Can video games stimulate academic learning?

Cognitive Daily » Can video games stimulate academic learning?
This reports on an experiment with children in Chile, using Handheld video games (Grades 1/2) for 30 minutes before lessons. Working with children in “distressed” schools in Chile (I’m interpreting that to mean poor areas, so unlikely to have much experience of video games at home), they created games that:

Rosas et al. realized that in order for students to be motivated to play the games, the “goal” of the game can’t be something like “learn to read one-syllable words.” Instead, they designed games with goals like “saving the fairies imprisoned in the temples of the city.” From the child’s perspective, it just happened that in order to save the fairies, one of things you had to learn was how to read one-syllable words, such as “sol” for “sun.”

There were 3 groups, 2 sets of children in several schools – in which some did have the games, others didn’t (though clearly knew that their friends did), and a control set, without the games, not knowing that they existed. The 3rd set of children, while being taught the same curriculum, didn’t know that they were being studied, where the first two did.

The researchers found that the video game group performed substantially better than the external group of students in all areas tested. However, the group of students that was aware of the video game program but not allowed to participate performed equally well.

Rosas et al. suspect this result is due to the Hawthorne Effect, first observed in industrial research at General Electric’s Hawthorne plant in Chicago in the 1920’s. Workers tended to be more productive simply because they were being observed, which made it difficult for researchers to identify management techniques that would actually enhance productivity. Since the students were aware of the study being conducted in their school, all of them improved, even though not everyone got to use the video games.

However, between those children that used the games, and those that didn’t, but knew, they noted:

The children who played video games were more motivated, more likely to pay attention in class, and substantially less likely to be disruptive. Teachers, even those who were initially skeptical of the program, recognized significant improvements in the classroom, and asked to be able to continue using the games in all their classrooms.

The link at the top is to the review of the research- which is where the quotes are from. The full paper is “Beyond Nintendo: design and assessment of educational video games for first and second grade students” in Computers & Education Volume 40, Issue 1 , January 2003, Pages 71-94.

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