Guest Post: Digital Game Based Learning

This is a guest post submitted by Silvianne Buttigieg a PGCE Computing (2012/13) student  at the University of Malta

Digital Game Based Learning helps learners interact and differentiate much more than with previous media. It helps students to view and solve problems through higher thinking skills and learn in the process by providing a truly authentic and attractive experience. Video games, besides being entertaining, are well structured tools, which increase engagement in learners and develop higher-order problem-solving and social skills through genuine learning experiences. Rather than read and listen, in these games students actively see and do, which makes them more involved in what they are doing.

Video (and educational) games present challenges to learners at a level at the outer edge of their ability (Gee, 2005). Well designed games are tailored to keep leading to harder challenges and continue this trend until the learner has mastered the skills needed, which fits perfectly with Vygotsky’s theory of the zone of proximal development (ZPD). Eight out of eleven studies showed that memory retention is better when using DGBL. Optimally, the players will be “pleasantly frustrated,” but not so frustrated that they give up and stop trying (Gee, 2005). Failing in a game leads to increased motivation to try a different strategy, which enhances problem solving abilities and stimulate more creativity. Moreover, by giving learners an environment in which it is acceptable to fail, DGBL games take away much of the anxiety that accompanies traditional teaching methods. Game-based learning can increase learning abilities and enhance system thinking (Shin 2012). It has also been discovered that students who practiced arithmetic problems using games did better than those who did not. Various scientific researchers have also found:

  • Gamers of all ages perform better than non-gamers on tests of attention, speed, accuracy, and multi-tasking.  (Trudeau, 2010)
  • Children who spend more time playing videogames score higher on tests of creativity. (Jackson, 2011)
  • Massively-multiplayer online role-playing games improve cognitive function among elderly players, and can help stave off age-related dementia. (Reports, 2012)
  • Playing videogames gives us the ability to control our dreams and stop our own nightmares – and therefore are being used to treat post-traumatic stress. (Hsu, 2010)

(McGonigal, 2012) I think the elements in this framework are highly present in DGBL:

  • Positive emotions
  • Engagement with challenging work and activities that require us to use our personal strengths
  • Relationships or strong social connections with friends, family, peers
  • Meaning or a sense of being a part of something bigger than ourselves or being of service to a larger group or cause
  • Accomplishment or the chance to learn, get better and achieve

Humans feel motivated and empowered when they control powerful tools (Gee, 2005). In my three week teaching practice I realised that most students regarded programming as ‘difficult’, ‘boring’ and ‘useless’, which confirms my opinion that the current approaches to introduce programming to youths are too difficult and uninteresting. By introducing  the simpler  Scratch  system of animations, games, stories etc., children’s creativity is pleasantly enhanced. Indeed as children program and share Scratch projects, they begin to develop as computationaI thinkers. Resnick, the developer himself, describes the process of learning using Scratch as a spiral …… where barriers are reduced. Indeed…. Scratch succeeds very well in fostering creativity and in social sharing of the multi-media products (Maloney. 2008). I believe we should aim to promote and introduce Scratch as part of our curriculum.


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