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New study shows computer games improve student learning

10 August 2011

New study by Waiariki Institute of Technology shows computer games improve student learning

The next time your 8-year-old takes control of the Xbox 360, consider the fact that he or she may be a budding computer designer creating the next World of Warcraft or Sims video game. Laugh not. Gamers are banking salaries ranging from $50 to 200K.

Pay cheques aside, fostering such creativity and focus might not be such a bad thing, according to results from a recent study by researchers at Waiariki Institute of Technology and Auckland University of Technology (AUT). Their recently published study found that student engagement was significantly enhanced through making and playing computer games.

“From the data collected ... it is apparent that in this situation the use of computer games was effective for engaging the students in learning,” says the report Enhancing Introductory Programming with Kodu Game Lab: An Exploratory Study.

In the study, Rotorua Intermediate School students aged 10 to 13 were introduced to and used Kodu, free game development software from Microsoft. They used it for a full term and the lessons were integrated into their normal class routine.

While playing computer games may be second nature to most adolescents – they are, after all, called ‘digital natives’ – the designing and building of games has generally been left to professional designers and their code-writing prowess. Well, ‘digital immigrants,’ step aside; Kodu requires no code-writing skills.

Kodu itself, aimed at the younger generation, resembles a video game. The point-and-click interface replaces the thousand-lines-of-text coding tools used by grown-ups. The language is easy to grasp and entirely icon-based. Users can create quite sophisticated programs, from 2D side-scrolling games to 3D adventure/storytelling games.

While the students undertook their coursework, their teachers monitored a range of student responses including engagement, sustained involvement in learning activities, collaboration and peer teaching, and a positive emotional tone. Each student was also asked to complete a questionnaire.

“The teachers involved in the research were impressed with the levels of student focus and engagement while using the software,” the report says.

The school’s principal Garry de Thierry said, “Rotorua Intermediate is dedicated to providing our students with leading teaching techniques and was excited to be part of this study. The staff and the students involved in this study found it valuable and learnt a lot from the lessons provided.”

This study was part of an international project which included New Zealand cities Rotorua and Nelson, New York, and Kent, England.

Details of the study can be found at http://citrenz2011.citrenz.ac.nz/conferences/2011/pdf/69-79.pdf.

ENDS

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