The use of videogames as an educational tool in the higher education classroom is becoming increasingly common. Research has demonstrated that the use of educational videogames (serious games) can lead to meaningful learning outcomes. However, very little work has been done on the use of entertainment-based videogames in college-level courses. That is why we have conducted a research study in our courses and developed materials to encourage and help other teachers to implement the use of video games in their courses.
We have explored and reported on the use of video games in our classrooms since 2012. In 2017 we expanded our experimentation to include more disciplines. Although the results were convincing, they were based on our informal observations. After obtaining a research grant through the Pedagogical Research and Experimentation Program (PREP), in Fall 2020 and Winter 2021, we set up a rigorous scientific experiment in our respective courses, with 2 objectives:
- to determine whether meaningful learning occurs when using entertainment-based videogames in college level courses
- to document our process of implementing videogames in a college classroom
More specifically, for the 1st objective, we wanted to determine whether meaningful learning occurs:
- in the form of empathy, when using an entertainment-based videogame titled Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa) in the Interactions and Cultural Communities (351-CC1-AS) course taught by Pascale in the Special Care Counselling program.
- in the form of critical thinking, when using an entertainment-based videogame titled Portal in the Knowledge (345-101-MQ) course taught by Johnathan in Humanities.
We chose to focus on entertainment-based videogames because of how ubiquitous they are compared to serious games. By undertaking this project in both a Humanities (theoretical) course and a Special Care Counselling (technical) course, we wanted to give our project a multidisciplinary dimension and highlight the potential for transferability to other disciplines.
The research study
We conducted a research experiment including qualitative and quantitative data. Because of the pandemic, this was done online. In both courses, students were randomly divided into a pretest group (control group) and posttest group (experimental group). Students in the control groups engaged with regular course content, while those in the experimental group were asked to purchase the videogame selected for their course. As they played the videogame, they also had to answer observational questions related to the game’s content. These discussion questions were informal in nature and not graded. Examples include:
- “At the beginning of the game pay close attention to the voice that speaks to you. Even if it is very robotic, you can still attribute a gender to it. Is it male or female? Is this significant?” (Portal, Johnathan’s class)
- “Describe a scene or situation in the videogame that best illustrates the concept of interdependence. Explain your answer.” (Never Alone, Pascale’s course)
Before and after the intervention, participants completed a set of questionnaires, including Likert-style items and open-ended questions. Table 1 summarizes the research objective for each of our respective courses, the video games played, the number of participants and the questionnaires we used as measuring instruments. We invite readers interested in our methodology to consult the complete research report.
|Course/program||Interactions and Cultural Communities (351-CC1-AS) (Special Care Counselling program)||Knowledge (345-101-MQ) (Humanities – General education)|
|Objective||Determine whether meaningful learning occurs when using entertainment-based videogames in the Interactions and Cultural Communities (351-CC1-AS) course in the Special Care Counselling program.||Determine whether meaningful learning occurs when using entertainment-based videogames in the Knowledge (345-101-MQ) course in Humanities.|
|Videogame played||Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa) (Upper One Games, 2015)||Portal (Valve, 2007)|
|No. of groups and participants||2 (36)||3 (35)|
|No. of pretest/posttest participants||20 pretest
|Pretest instruments||a) Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) questionnaire (Davis, 1980)
b) Lived Experience questionnaire
|a) Discussion questions|
|Posttest instruments||a) Psychometric questionnaire (Hamari et al, 2016)
b) Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) questionnaire (Davis, 1980)
c) Lived Experience questionnaire
|a) Psychometric questionnaire (Hamari et al, 2016)
b) Discussion questions
The quantitative and qualitative analyses of our data show clear trends that span both courses.
- There is a strong correlation between learning and engagement, and between engagement and immersion. Students from both courses felt that the respective videogame they played required skill, gave them a sense of immersion and engagement, and helped them learn something.
- We observed a statistically significant increase in empathy levels in Pascale’s course, and increased critical thinking in Johnathan’s course, which aligns with the learning objective in each course.
- Our results suggest that both entertainment-based videogames offered similar levels of engagement, immersion, challenge, skill and learning to those found in educational videogames. This implies that the use of videogames in classroom settings is highly adaptable to any course from any discipline if the teacher selects the appropriate videogame, chooses a specific learning objective, and guides the experience to achieve that objective.
In sum, we found scientific evidence that suggests that entertainment-based videogames have the potential to lead to meaningful learning experiences in a college classroom setting.
A guide for teachers
It would be interesting to experiment with a wider range of videogame genres in a variety of technical and pre-university programs to examine whether they are well-suited for a college classroom setting.
Moreover, we also have some recommendations for teachers wishing to experiment with videogames in their courses:
- Focus on one specific learning objective
- Use online resources when searching for a video game that meets your learning objective:
- Play the video game yourself and have your own experience
- Evaluate the 5 dimensions on which the video game you choose can influence players, with the help of a 13-item questionnaire that we have designed.
- the amount of play: gameplay should be kept short
- the content of play: avoid games containing violence and ensure the themes closely align with your learning objectives
- the game context: how will the students engage with the game (individually, collaboratively, …)
- the structure of the game: (2D or 3D, and the associated level of difficulty)
- the mechanics of game play (how do students interact with the game: using a controller, keyboard and mouse, …?)
- Develop observation questions and have students complete them while playing the video game. Our results show that the role of the teacher is critical when implementing videogames in the classroom; entertainment-based videogames by themselves are not automatically effective tools for learning.