Software for Learning | Games and Simulations | Introduction |

About the Games and Simulations Evaluations

In these days of Information Highways, CD-ROM, multimedia, Nintendo-Sega-3DO, it is difficult to recapture the excitement when Atari introduced two movable paddles and the floating ball that made up the video game "Pong." Nevertheless, a key factor in the commercial success of computer games are their engaging degree of user interaction and how an individual is drawn into the constructed environment.

Many early educational computer applications offered little more than electronic page flipping or"click and read." It has not significantly changed with the emergence of multimedia, where applications become "click and see." However, a new breed of games has appeared, a melding of the interactive entertainment of games and education, called "edutainment." The Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction (MCLI) is exploring the use of such games and simulations for teaching and learning in the community college environment. For instructors, these packages can provide time-saving individual practice or simulate complex representations of real-world systems. The question we are asking here is "What is the value and place of computer games and simulations in the learning process?"

The programs we have selected are loosely grouped into two categories. The first group are simulations, in which as a user you set and monitor variables in a model of a real system that reacts back in a continuous feedback loop. Many of these programs come with well-developed instructor guides. The second category are more or less exploration/adventure games, where you may receive little guidance as you enter its world, and must rely on your curiosity and risk to solve a mystery or unravel a tale.

About Simulations

What is the way to learn how a natural system, such as a planetary atmospere, works? There are so many interconnected component processes that likely cannot be reproduced in a laboratory. Computer simulations are models of such real-world systems that permit us to easily explore the complex interactions within that system and ultimately extract some meaningful conclusions.

For educators, these computer simulations are not "games" that focus on winning or losing. Instead, they encourage exploring, experimenting, and taking risks. Students can develop and test ideas, and they can discover what happens when principles are applied to a situation. However, remember that the simulations are a simplified, artificial representation and students should be encouraged to identify the differences between the simulation and the real world.

About Exploration Games

A new wave of games, lead by the immense popularity of Myst, provide through multimedia a constructed, imaginary world. In these "virtual" environments, you typically must learn to navigate through space and time. The games are highly non-linear and typically provide a minimal and non-intrusive interface.

The exploration games in this evaluation are by design, short on up-front guided steps. Rather, the discovery is left to the user. The environment is best suited for people that do not required a great deal of structured instruction. You may find it more challenging to find ways in which these games can be integrated into a curriculum, but the experiences are more in tune with the world of today's learners.

About the Evaluations

The programs selected were chosen based upon the availability of instructors guides or their uniques potential for creating virtual environments. For each package, we created an evaluators packet which included:
  1. Overview of Game software
  2. Brief description of the particular program
  3. Three Evaluation Phases

    1. Learning the Game-- Evaluators were asked to take the mindset of a potential student who migh be using the software as part of a class assignment. In this phase, the evaluators were given a step by step introduction or instructed to follow a provided tutorial. The purpose was to focus on the functionality of the program.

    2. Exploring of the Game-- In the second phase, evaluators reviewed instructors guides or lessons (if provided) and were asked to complete a lesson. If such materials were not available, the evaluators were asked to "freely" explore the program, this time from the perspective of an instructor.

    3. Evaluating the Game-- Finally, the evaluators recorded their results on a form including scaled response questions as well as written comments, including how they thought the particular package could be used in the area that they teach.

All full-time and part-time faculty at the Maricopa Community Colleges were eligible to participate in the evaluations and were compensated for their time.