History and Rationale
Since the 1970s, a new generation of students have emerged. They use digital devices extensively, and more importantly, they are avid video gamers. Computer games have had a profound impact on the way the vast majority of young people process information. They include many features that are not yet acknowledged or used in school settings but that might facilitate the learning experience. Video games represent real learning environments where learning occurs naturally to overcome challenges posed by the game play. In this context, video games can be compared to a language that supersedes current languages. Using video games, young students can express themselves, communicate ideas, and collaborate with other peers. Using such a medium for teaching can prove effective to both motivate and illustrate effectively concepts and ideas to this young generation of students. While the military and some companies have embraced the use of video gaming technology to train new recruits, the move in the academic sphere has been slower, even if software such as Second-Life is progressively assessed and recognised as a valuable asset for collaborative and exploratory learning.
Video games can be compared to micro-worlds offering a wide range of opportunities for learning and adapting to each individual’s learning style and preferences. Their rich interactive environment makes it possible for individuals to learn in a way that suits their abilities. Collaborating, reflecting, interacting with the content are some of the many possible ways to learn in these environments. However, despite a promising educational potential, video games designers still need to find means to adapt dynamically the content and the structure of the game depending on students’ profiles. User profiling is a growing research field that aims to categorise the players and find ways to predict their actions, preferences or needs.
Developing educational games that adapt dynamically to users’ cognitive and emotional state represents an interesting challenge for developers and educators. The authors will describe their approach to designing dynamic educational games through the PLEASE model (Personality Learning styles Emotions Autonomy Systematic approach and Evaluation). This model, inspired by observations of students’ behaviours, accounts for users’ differences at cognitive and emotional levels and offers a solution based on game design techniques to maximize learning strategies and outcomes. The following sections will explain the rationale for this model, its theoretical foundation and experiments carried-out to assess its validity.
Since March 2005 the authors have been involved in a project to evaluate the educational benefits of video games for teaching mathematics and sciences in secondary schools. This project involves teachers and students of two Cork secondary schools and seeks to help students to improve their skills and motivation for scientific topics through rich interactive experiences. Overall, it aims to address the issue of the shortage of science students at college level. By increasing their interest and proficiency in sciences, the hope is that they will embrace a scientific career after their leaving certificate. This project was initiated by a discussion with a school liaison officer in University College of Cork who had identified a need for more interest in scientific careers. This view was confirmed during further interviews with teachers. They expressed their concerns about students’ lack of enthusiasm for scientific topics and the need to introduce tools and methodologies that could improve both their motivation and academic results. Subsequent meetings were conducted to identify areas of the curriculum that might benefit from a Game Based Learning (GBL) approach and several issues with existing tools were identified: