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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