hours of endless amounts of fun for the little ones. As children grow, this generation is worlds apart from past generations. Video games are part of their culture and they think in a different way because of it. Of course, there are those video games that are anything but educational. There are those that cater to violence and sexuality, but then there are those that don’t. There are educational video games for many different subjects and for all ages. Video games teach a certain amount of focus, and reorganizes the way the brain’s thought process. Being able to use and apply skills and knowledge is a huge asset in virtual gaming. The two worlds of education and entertainment are more intertwined than what we would like to believe. I can see this movement growing vastly in the coming years. We will have to keep moving in this direction if we want to continue to challenge and educate our younger generation.

  6. Andrea Howard says:

    I have always believed that hands on learning was the best way to learn. I can relate first hand as to how engaging and stimulating video games are. Even as a adult, I enjoy in indulging in an occasional fighting match or football game with my daughter and husband. When we play, we are at it for hours. What I noticed the most about playing the games is that, of course, the more we played, the better we got at it and the more competitive we became. Video gammers usually are not quitters when it comes to playing the games, either. They will try and retry until they “beat” the game. So, why not incorporate that energy into an educational setting? Because of my love for video games, I made sure to purchase every age appropriate educational gaming system on the market for my daughter because I believed that she would enjoy playing video games. I figured, why not have her learn in the process. She adores her gaming systems, and as a parent, I can sit back and watch her improve her technological skills as her cognitive skills sharpen.

    I believe a major drawback to having too much “game time” in the classroom is that the student’s reading and writing skills will suffer. Research states that people have a tendency to read less if they must read from computer screens and not books. Too much reading from a screen has a tendency to tire one’s eyes and cause restlessness. Aside from these drawbacks, I think it would still be a great idea to incorporate some gaming in the educational setting and that there would be a large market for these types of software once educational administrators catch on.

  7. guoqiangcui says:

    I like the word and idea “Edutainment”. I believe that games are appealing to almost everyone and I’ve never heard somebody saying they don’t like playing games. On the contrary, most of them, no matter what age group you are in, all have a lot of fun in playing games and that’s why some young people complain that their grandma has been taking up the computer to play games while they have no chance to get.

    Educational games are not that rear to people. When you were first learning to use the keyboard to type, you must have played with the games like “hitting the bricks”. You have to press certain key to hit the brick with letter on it. I do have great confidence in the development of educational games. They have so many benefits: learners can greatly engage in it for long hours without feeling bored or tired, they can develop their critical thinking while solving problems in the games, learners can also practice what they learned in an more interesting way. And currently there are so many colleges and educators are developing and researching on this subject. When I was searching for IT programs in different universities, I found that there are so many teachers with this subject as an emphasis. So edutainment and educational games will be developing and advancing in a good way.

    But I have one tiny concern. I played games a lot and did not have that much self control as a small kid. Sometimes the game is so interesting I can not get out of it and play it all day and night until my parents pulled me out of that. So if the educational game was developed so interesting, how can teachers be sure that students are not addictive to it and have time to do some other assignments?

  8. Farid says:

    The act of learning through a medium that both educates and entertains including any of various media, such as computer software, that educate and entertain.

    However, schools can ill afford technotainment activities during a time of tough new standards and tests. We might define technotainment as technology activities heavily laced with entertainment but essentially lacking in rigor or value. Technotainment often stresses technology for technology’s sake without enhancing student reading, writing and reasoning skills.

  9. Kaylene says:

    I have been listening to reports about video/online games since the Internet first started to have a place in my life (about 1994), and they all seem to do the same thing: try to justify why the games are good for you. All these researchers have found tremendous positives for including entertainment in the education world. I remember in the early ’90s that one of my daughter’s junior high teachers told me that the key to the future of successful education was edutainment. She ran her classroom like a three-ring circus and that was without a computer in the room. My daughter hated it. She told me it was like eating candy every day for an hour — it’s just not good for you as a steady diet, no matter how much you like it! (She was always a very insightful child, even as a toddler.)

    I can’t quote it right now, but I have read about research that looks at some of the less positive aspects of all the online/video games, and there are concerns out there.

    All the video games, even educational ones, are feeding an obsession that does more to isolate children instead of socialize, create sedative lifestyles instead of active lives, and narrow the focus instead of stimulating diversity of thought. This is an aspect of the research that certainly bears including in any discussion about entertainment in education.

    Lest you think I am anti-technology, let me just state that I am a fan of something really important: whatever works! I know children today grow up in an “entertain me” world, and if video games reach them and help them learn, then it just makes sense to promote video games. Perhaps those who make and promote these products could think about how they could also address the issues such as isolation.

  10. Madelon Gruich says:

    Personally, I am not a “gamer,” and neither am I opposed to gaming. Two of my four children were and continue to be involved in playing video games. Nintendo introduced them to the thrills of winning both simple and complicated games, and I watched in both amazement and chagrin at the amount of time they often devoted to playing and competing with each other. Both of these children also participated in athletics, had to have homework done prior to gaming on school days, and were not allowed to play video games all day without doing other things. They were interested in a variety of play activities and were also good students. With that said, I believe that gaming, as with most things, demands temperance. Too much of many things is not always good. Children often are not mature enough to make wise decisions. They must be guided.

    If gaming can be used to encourage learning and interaction, then educational opportunities would benefit from their inclusion. I agree with all the positives of gaming mentioned in this blog, but some of the negatives were not mentioned—obesity from inactivity, anti-social behavior, decreased verbal communication skills. I do not agree that gaming with all individuals is a positive activity. So, to suggest that gaming is the answer to educational woes would be misleading. Can it enhance the content of courses? I think so. Will all children benefit equally from including gaming? I doubt it. Once again, the personalities of the students enter the picture. What encourages learning in some students, may deter learning in others.

  11. tdedeaux says:

    Personally, I am of two minds concerning educational video games.

    As Papert mentioned in “Does Easy Do It?” (http://www.papert.org/articles/Doeseasydoit.html), many educational video games are “Shavian Reversals,” in that they include neither good pedagogy nor good game play. To some degree, this gets at the difficulty inherent in creating something that simultaneously does two very different things well.

    While we can probably all name several memorably good pure-entertainment video games, the list of educational video game classics is shorter – Oregon Trail, maybe some of the Carmen Sandiego games, and … ???

    I don’t think you particularly have to have the most expensive graphic design: after all, the #1 ranking eight generation console, the Wii, has the same graphic processing power as the #2 ranking seventh generation console, the X-Box (not the X-Box 360, the old clunky black-plastic XBox). And portable handheld games are very popular, despite having much lower horsepower than consoles.

    Game play is vital, and some of the basics of good storytelling are important, too (in most games). But these are sometimes hard to get right in pure entertainment games (play 10 randomly selected first person shooter games on the PS2, and you’ll probably find that 8 of them are clunky and annoying).

    So my first concern is making sure the game designers get things right. Because poorly designed educational technology can actually have a negative impact.


    But I have another possible concern, and this one is more philosophical. A veteran high school teacher once told me, “it isn’t all supposed to be fun and games.”

    What she meant was that students needed to develop mental and intellectual toughness, to progress toward a certain degree of scholarship, and to be able to learn and to do mental work even when it was difficult and “un-fun.”

    And to a large degree, I agree with her. I’ve discovered that my own educational philosophy tends more toward the Perennialist than the Progressive, at any rate.


    That said, a combination of practices may be the best alternative. Make some of the learning fun and game-like, but don’t make all of it that way.

    Put the students in situations where they have to conquer a little boredom or un-fun, but do it intentionally, not just by default, or because you don’t want to go to the trouble to make the other parts of learning fun. Do it to toughen them up, mentally, but be honest with them about why you’re doing it.

  12. Jil Wright says:

    I think that educational gaming definitely has its place in modern education. Games, in some form or another, have been used in education for a long time. Think of the list of non-digital games that have been used for educative purposes: memory games, picture based games, puzzles, problem solving games, and the list goes on. Even strategy board games like chess or Othello teach decision making and problem solving skills. With technology gaining momentum over the years, I would think that a migration to digital forms of gaming would be natural.

    I think everyone would agree that if everything a student was taught was based on the same puzzle over and over again, he/she would probably not have a very in-depth understanding of certain aspects of what they were attempting to learn. The same goes with video games, a sprinkling is great and the entertainment aspect of gaming could attract learners who would ordinarily not participate or care about certain educational topics. Like everything else in the world, moderate use is probably the key.

    I loved playing Oregon Trail as a kid. Honestly, the things I remember about the history of the Oregon Trail is probably solely based on playing that game (that’s pretty sad isn’t it). Today young children who would never think of trying to learn a new language are in love with Dora the Explorer games. These types of games work for adults as well; the mindset is just a bit different.

    Can you learn to fly a plane entirely by using a flight simulator? I wouldn’t fly with someone who only had training in a simulation, but the sim has a distinct purpose. You can crash as many times as it takes to get off the ground in a simulation. That is a game and it assists new pilots in developing critical thinking skills by putting them into situations that would ordinarily be very dangerous in “real life”. Astronauts plan missions by simulation so they have an idea of what could happen or go wrong and how they would have to react if something went wrong while actually in space. There are definitely benefits.

    I think learning content must be delivered in a variety of formats. This will keep learners engaged. When immersed in one thing, students will get bored eventually, so I think shaking things up a bit with different ideas for getting learning objectives accomplished is wonderful.

  13. keenonwynn says:

    “What happens when you combine MIT-quality science, math, and engineering content with cutting edge game play?” This is a great question! Being a gamer myself I can relate to the interest. I have always wanted to have access to educational video games that were entertaining. It would be so much easier to engage or at least get their attention to get my objective across.

    In some subjects student benefit through the act of repartition; the more you do it the better you become. Unfortunately the act of repeatedly calculating formulas has a tendency to loss the students interest. In a video game format the mundane repetition becomes a challenge and, I feel, true learning and retention is brought about. “With the average of digital natives spending over 10,000 hours in playing video games before age 21.” This statistic tells me that this would be an amazing way to relate educational objectives to the student. It has always been told to me that the best way to bring about true learning is to relate it somehow to the student.

    From personal experience I have found even the most noncompetitive person will take an interest in the game challenge because it is fun and safe. It would also be a fantastic avenue for a student to customize his or her own learning environment.

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