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Most students think that mathematics is a difficult, complicated and confusing subject because it involves formulae and calculations. Others see mathematic as a boring subject which sometimes is unrelated to their real-life situations. On the other hand, conventional learning instrument for learning mathematics such as text book, revision book, and courseware are not very effective in ensuring a mastery of the subject. Therefore, there is a need to find a solution to help students understand mathematics better and make it interesting and fun to learn. According to Gee 2003 (cited by Scanlon M 2005, pp. 127) people learn best when they have a strong and immediate motivation to acquire new knowledge, and when they are having fun.
Computer games and motivation
Research has shown that games have been explored as a pedagogical approach to enhance mathematical learning. The use of computer game themes in the teaching of maths appears to give this subject a narrative element that it normally lacks. Because many students enjoy playing games, it has often been asked whether this play aspect could be combined with instruction to enhance learning. Unlike in a classroom setting where interactions consists mainly auditory, computer games allows for multiple representations simultaneously. Mayer et al (1999) noted that multimedia instruction results in better learning than instruction delivered solely in a single medium because information delivered in multiple ways increase available working memory. Roschelle et al (2000) mentioned that learning proceeds most rapidly when learners have frequent opportunities to apply the ideas they are learning and when feedback on the success and failure of an idea comes almost immediately.
Furthermore, structured levels with increasing difficulty and the different-tired challenges shift the equilibrium causing the player to rethink their old mastery, learn something new, and integrate the new mastery with the old one, thus giving the player a sense of control and power (Gee 2005). The learning task becomes so meaningful and interesting that player is fully engaged for intrinsic reasons.
Given these benefits, an increasing number of educators are using instructional games in formal school settings and exploring feasibility of using a game format to supplement conventional teaching and discussed how games can be integrated into school settings (Kirriemuir & McFarlane, 2006).
Computer games provide a good environment for learning. Players learn to play the game without being taught didactically as the learning process takes place naturally in the virtual world. It is important to study the theory underpinning computer games: how players learn and respond in the game environment. The theories of behavioural learning theory, cognitive learning theory and motivation theory are elucidated in the context of computer game (Siang & Rao 2003).
Behavioural learning theory
The explanation of learning that emphasizes on observable changes in behaviour is called behavioural learning theory. It is a process of associating a previously neutral stimulus with an unconditioned stimulus to evoke a conditioned response after learning, while the conditioned response is in fact the learned response. Most games involve this kind of trial and error learning, in which reinforcers are used tactfully to evoke specific behaviour. For example, players receive a certain reward after completing a task. The reward serves as a reinforcer that strengthens the behaviour and motivates to move to the next level. Small steps combined with feedback help learners to reach goals while randomness in games plays a significant role and can be very effective in maintaining the behaviour of the player.
Cognitive learning theory
Cognitive learning theory is an explanation of learning that focuses on mental process. Learning is a more complex process that utilises problem-solving and insightful thinking in addition to repetition of a stimulus response chain. Most of the game that needs internal mental processing to play involves cognitive learning.
It is maintained that most initial learning in computer games is behavioural learning. Players learn by trial and error, as well as stimulus associations. When the basic rules of game are understood, players start to think cognitively how they should respond in a new situation; actively update existing knowledge to fit what is newly confronted in the game environment. Logic, memory, visualization and problem solving are important game elements required during learning process in adventure games, strategy games and all forms of puzzle games.
This cognitive learning theory serves as an impetus in constructivism theory in which players think critically to solve an authentic problem. Based on this theory, the learning contents should be presented in such a way that understanding of previous information aids the learning of new information or vice versa. The skills needed in a game should be introduced in a well planed sequence to optimize facilitation and with practice the facts or skills to be learned are repeated at intervals over a period of time to enhance retention.
Dewey (1938) as the founder of experiential learning theory emphasized the importance of motivation in any learning process (cited by Bixler, 2006). Motivation is considered as a factor that starts the learning cycle and moves the learners to the different stages in the learning cycle. Learners who are motivated can learn almost everything. Motivation is the internal process that activates, guides, and maintains behaviour over time (Kebritchi 2010).
In order to direct the motivation of player to learn in computer games, it is contended that needs at the lower levels are to be fulfilled before moving to the higher levels in the pyramid. At the bottom level, players are seeking for information to understand the basic rules of game. When the rules need is satisfied, players move on to safety need where they need helping information so that they can stay in the game long enough to win and avoid being knocked out. They need to feel safe and secure. Next at the level of belongingness need, the players need to feel comfortable with the game and eventually achieve the gameââ‚¬â„¢s goal. After knowing that they can win, they want to feel great when playing the game. They need to be in possession and have full control over the game. They start to expect something more challenging.
Thus any given learning process includes the following stages. First, learners start from a familiar or concrete experience, then they construct knowledge, reflect on the learning experience, develop abstract concept, actively test the abstract concept to complete the learning process, and finally move to the next learning experience (Kolb 1984, cited by Kebritchi 2010).
Previous research and debate
Computer games are considered as powerful mathematical learning tools with great motivational appeal and multiple representations of learning materials (Malone, 1981 cited by Ke 2007). However, the learning effectiveness of educational computer games has been subject of discussion and debate by a number of scholars (Hays, 2005; Randel et al., 1992).
Some studies showed significant differences favoring games over traditional teaching methods (Laffey, 2003), other studies found the opposite result (Kim, 2002). Still others showed no significant differences between the two types of teaching (Rosas et al., 2003).
A review article about games (Randel, 1992) reported that of the 67 articles included, 38 found no differences between computer games and traditional teaching methods, 22 favored games, an additional five with questionable control groups also favored games, and only three favored traditional methods. Hays (2005) reviewed 48 empirical studies and found no evidence to indicate instructional games were a preferred method of instruction in all situations.
Dempsey, Rasmussen, and Lucassen (1994) reviewed 94 empirical studies and concluded that students who played math computer games and attended the traditional classroom instruction achieved higher mathematics score than students who only attended traditional classrooms. Vogel et al. (2006) who based on the review of 32 empirical studies concluded that interactive simulations and games were more effective than traditional classroom instruction on learners' cognitive gains. A recent study by Kebritchi (2010) based on 16 empirical studies revealed that instructional games improved learners' achievement in 9 studies, promoted learner's motivation in 4 studies, and made no difference in learners' achievement or motivation in 5 studies.
The positive achievement results in various studies partially support the learning effectiveness of the experiential nature of the treatment activities which can be related to the experiential learning theory. A combination of quantitative exams and motivation interviews provide invaluable insights on the positive effects of the games on maths learning that could not have been discovered only through quantitative tests (Lopez-Morteo and Lopez 2007, Kebritchi 2010 and Rosas 2003). However, prior mathematics knowledge, computer skills, and English language skills do not play a significant role in achievement and motivation of the participants who played the games, but the teachers' help and support is vital in using the games effectively (Kebritchi 2010). Moreover, too fantastical and imaginative games used for teaching maths rather fail to link the gaming elements with the learning (Scanlon, 2005).
Such diverse results may be because gaming researchers have used different configurations of games such as 2-D or 3-D graphics, single and multiple players, mission-based strategy approaches, networking or being competitive, or examined different outcomes such as exam performance or learning attitudes.
Methodological flaws in empirical studies are a factor that prevents from drawing solid conclusions about the effects of instructional games on student learning. One of frequent problem is lack of control groups in the studies. Also, the reliability and validity of tests used to measure game effectiveness are often not reported. Sampling is another issue that should be considered in evaluating the effectiveness of games. Finally, the experimental design of research on games needs more attention. Appropriate experimental designs should reduce confounding from teacher bias, Hawthorne effect, test instruments, selection variables, and time difference for treatments. If there is a short time period between the same tests, a practice effect could occur or the pretest could cue the student on what should be remembered from the game experience.
Conclusions, Solutions and future
Although the majority of the empirical studies reported that using instructional games improves learners' achievements and/or motivation, the comparison of the literature reviews' conclusions indicated mixed results.
Based on the differences of results, it is difficult to determine the true nature of the relationship between gaming with learning. The differences may have arisen due to various differences that exist among the articles. Each of these studies focused on different skills to learn, used the computers differently, and used different subject populations. All of these differences potentially account for the conflicting study results.
However, an important distinction between maths on the Internet and maths in the classroom is that in the latter children generally get credit for knowing how to work out a maths problem, even if they get the wrong answer. The process is important as well as the outcome. This is not the case with these games, where children are only given credit for a correct answer, regardless of how they worked it out or whether they understand the method. Because games require the active participation of students, the material has a greater chance of being integrated into the cognitive structures of the individuals and thus being retained.
A common theme emerging from meta-analyses examining technology use and mathematics is the crucial role of the teacher and accompanying pedagogy which support effective technology integration (Groves et al., 2006; Yelland, 2005). Regardless of the technology used, appropriate teacher intervention has been consistently identified as an essential element for successful mathematics learning. It has been suggested that technology, per se, does not improve student learning. It is the curriculum in which it is embedded, and the accompanying pedagogy, which may determine the ultimate effectiveness of technology implementation in mathematics classrooms.
As suggested by Van Eck (2006), instructional games would likely experience widespread development and use if persuasive examples of empirical studies could show the improvement of students' achievement by using instructional games. It would be helpful to examine the effects of the same or similar games with different population. To ensure achieving reliable results, both computer games and motivation survey should be designed based on the motivation theory, external control group should be used to control Hawthorne effects, and studies to be conducted in frequent stages of playing the computer games in uncompetetive or coopertave environment to test the trend of impact of the individual differences. Another future area to explore is to test the usefulness of games for students with marginal skills or marginal motivation and also with socio-economically disadvantaged students.
Despite the numerous educational benefits of computer games in the learning of mathematics, there are many issues to iron out before we can fully harness the potential of such a tool. Thus it is necessary for both the educators and game designers to collaborate and recognize the importance and potential of learning through computer games before computer games learning can fulfill its purpose.