Case Study of an Epistemic Mathematics Computer Game

Case Study of an Epistemic Mathematics Computer Game

Chantal Buteau (Brock University, St. Catharines, Canada) and Eric Muller (Brock University, St. Catharines, Canada)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/IJGBL.2018070103
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E-Brock Bugs is a serious educational game (SEG) about probability which was created based on Devlin's design principles for games whose players adopt identities of mathematically able persons. This kind of games in which “players think and act like real world professionals” has been called epistemic. This article presents an empirical study of 16-year-old students' (n=61) experience playing E-Brock Bugs as part of their mathematics data management course. Results suggest that most students engaged in the game's mathematics and experienced a mathematical in-game identity. E-Brock Bugs contributes to validate Devlin's game design approach to epistemic mathematics SEGs.
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Digital games have become ubiquitous in our lives. Mayo (2009) indicates that such games have millions of users and also “embed many pedagogical practices known to be effective in other environments” (p. 79). Beyond their entertainment value, playing video games may also positively impact students’ learning (e.g., Aldrich, 2004; Gee, 2003; Mohamed & Jaafar, 2010) and cognitive development (e.g., Anguera et al., 2013; Green & Bavelier, 2003, 2007de Freitas & Levene, 2004). Such benefits may be attributed to the intrinsic nature of games or, as Gee (2013) summarily notes, because “games are just well-designed experiences in problem solving” (p. 17).

While Gunter, Kenny, and Vick (2006) concur with Gee’s (2004) view that well-designed games likely will result in learning, they also argue that “a new design paradigm must be developed” (p. 1) if content learning is to occur as a result of playing serious educational games (SEGs), i.e., “electronic/computer-access games that are not designed for commercial purposes but rather for training users on a specific skill set… by targeting K–20 content knowledge” (Annetta, 2010, p. 105). Gunter et al. caution that:

Many assume that incorporating educational content into a video game will produce an automatic success, both in terms of achieving a fun game, and in terms of meeting educational goals. More to the point, many educators claim that a video game can provide the motivation required for learning simply because it is a video game… while players may generally be motivated towards playing video games, there is no assurance that that they are motivated to learn what the game is proposing to teach. Further, it is a mistake to assume that all video games are motivating and fun. (p. 101)

Many argue that video games are a media conducive for learning mathematics (Devlin, 2011; Ke, 2008; Ke & Grawbowski, 2007; Klawe, 1998) and a large body of research has focused on mathematical achievement and motivation (e.g., see Kebritchi, Hirumi, & Bai, 2010). Pope and Mangram (2015) however stress that most studies investigating achievement in mathematics mainly focus on basic math skills rather than on mathematical proficiency (e.g., Kiger, Herro, & Prunty, 2012; Risconscente, 2013), while other studies have explored mathematics learning opportunities (mathematical problem-solving situations) in commercial computer games (e.g., Hernández-Sabaté, Joanpere, Gorgorió, & Albarracín, 2015). In their editorial to the “Special Issue On Digital Games for Learning Mathematics” in the International Journal of Serious Games, Kiili, Devlin, and Multisilta (2015) state that:

Digital games provide interesting possibilities to support and study mathematical development. ... Whereas it is easy to find online mathematics training solutions, games, and apps, only a small fraction of existing mathematics learning games are (1) founded on theoretically sound principles, (2) integrate mathematics directly into the gameplay, (3) rely on good pedagogical practices, and (4) really utilize the possibilities that game technologies provide for learning. (p. 1)

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