Gaming to Learn – from Civilization to Call of Duty
John Timmer of Ars Technica writes;
“Is there a place for games at higher levels of education? Schwartz would definitely argue yes, but he suggested that the role of the games would be different. Rather than developing basic skills, the games help give people an intuitive grasp of a subject, after which explanations for their intuitions can be supplied in the classroom.
This was done explicitly in one case, with the researchers building a Space Invaders-style game where each successive wave had a different pattern of invaders. The frequency of different patterns, rather than being random, was governed by statistical distributions. On its own, the game didn’t help players do any better on testing, since the tests were couched in terms like “normal distributions” and the like. To have an impact, the game had to be coupled with a written description of the statistical patterns. “A short written description helps everyone,” Schwartz said, “but gamers get much more out of it.”
The big surprise is that this effect spills over to commercial games that aren’t designed for educational purposes at all. Schwartz’s team had junior college students play about 15 hours of two different games: Civilization IV and Call of Duty 2. Afterwards, they were given short descriptions of real events from World War II that either focused on international relations or on tactical situations. The students were asked to formulate a series of questions they’d ask to better understand the circumstances.
When it came to international relations, the Civ-playing students were able to formulate more sophisticated and probing questions. But, when handed a tactical situation to analyze, Schwartz suggested they were completely lost, and often failed to come up with any questions at all. For the Call of Duty players, the converse was true.”
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