Authors: Reem Al-Washmi, Peter Blanchfield and Gail Hopkins
The idea that computer games can and should be used to teach each and every subject in a school curriculum has been promoted by many. The foundation for this is the idea that the current learner is a “digital native” and will no longer engage with and be motivated by conventional teaching and learning approaches. The contention of this paper is that these ideas are both flawed. First of all it is believed that while all developed-world children are now born into the age of digital information and ubiquitous computing not all are equal citizens in this age. Also the concept that most children will no longer succeed or flourish in this age when taught in a conventional way has limited value. We do, however, believe that educational computer games as a tool in the hands of good teachers can be useful and produce good learning. We have developed a mathematics game used to promote practice of mathematical skills by 7 to 10 year olds. The game is intrinsically collaborative and was developed with a user-centred approach. Experience with the game shows that it is highly engaging for a wide range of children. An experiment with the game over a period of 5 weeks has shown that if the children engage with the game mechanic and/or with the collaboration in playing the game they can achieve a higher level of skill in solving the mathematics problems. However, the experiment has also shown that for those who do not engage properly with the game mechanic or constructively with the collaboration they can in fact perform worse in a post-test than they did in a pre-test. It is our belief that this indicates that there is more to making successful educational games and using them than just their being good games that correctly encode the learning outcomes in the game play mechanism. While some “digital natives” recognise how to use these games to learn, others will just use them as games.
Keywords: computer games; digital native; collaborative learning; teaching mathematics