Health Website's Games and Features Evaluation by Middle Schoolers

Health Website's Games and Features Evaluation by Middle Schoolers

Karen Chapman-Novakofski (University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, USA), Henna Muzaffar (University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, USA), Darla Castelli (University of Texas, Austin, TX, USA) and Jane Scherer (University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJWLTT.2016070102
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Health information on the Internet is popular for both adults and adolescents. Providing this information in an enjoyable manner during school may provide an alternative to teacher-led education. However, there are advantages and disadvantages of ‘edutainment'. The objective of this study was to explore these advantages and disadvantages of a health-related website which incorporated games and interactive features from the adolescents' perspective. Most features received favorable evaluations, with the exception of one in particular using an interactive map. Social interaction with ratings and scores were seen as too competitive by some.
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Like with adults, Internet use for seeking health information is becoming popular in the adolescent population, thus making the Internet a well-suited medium to provide a variety of resources (Leanza and Hauser, 2014). Of teens in the United States aged 12-17, 95% were online as of 2012 and 92% of those 13-17 years old access the Internet daily (Lenhart, 2015). In 2009, 97% of classrooms had computer access and 93% had Internet access, with 69% of teachers using the internet for instruction at least sometimes (Gray, Thomas, Lewis, 2010).

Nutrition-related online programs for adolescents have been found effective for in-school programs in four of six programs evaluated in a systematic review, although the exact components that contribute to the effectiveness remains unclear (Ajie and Chapman-Novakofski, 2014). The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website (2015) on characteristics of an effective health curriculum is not specific to online programs or curricula, but two of the 15 points allude to engaging learners and maintaining their interest, which may suggest some level of entertainment.

The literature both supports and also discourages the use of “edutainment” in teaching. Baranich and Currie (2006), in their research, supported the use of edutainment, specifically games, in training and educational settings. Okan (2003) critically examined the educational potential of edutainment software. He suggested positive effects of games included that they challenged the students, aroused their curiosity, developed their creativity and brought pleasure and a sense of accomplishment. Children were willing to pay attention and participate enthusiastically when they were having fun. Students also got a chance to interact with their peers, friends and strangers when playing games and that helped them learn to work in teams and to work with each other. Bidarra et al (2013) posit that games are important for learning, especially for trial and error type of learning situations. Others mention that educational games can impact visual attention, mental processing speed, and cognitive inference (Levitt and Piro, 2014).

On the other hand, Okan (2003) also presented debates to discourage the use of edutainment for teaching. According to him, one of the most detrimental effects of using technology to teach is that it can suppress studying skills, such as critical reading and reflective thought. McDonald and Hannafin (2003) suggested that any increases in student learning that are found with computer games may be attributed to the novelty of the games as education itself, and that this approach may become less novel and thus less effective. In addition, some games take a long time to complete, may not be aligned with the intended curriculum, and can be addicting (Green and McNeese, 2007).

One report of an interactive web-based educational intervention to support healthy eating and exercise, (Healthy Outcomes for Teens [HOT] Project), improved skills for healthy meal planning and outcomes expectations for exercise more than the control group, which was a passive website (Castelli et al, 2011). Within this project, additional features were added to this site after focus groups revealed that the students wanted more information, more social interaction, and more scenarios (Muzaffar et al, 2011). However, after the website revision to reflect these issues, it was found that both the passive and active (interactive) websites improved the children’s knowledge, as well as most constructs of the Theory of Planned Behavior (Muzaffar et al, 2014a; Muzaffar et al 2014b). The objective of this paper is to report the subsequent findings after this second HOT Project intervention to discern what, if any, features of the interactive site made impressions on the students in terms of their perceived usefulness of incorporating different interactive features.

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