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
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.
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
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
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
- Overview of Game software
- Brief description of the particular program
- Three Evaluation Phases
- 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.
- 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.
- 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