Exploring Educational Video Game Design: Meaning Potentials and Implications for Learning

Exploring Educational Video Game Design: Meaning Potentials and Implications for Learning

Anna Åkerfeldt (Stockholm University, Sweden) and Staffan Selander (Stockholm University, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-495-0.ch046
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The aim of this chapter is to explore two educational video games as a repository for action and meaning-making. Rixdax and El Patron feature two different game genres and designs. Through a comparative analysis, it will be shown how these two games actually address very different learning goals and also seem to miss a crucial aspect of learning: reflective action. This chapter will investigate how the layout on the screen is composed and how knowledge is represented. To do so, six structuring factors introduced by Prensky (2001), some of the organizing principles of learning design developed by Selander (Selander, 2008a-b; 2009, Selander & Åkerfeldt, 2008) and the multimodal framework developed by Kress and van Leeuween (Kress & van Leeuween, 2006; Kress, 2010; van Leeuween, 2005) are used. The chapter analyses the individual elements as semiotic resources in the educational video game and show how these elements are represented, especially from the points of view of information value, salience and framing, but also how the information is sequenced, the tempo of the games and how they accommodate meta-reflection by the users.
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This chapter addresses two separate and wide research fields, learning in educational settings and video game design. To combine these two fields, we will focus on educational video games and view them as semiotic resources for learning, similar to textbooks as semiotic resources for learning in an educational setting. However, there are some unique aspects that belong to educational video games but do not belong to textbooks, such as the interaction that is possible in an educational video game and the fact that, depending on the user’s action, the game can unfold differently. Although educational video games are a rather new phenomenon in schools, the use of games in school is far from new. Moreno-Ger et al. (2009) state that games have been used in educational settings as long as they have existed. The question is not if students learn from games but what student can learn from using games. Most discussions concerning games and learning seem to be conducted on a rather general level. (Linderoth, 2008).

Video games as a learning resource in school present a challenge for the 21st century, not least since they encourage learners to do things differently compared to earlier (Sørensen, 2008). There seems to be a fear among teachers that video games take too much time from “real” teaching and learning. Video games are seen as activity that the students can play individually, without guidance from the teacher. School textbooks, on the other hand, have been designed as learning resources for schools, for a particular social practice suitable for both teaching and learning. Students acquire new knowledge defined by the curriculum but they also learn what is seen as necessary knowledge in the school context and how they should deal with questions in different knowledge domains. By using certain kinds of texts, teachers can also control what and how students learn in school (Selander, 2003). This, however, is no longer the case in many schools today. Digital media in general (like computers, mobile devices etc.) make it possible not only to store vast amounts of information but also to communicate and produce new information, which makes it more difficult for teachers to control both what resources the students use and communicative events in the classroom. For example the students occasionally use MSN, Facebook or similar to communicate with other peers which change the communication patterns and events in the classroom. If students can make a quick search on Google on their own computers, to find additional information, the lesson might unfold quite differently from what was planned by the teacher. In digital media such as smart-boards may still put the teacher in the centre (Jewitt, 2008).

Educational video games are yet another way to learn and to solve problems. To gain more knowledge about educational video games as resources for learning, we will focus on the game design of two educational games and their meaning potential and implications for learning: (1) Global Conflict, http://rixdax.riksdagen.se.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Didactic Design: A broad perspective: (1) How different environments, resources and media are designed for learning. (2) How students design their own learning process and create their own representation of their understanding. (3) The scientific approach to resources for learning and learning as a transformation process and sign-making activity.

Design: Design as a concept involves changed attitudes towards information and knowledge. It is a necessity for gaining information and knowledge, both for teachers in terms of designing environments and processes of learning and for the individual student in terms of designing his or her learning path.

Design Theory: A focus on studying the conditions and potentials for different settings, and the resources used in these settings and what content is put in the foreground.

Multimodal, Multimodality: Cultural resources for representation with the emphasis on communication are always made available in an ensemble of modes (speech, sound, gestures and so on).

Serious Games: The intention of such games is that they be used for more than entertainment. They are often used in education and semiformal educational settings.

Designs for learning: This concept emphasizes the double aspect of learning: on the one hand, resources and system created for education, on the other hand, the learner’s meaning-making as sign production.

Educational Game Design: The process of making educational content and rules for the game and of handling this tension in a sensible way.

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