CALRG Conf: Challenges for Game-Based Learning

Nicola Whitton – challenges for game-based learning. She keeps a blog at

Background in computing, HCI and gaming interfaces, then interested in educational side.

Some people sometimes learn some things from some games sometimes!

Can motivate or engage people who wouldn’t otherwise be so. Problem-based learning environments have a lot in common with instructivist learning environments.

Good games do a lot of what we know makes for good learning: Swift, timely appropriate feedback. Safe, can try things out. Scaffolding, things build up in difficulty. Offers goals and rewards.

But! Three big challenges.

1. Public perception. 2. We’re only scratching the surface. 3. Barriers are too high in practice.

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CALRG Conf: What do players think?

Jo Iacovides on What do players think about engagement, motivations and informal learning through digital games?

Rationale – Malone et al on games as intrinsically motivating, trying to harness for learning. Gee on how games promote active/critical learning, throuhg participation in affinity groups, semiotic domains – link to CoPs.

But lack of empirical evidence – especially outside MMORPGs. Potential often unrealised – not successful, lack of integration, socio-cultural factors. So need to further our understanding about how engagement, motivation and learning come together in practice. Link breaks down in some contexts.

Audiences are changing – from stereotypical young, male, semi-evil player, to family young/old male/female cooperative play. Games are more socially acceptable and prevalent – but we don’t know much about that.

So RQs around: motivation to play games, what affects engagement, how they describe learning, and the links between motivation, engagement and learning.

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CALRG Conf: Games and virtual worlds

Diane Carr, Martin Oliver and Caroline Pelletier on What are we actually studying?

Diane Carr

starts with a bit of background – they’ve worked in games research for a long time. Recently thinking about research design and how concepts might be developed and theorised, and their ramifications.

Latest work – Eduserv-funded project Learning from online worlds, teaching in Second Life – e.g. WoW. LPP, and so on. Couples who play together. Also teaching courses that are related – clinical ed and simulations, computer games studies, cmc, education and technology, literacy, affect, games.

Digra – Digital Games Research Association – has excellent online archive/library.

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CALRG Conf: xDelia

Gill Clough, Gráinne Conole, Eileen Scanlon on xDelia’s Design and Evaluation framework.

Not going to talk too much about the framework, more about the link to games.

xDelia is a pan-European project, €3.2m, looking at effects of emotional bias on financial decision-making of: traders; investors; individuals. Three year project, using bio-feedback (sensors) and serious games. Active workpackages on Traders and investors (OU – OUBS), Financial capability (Bristol), Games development (Sweden), Sensor development (Germany), Evaluation (OU – IET).

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CALRG Conf: Digital Games, Gender and Learning in Engineering

Richard Joiner, Jo et al – Digital Games, Gender, and Learning in Engineering – do females benefits as much as males?

Work on Racing Academy.

UK context – STEM focus, interest in using video games to support learning of STEM, especially in the US (NSF committees). Reasons: video games part of kids’ lives; can be powerful learning; simulations give authentic, open-ended challenges;  research confirms benefits for situated learning. But some students don’t like or have access to games, concern that this particularly means girls. Early research (1980s) supported that boys more likely to have access, played for longer, preferred them more. But more recent research suggests female game playing is increasing. Lenhart et al (2008) found boys 99% played vs 94% girls. Evidence that females play casual games more than males. However, there are differences in amount of experience and type of playing – Heeter & Winn (2008) found male student logged thousands more hours of play than female student – so concern around video games in STEM education.

So question: are there differences?

Racing Academy – racing simulator. Players design cars to go as fast as they can and race against an AI car. Design process is intended to teach engineering – apply it to make it work better.

Study: Undergraduate engineering course, 143 males 15 females, 18.5-year-old. Pre/post test. Worked in teams of 3 and 4, project lasted 2 weeks. Grand prix at the end with a race-off.

Findings: Gender differences found – males more likely to play games, for longer, and different games. No differences in self-reported use of Racing Academy (no logging, alas); no gender differences in learning outcome; both improved. No gender differences in engineering identification – motivation towards study engineering (no improvement, but a ceiling effect). Only gender difference found: Female students thought Racing Academy was more useful to studies than male.

Conclusion: No evidence that video games detrimental to female students; appear to benefit as much as males; found it more motivating.

Big caveat: this is a group who’ve already chosen to do engineering. Hope to do an Open Day study – with females & males not yet committed to study engineering.

Didn’t find a big link between time spent playing and learning.


Jeff: Has electrical engineering background, engineers are fundamentally weird. Don’t know if this would transfer to other majors. Women engineers at Georgia Tech are very small percentage. Engineering students less social, those who stay work that way. Others who didn’t like the atmosphere have left – and those women (and perhaps some men) are a group who may be missing out.

Richard: Agree. This was a group of self-selecting engineering students. Would be interesting to explore:

Jo: Was done in the first year, as part of the induction exercise, so may have had people who were considering dropping out – might have included some ‘normal’ people.

Richard: Is an interesting question. Games are not universally seen as positive.

Anne: Maths, gaming have been connected. Interesting to bring in the design aspect, more creativity. Thought about comparing results between engineering and more creative design – e.g. fashion. Discipline difference might be stronger than gender?

Richard: Yes, would be interesting. Could do it in developmental psychology, designing children (!). Could use principles in other disciplines. Hard to do direct comparison since the games would be so different. Have done same task on different versions of a game, get very strong gender effects. So would expect strong difference.

Martin: Analogy to Pokemon, wouldn’t expect it to be racist, but racial inequality in terms of outcome. Biological model of gender, categories of difference. There are certain things it’s Ok for women to be seen doing; it’s dangerous to assume that a certain category of people can’t do it. But to choose to do it, and be seen to do it, is a different thing. So this group, where they opted-in, is different. Outside that to keep structural model of gender separate. Could find women capable of playing games but not saying they are, talk, justification might be gendered in a way that performance on the game might not be. Not saying biographies have no impact.

Someone: When ask people how much time they spend on games, it’s a self-description, and that’s gendered, so it’s not pure experience, it’s reports of experience. Sense of time might be highly gendered. If you ask game players what games they play they answer in generic categories. But new-to-games people or girls tend to mention titles. May be exactly the same games but represent the experience differently.

Richard: Literature says boys play more than girls:

Someone: A question of how you find out.

Richard: All show the same finding.

Someone: Self-reports are problematic.

Anne: Could be Ok, need to compare log analysis and self-reports.

Richard: Think log analysis would show the effect. Consistently shown in responses from his students. Not sure he’s asking in a way whereby they’d pretend not to be. Can you trust self-reports? Log record might show something different.

Someone: Solution isn’t logging, it’s interesting to see ..

Richard: Is interesting to explore why it’s Ok for males to say they play games in ways it isn’t for females.

Daisy: Had more male participants, wonder why? Isn’t the sample biased?

Richard: Was undergraduate engineering course composition. There is a gender bias. Arguable whether 15 women was enough. Is unbalanced. Had to work with evaluating a real course, but is a methodological problem.

Patrick: Has a daughter and a son, a balanced sample. Changes interesting – son skilled Xbox murderer, but daughter good at games in on the Wii, Club Penguin/online games that she’s spending time on. The marketing/producer people have realised they’ve been under-serving a market. So situation is changing. May have to do it all again.

Richard: Agree. Games important in learning roles. Girls and boys if playing different games will have impact on development, opportunities different. Is interesting.

Someone: Perceived game-playing experience compared with actual game-playing experience. Can collect data on student spending certain number of hours. Players may spend 8h/day, but don’t think so. Need to clarify. May think 8h/day not long because someone else plays much more. Showing off as a factor.

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CALRG Conf: Do intrinsically integrated games help or hinder learning?

CALRG conference switches over to a Games-Based Learning Symposium.

First up is Shaaron Ainsworth (and Jake Habgood) from University of Nottingham – Exploring the effectiveness of intrinsic integration in serious games.

Looking at Intrinsic Integration (Kafai 2001) – integrating core mechanics and learning – reject significance of role of fantasy, and in favour of core-mechanics (Salen & Zimmerman 2004) – mechanism by which they make meaningful choice and get meaningful results.

Design guidelines – Habgood et al 2005 – built on this notion. Two things – (1) deliver learning material through the stuff that’s the most fun to play and don’t interrupt ‘flow’; (2) embody learning material within the structure of the world and the interactions – it’s an external repreentation of the learning content, explore it through the core mechanics of game play. Integration of a more motivational/cognitive account of effectiveness of games.

Is Intrinsic Integration better or worse? Evidence hard to come by. Argument for: Flow is in service of learning; we know motivation encourages task persistence (and hence learning). Cognitively, interacting with representational structure helps learning. But against: would it stay in the game? Flow may prevent reflection. Low transfer – because low reflection, mismatch between world and real world, salience on irrelevant-to-learning features (zombies!). Simulations (Goldstone) shows knowledge transfer less for concrete experience. Encouraging learners to play with representations can make it harder to see them as representations, rather than objects.

Ran studies with Zombie Division – national curriculum, to understand that multiplication and division are inverse operations. Compared intrinsic, extrinsic and control versions. Also time-on-task studies comparing intrinsic and extrinsic. Interviews, data mining of game logs.

Iterative design process, paper prototypes, trials.

Games are videoed on YouTube.

IYou are a Greek Hero, and a matrix.

In intrinsic version, you have weapons e.g. sword = 3, gauntlet=2, etc. Zombie skeletons have numbers on their chest – if you have the right numbers you can fight them (if your weapon is a divisor of the zombie’s number), if not you need to run away. Larger ones that ‘divide’ in to smaller ones. Choice of three attacks on each level. Intrinsic game – maths and fun integrated.

In extrinsic version, fight skeletons, but just have symbols on chest which match the weapon – pattern-matching only. With end-of-level boss maths quiz. Control version has no end-of-level maths.

First study – n=59 and 7/8 year-olds. Pre-test, game, reflection (teacher led), game, ost-test, game, delayed test (+3weeks). Two challenge levels – 20 items from the test turned in to a game level as a test of transfer.

Learning outcomes – everyone gets better, and intrinsic significantly better than extrinsic and control, especially on delayed post-test. Gender analysis – no effects. Both conditions did better in the game than the test, even when the questions were the same. Importantly for transfer argument, both groups were about the same level.

Data mining – children reached same level regardless of condition, but in the extrinsic condition they were more accurate. Again no gender effect. Also no relation between game performance and what children learned – all progressed.

Second study

In an after-school club (9-11 year olds) – showed them the two games, let them choose. Only one group. Free switching, 2.5h limit (could drop out). Then group interview.

Spent significantly longer on the intrinsic (p<0.001, r=.89) 61% vs 8%. Girls spent longer than boys 84% vs 50%.

Interviews showed very sophisticated understanding of games – ‘it’s like subliminal advertising with maths’. One student preferred the extrinsic ‘because the teacher would like it’!


Modest but significant advantage for learning outcomes for intrinsic with fixed time on task; huge increase in task persistence.

But don’t know why – could be attention, arousal, affect, better strategies.

Was better, but very costly to develop. Extrinsic can be reapplied in many situations. Teacher-led reflection (1h in the middle) was felt to be crucial to success of Zombie Division, and helped control group.


Richard Joiner: Worked individually in after school club?

Shaaron: Yes. Final interview was whole-group, but they did various things.

Jo: Could they play other games? What else, and how did it compare in terms of time?

Shaaron: Yes. Girls spent 84% of time available on intrinsic game. 80-90% of time was spent on Zombie Division – though was an artificial condition. Probably wouldn’t last for, say, a whole year. But did last for three club sessions.

James: In study 2, had choice between two games, but in study 1 they only saw their own game. Did any in study 1 notice maths being smuggled in to the intrinsic?

Shaaron: Didn’t do interviews so don’t know for sure.

Anne: Is this available? Evaluation, linking gaming to exams, thinking to link to iCMAs?

Shaaron: Background is AI/Ed, never separated learning from assessment, too much time on assessment for its own sake, these are assessment, no need to separate. It’s not just the maths they’re learning, lots of other stuff. Did heavy educational data mining, produced learning curves, to factor out to see how speed-up on maths learning interacts with other learning (e.g. motor skills). Not available online, but will give it out if you ask nicely. Hoping to find a platform to move it on.

Jeff: Are there multiple types of extrinsic?

Shaaron: Yes.

Jeff: Intrinsic has math going on visibly, and extrinsic only visible afterwards. Done in simulations too – e.g. velocity/acceleration adjustments not learned as such. Third type – unrelated but solely as motivator

Shaaron: Don’t like binaries, more a continuum between the two, most things somewhere in between. Intrinsic games/simulations – e.g. football management – not that intrinsic, learning before rather than in – but many more than that. Don’t need to be told you’re learning maths to learn maths.

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No further permission needed to reuse or remix (with attribution), but it’s nice to be notified if you do use it.

CALRG Conf: Learning in Public

More liveblogging from CALRG Conference – Tony Hirst on ‘Learning in Public – from Uncourse to Short Course’.

Short course – T151 – started life in an unusual way. Originally mooted 3 years ago. Several false starts, not clear whether it’d be a real course, but started to write it anyway, in a blog environment.

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