Many of the educational outcomes we seek to promote in public education, such as problem solving and critical thinking, are difficult to achieve given the constraints of the real-world classroom. Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) games make excellent tools for addressing both content-based and higher-order learning outcomes, and many educators are exploring their use in the classroom. But making effective use of commercial games in the classroom requires that we understand how games function in relation to the typical instructional strategies and practices of the classroom. The first part of this chapter will examine the theories that underlie the successful integration of commercial games in the classroom and look at an empirically based model, the NTeQ (iNtegrating Technology through inQuiry), for designing lessons that integrate COTS games. This will lay the groundwork for the second part of the chapter in which these theories and the model are discussed in the context of actually designing COTS game-based learning (GBL).
Part I: Theoretical Foundations For Designing Cots Gbl
Despite the growing interest in using games as learning tools in public education, very few games are designed for the classroom. Those that are (e.g., the Leapster® and Learning Company® products) often tend more toward learning tutorials than learning games, and are thus difficult to integrate within the existing curriculum except as additional practice in subject areas. Such software can play a valuable role in learning, and students no doubt enjoy them more than they enjoy reading a textbook, but this does not capture the true power of games to engage (in the cognitive and entertainment sense of the word). There are many reasons for the dearth of truly engaging games for the classroom, of course, including school infrastructure and policies that lock down labs and networks for security reasons, the difficulty of designing games without the resources of a large development company, and the attitudes of the parents and administrators who view games with a healthy dose of skepticism.1
But one of the main reasons we do not see more educational games that look and feel like commercial games is that many designers do not understand how games integrate learning and content seamlessly throughout the game. From the outside, it seems as if games have no content because all we see is play. But it quickly becomes apparent to any who sit down to play them that many games are extremely difficult to play, requiring hours of practice to master. And yet it is through interaction with the game rather than texts, videos, or other media that this learning is achieved. Clearly, games themselves serve an instructional role, and they must be effective or the titles would not sell and the players would not spend upwards of 50 to 100 hours playing them without being forced to. Unless we are willing to accept that game developers have somehow stumbled on new learning and instructional theory, it stands to reason that the things we do know about effective instruction and learning are present in these games, if in modified form.
Why should we care? Because it turns out the in the same way that ignoring the theories behind how games teach has led to poor examples of learning games, so too will doing so lead to poor examples of COTS GBL.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS): Refers to commercially available digital (computer or console) games that are designed for entertainment rather than educational purposes.
NTeQ Model: A technology integration model (see below) that is problem based, student centered, authentic, collaborative, and in which students take on authentic roles and use technology in authentic ways to solve real-word problems as professionals in different disciplines.
Edutainment: A popular term from the 1980s derived from the merging of the words “education” and “entertainment.” Generally refers to computer or console software titles that are designed to teach content and which incorporate game-like features. More like tutorials than games, per se.
Technology Integration: The process by which technology serves to support learning, rather than as a tool for creating or dissemination materials; distinguished from technology use, which would include things like using Word to write a research paper. Generally reflects problem-based learning in collaborative, authentic learning environments.
Digital Game-Based Learning (DGBL): Refers to any form of use or integration of game into a learning environment in which the game plays a central role and is itself a digital (computer or console) game. May refer to serious games, curriculum in which the students design their own game, or COTS GBL.
Serious Games: Games designed for purposes other than entertainment, according to Serious Games founder Ben Sawyer (personal communication, Serious Games ListServ). Distinguished from COTS because these are not purely for entertainment, and from edutainment because the learning is much more tightly integrated with the game environments than traditional edutainment titles.
Intrinsic Motivation: As it relates specifically to games, this theory was first proposed by Thomas Malone, and later extended by Thomas Malone and Mark Lepper in 1987. In general, intrinsic motivation is motivation that stems from internal events such as goals or affective responses rather than from external events such as rewards. In regards to games, there are four factors: challenge, curiosity, control, and fantasy. In particular, the concept of endogenous (internal, tightly integrated content and narrative/game contexts) vs. exogenous (external, disconnected content and narrative/game contexts) fantasy is key to developing instructional materials to support GBL.
Situated Learning and Cognition: This theory arises out of a movement in cognitive studies in the 1970s that began to study human cognition in the contexts in which they naturally occur (Cohen & Siegel, 1991; Graesser & Magliano, 1991; Meacham & Emont, 1989). Research has shown that knowledge and transfer are strongly tied to context and domain (e.g., Bransford et al., 1986, 1989; Brown et al., 1989; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Perkins & Salomon, 1989) and that learning is effective to the degree that it is embedded in a meaningful context (e.g., Choi, 1995; Choi & Hannafin, 1995).
Problem-Based Learning: Learning environments and activities that place a problem at the center of the process. Learners adopt the roles of researchers and often work collaboratively to solve problems. In most cases, the problems are authentic, that is, they reflect real problems faced in the world by different professions, and require the same kinds of solution strategies. Problems serve to “anchor” learning within the problem-solving process rather than serving as assessment activities at the end of more traditional, didactic, instructivist learning.
Game-Based Learning (GBL): Refers to any learning environments or activities in which a game plays a central role. May refer to all forms of games, but most commonly paired with the word “digital,” as in digital game-based learning, first coined by Marc Prensky in 2000 in his book by the same title.