Digital Game-Based Learning and Computational Thinking in P-12 Education: A Systematic Literature Review on Playing Games for Learning Programming

Digital Game-Based Learning and Computational Thinking in P-12 Education: A Systematic Literature Review on Playing Games for Learning Programming

Anastasios Theodoropoulos (University of Peloponnese, Greece) and Georgios Lepouras (University of Peloponnese, Greece)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4576-8.ch007


The objective of this chapter is to explore the evolution and opportunities of the emerging field of digital games for programming learning, the challenges and tensions that they present, and how educators may be able to collectively advance this work to benefit student learning. This work summarizes previous empirical evidence concerning the positive impacts and outcomes of digital games in computing education, or even impacts that do not let games to spread. Hence, a systematic literature review is carried out in this context to provide a comprehensive overview of works carried out towards incorporating digital games in order to acquire CT skills or learn basic programming concepts within P12 education. The chapter discusses on the range of indicators and measures used in the 44 selected studies, together with methodological limitations and recommendations for further work in this area.
Chapter Preview


Because of the explosive growth of Computational Thinking (CT), many educational programs are formulated around essential CT skills. Though, several curriculum designers that aim to implement CT education into the school settings use programming tools and environments to expose students to coding. However, problem-solving skills are not something that can be developed by every student over a short period of time or over the same conditions. It requires students to experience and reflect on the consequences of their actions. This takes time, practice and effort that sometimes school’s time and place do not permit. At the same time, learners continue to face difficulties in CT education, even though they use fluently computers and one could indicate that studying programming would be easier today (Buitrago Flórez et al., 2017). Extended research conducted over the past years show that these difficulties are still present and that students seem to be even less interested in programming (Grover & Basu, 2017). To this end, come the digital or else called computer games. Games that can reinvent CS in schools by motivating and educating all students, including girls and underrepresented populations, to acquire CT skills.

Positively, there are plenty of works that deploy digital immersive technologies such as computer games to improve CT skills in several educational contexts. The most frequently occurring outcomes and impacts seem to be knowledge acquisition/content understanding and affective and motivational outcomes (Basawapatna et al., 2010; Combefis et al., 2016). Moreover, playing digital games to learn programming is linked to a range of perceptual, cognitive, behavioral, affective and motivational impacts and outcomes (Theodoropoulos et al., 2017). The topic seems to be increasingly interesting because of its effectiveness, and therefore there are studies that summarize previously published works within computing education. In a recent review study, Lindberg et al. (2019) present games that consume numerous programming topics in their gameplay, by searching common game stores. Authors preformed an investigation into K-12 programming curriculum standards from seven countries and suggested which age groups match the games found. Vahldick et al. (2014) evaluated 40 games which claim to support the development of competencies in introductory computer programming courses (many were used in higher education) and found that most of them aim to develop students’ skills, through solving problems. In another study, Lockwood and Mooney (2017), conducted a literature review with common programming tools used in secondary education. The authors listed programming tools (programming languages environments such as Python and game-development tools such as Scratch) as the main tools used to teach CT. They do not, however, identify papers where students play games to develop CT within schools. Moreover, the CT education domain is still in its infancy and requires research for developing theories of the learning mechanisms occurring in computer games (Kazimoglu, Kiernan, Bacon, & MacKinnon, 2012).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Computer Game: A computer activity where user interacts with a machine in a playful way.

Computational Thinking Education: The role of computational ideas as essential part of the problem-solving process and the 21 st century learning.

Game-Based Learning: A method to teach and learn with the use of gaming activities.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: