Academic Lessons from Video Game Learning


The chapters presented in this volume are largely based on presentations and ideas exchanged during a National Science Foundation-sponsored conference (awarded to the first author), Academic Lessons from Video Game Learning: Screen2Screen, convened in October 2010 at the Lincoln Center-New York City campus of Fordham University. During this three-and-a-half day meeting, twenty researchers and practitioners in developmental and cognitive psychology, cognitive science, communications, media, educational technology, and game design (see appendix to this chapter for a list) came together to share their work and to discuss whether and how the learning experienced via video game play transferred to or positively affected the knowledge and skills obtained within formal educational settings (see chapter 9 for a general model of learning in the context of video games). In its most general sense, transfer of learning (as discussed in greater detail in chapters 2 and 13) occurs when learning in one context affects one’s learning or ability to carry out a task in another context. As noted in our conference discussions, evidence supporting transfer of learning in formal and informal learning contexts remain mixed (see chapters 3, 14, and 21 for some of the different perspectives). For example, Masson, Bub, and Lalonde (2011) found that middle school students’ playing of a game emphasizing the trajectories of objects in motion improved their understanding of the shape of the trajectories but not their conceptual understanding of object motion. Similarly, Sims and Mayer (2002) had earlier demonstrated that college students’ experience playing Tetris improved their performance on later tests of mental rotation ability but only when Tetris-like shapes were used.

Despite mixed evidence of transfer, interest in the promise of recreational video game play for reinvigorating classroom learning continues. For example, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education initiatives, based in the Oval Office, federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation, and private foundations such as the MacArthur Foundation have fueled an expanding library of educational games (see White House, 2010; MacArthur Foundation, 2012). These games have not been uniformly well-received by the child and adolescent populations that they are designed to serve (Kato, 2012; Papastergiou, 2009; Van Eck, 2006). Reasons for this less than enthusiastic reception (as considered in chapters 10 and 11) may reflect the vastly differing budgets allotted to educational versus recreational games, which have ramifications for the look and feel of the games (although the success of Angry Birds despite its relatively low development budget of $140,000 presents a counterexample; see Crossley, 2011). Users of these games also may perceive the presentation of content or skills to be learned as disconnected from or not well integrated into the goals of the games (Sherry, 2013a). Further, players may perceive educational games as too cognitively demanding or as insufficiently challenging (see Blumberg & Ismailer, 2009). These circumstances clearly affect conclusions about the efficacy of educational games for promoting content learning and skill acquisition in the classroom setting.

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