Drawing on grounded theory approach and a qualitative meta-analysis, this chapter intends to systematically review and synthesize the theories, methods, and findings of both qualitative and quantitative inquiries on computer-based instructional games. A major purpose of this literature review and meta-analysis is to inform policy and practice based on existing studies. Four major recurring themes concerning the effectiveness of computer-based instructional games have emerged from a comparative analysis with 89 instructional gaming studies and are discussed with the support of exemplar research. The chapter will assist practitioners and policymakers in understanding the “best practices” and key factors of a computer game-based learning program.
Recently computer games have been anticipated as a potential learning tool with great motivational appeal and represent an interesting development in the field of education. The literature surrounding computer games and education is vast. For more than two decades, educationalists (e.g., Betz, 1996; Gee, 2003; Gredler, 1996; Kafai, 1995; Malone, 1981; Prensky, 2001; Rieber, 1996; Squire, 2003) have been investigating the potential that exists for the application of computer games to learning. Given the broad nature of computer games, a substantial question exists as to what basic insights the literature provides on the design and application of computer-based games for learning.
As a recent search shows, there are currently more than 600 research/report articles within the category of computer games in the literature. These articles fall into generalized categories with a great deal of variance within the categories. These categories include theoretical speculation (e.g., Garris, Ahlers, & Driskell, 2002; Gee, 2003), experimental or descriptive clinical study (e.g., Ke, 2007; Barab, Sadler, Heiselt, Hickey, & Zuiker, 2007; Squire, 2003), and review of existing research (e.g., Dempsey, Rasmussen, & Lucassen, 1996; Randel, Morris, Wetzel, & Whitehill, 1992). Even within the same general category, games studies vary in theoretical framework, research purpose, methodology of data collection and analysis, and game genre adopted. Further, the findings of these games studies are conflicting (Dempsey et al., 1996; Emes, 1997; Randel et al., 1992).
Given this multi-vocal data pool, a systematic review with rigorous qualitative meta-analysis is warranted to generate a clearer profile of computer games. The review should indicate what meta conjectures or recurring themes we can form from the huge quantity of often disassociated studies on the learning effectiveness of computer games. It should also illustrate what are the best models or best practices of designing and applying computer games for education.
This proposed chapter is an attempt to systematically review and synthesize the literature on the subject of computer-based instructional games. Specifically, the chapter addresses the following questions: (1) What is the cumulative qualitative and quantitative evidence for using computer games for learning, and (2) What are the factors, if any, that weigh in an effective application of instructional gaming?
Key Terms in this Chapter
Grounded theory: A qualitative research method that uses a systematic set of procedures to develop an inductively derived theory about a phenomenon. The primary objective of grounded theory is to expand upon an explanation of a phenomenon by identifying the key elements of that phenomenon, and then categorizing the relationships of those elements to the context and process of the experiment.
Game Play: In computer game terminology, used to describe the overall experience of playing the game. It refers to “what player does.”
Game Genre: Computer games are categorized into genres based on their game-play. Due to a general lack of commonly agreed-upon criteria for the definition of genres, classification of games is not always consistent.
Instructional Support Features: Instructional support, or “instructional overlay,” is the component that serves to optimize learning and motivation within a multimedia learning environment, such as a simulation or game.
Simulation: A computer simulation is a computer program that attempts to simulate an abstract model of a particular system.
Effect Size: A name given to a family of indices that measure the magnitude of a treatment effect.
Simulation Game: A game that contains a mixture of skill, chance, and strategy to simulate an aspect of reality, or a simulation that has a game structure imposed on the system.