September 29, 2017

Serious Games in College Education and Research – What’s Out There?

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

Translated from French by a member of the Profweb team.

In the fall of 2016, I attended the CIRTA Colloquium (Communauté pour l’innovation et la recherche sur les technologies dans l’enseignement/apprentissage) at Université Laval. One of the streams was devoted to digital game-based learning, in collaboration with the Serious Games Society. Here, I propose to address this topic in terms of possible benefits for the learner, while retracing a set of games available to colleagues across the college network.

Why Turn to Games?

Games have been around for millennia. Children learn through play from very early on in their lives. Afterwards, board games teach us to plan strategies, interact and negotiate to win.

Game-based learning is a pedagogical strategy that is increasingly used in education. Gamification allows learners to associate different stimuli with learning, which increases intrinsic motivation and promotes long-term memorization. Game mechanics encourage potential interactions with the player-learner in order to create a fun experience – fun being an integral part of the game.

In a pedagogical context, video games have opened another door by adding real-time feedback based on participant choices. This scripting of learning in a game sometimes isn’t taken seriously. Let’s not forget, however, that the game is only a means, not an end in itself. It goes hand in hand with the pedagogical strategy. This implies, first of all, planning a pedagogical scenario that culminates in a plenary session with the player-learners.

Certain researchers try to define fun:• How to write a game that promotes learning while providing fun?• How to develop a game that entertains, encourages repetition of exercises and creates links between concepts and emotions, while also fostering in-depth learning?

According to Puentedura’s SAMR model, serious games are at the highest level, redefinition (R):

The SAMR model (adapted from Sébastien Wart schematic

Redefinition concerns uses where the teacher rethinks their course and creates new tasks that were not possible before. Have you tried imagining your course turned into a serious game?

Towards a Typology of Serious Games

According to Margarida Romero, professor of Educational Technology at the Faculty of Education at Université Laval, there are 5 ways to integrate games in education:

  1. Through the use of serious games
  2. Through the creation of serious games in class
  3. Through educational gamification
  4. Through the creation of digital games as a learning activity
  5. Through the use of commercial educational games

Let’s consider the first category proposed by Romero: the use of serious games. Several researchers carry out studies on 3 usage types:

  • Serious diverting games
  • Serious modeling games
  • Serious games

The idea of attempting to define a typology of games diverted for utilitarian purposes is part of an objective to construct evaluative models on how to design, distribute and use serious games in different ecosystems, as in the fields of education and health.

The following table presents some game categories with examples:

Serious diverting games
Description Examples
A game is diverted to fulfill an educational function. Sing star to teach English pronunciation.
Angry Birds to teach physics notions. For example, with the right of a single shot, users must calculate the velocity vector with the horizontal and vertical components. Then, they perform an attempt and receives an interactive result of success or failure.
WOW: World of Warcraft in school. Questions and reflections on its appropriation in a teaching context.
ICO in cognitive psychology on Playstation 2 and 3; interesting because of its therapeutical benefits.
Raspberry Pi III : programming in Scratch et Python to create games (as a learning object)
Serious modeling games
Description Examples
Existing games are diverted to fulfill a utilitarian function (for example, to allow students to develop concrete skills). Monopoly: negotiation, communication, crisis management
Namco Bandai (Pacman): arcade therapy delays cognitive degeneration in the elderly.
Minecraft Education Edition: educational version of Minecraft specially designed for classroom use; it promotes communication and collaboration.
Serious games
Description Examples (CCDMD)
Game elements are infused with a “serious” intention (for instance, pedagogical objectives). Serious games:

  • Electoral Campaign II : invites students to play the role of a political party leader, allowing them to learn the rules of the electoral process.
  • Chasseur-cueilleurs: simulates the lifestyle of a population that relies on hunting, fishing and gathering for food (in French).
  • SECRA 4 : simulates communication in the context of aid relationships. It addresses users in a variety of disciplines: psychology, nursing, child welfare and police technology.
  • SalesRep III : Players familiarize themselves with sales activities and other day-to-day tasks of a sales representative.

  • CRTP II : simulates a policing information center.
  • Kepler : simulates the solar system and constellations.
  • PHET : simulates physics and mathematical phenomena.
Case studies:

Guided or interactive questionnaires:

Screenshot of the serious game Electoral Campaign II developed by Collège Ahuntsic with support from CCDMD.

Game Research Methodology

To evaluate the impact of games on learning, the most frequently used and simplest methodology is to:

  • Administer a pre-game test to participants
  • Allow participants to play the game extensively and repeatedly
  • Administer a post-test (often identical to the pre-test)
  • Analyze data and assess the level of learning achieved

Current research tends to show that the results obtained during post-tests are often better than those obtained during pre-tests, or equivalent. This demonstrates that games favour learning or, at least, do not have the opposite effect.

Another data-gathering method, which operates during the game, includes:

  • Information collection while the learner is playing, through the use of sensors and a camera that tracks eye movement.
  • Data analysis and modification of the game parameters in order to adapt it based on the reactions of the player-learner.

Are you interested in using gamification or serious games in college teaching? Refer to Alexandre Dal-Pan’s factsheet to find related stories and articles published on the Profweb website.

Have you integrated games into your teaching strategies? Don’t hesitate to share your experience in the Comments section.

About the author

Chantal Desrosiers

She holds a Master’s degree in Education from the Université de Sherbrooke, a Bachelor’s degree in Physics, a certificate in Computer Science and a certificate in Pedagogy from UQTR. She has participated in the CLAAC research project (for Classes d’apprentissage actif – Active Learning Classrooms), several RCCFC projects and the Cégeps en réseau project. She is a technopedagogical counsellor (Cégep de Trois-Rivières) and also teaches technopedagogy (PERFORMA). In partnership with Bernard Gagnon (Cégep de Saint-Félicien), she developed a technopedagogical website for college teachers: TacTIC pédagogiques. It offers training on cloud-based applications, Moodle and active learning. Join on Google+ or Skype (chantal.desrosiers).

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