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The aim of this research proposal is to suggest a method on how to study the improvement of students engagement, motivation and learning effectives towards learning ICT in Malta through the use of game-based learning. The benefits of using game-based learning in our classrooms is highlighted in this paper together with the issue of gender in relation to gaming.
game-based learning, teaching ICT in Malta, Rescue La Vallette - An Adventure in Time
"Game-based learning is the process of taking an idea and creating an activity to deliver that idea in a manner that is motivating, engaging, challenging, effective and fun, and has a measurable learning objective as a foundation." (Carson Learning Services in Tham & Tham, 2012)
Considering such definition will lead us in thinking how to use game-based learning as a pedagogical tool to benefit the students' learning process. This research study is intended to study such premises, keeping in mind also the gender issue in relation to game playing and the subject to be taught - ICT. A sample of early secondary students will be chosen to participate in this study. The participants will be divided into two main groups, one group will be taught ICT skills following a game-based approach and the other group will follow a non-game-based approach. An evaluation on both methods will be conducted in the form of a pre-test questionnaire, post-test questionnaire and a post-test feedback questionnaire distributed to all participants. After such evaluation is carried out, it will be determined if game-based learning can in fact be used in Maltese secondary schools to teach ICT in a new and maybe better way and how effective, motivational and engaging it really is.
Computer and video games have fascinated millions of children and adults since their inception in the late 1950s (Brookhaven National Laboratory). Since then, they have impacted our society, culture and means of socialization. As Marc Prensky points out, today's students and their way of life are very different from their parents:
"They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, video games, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age. Today's average college grads have spent less than 5,000 hours of their lives reading, but over 10,000 hours playing video games (not to mention 20,000 hours watching TV). Computer games, email, the Internet, cell phones and instant messaging are integral parts of their lives." (Prensky, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 1, 2001)
Today's students are what Prensky refers to as Digital Natives and those who have or are adapting to these new technological changes (such as today's parents) as Digital Immigrants. Therefore, since this is the reality how our Digital Native students are living, it makes sense to adopt these technologies and use them in today's learning environments so as to make teaching and learning relevant to the students of the 21st century.
Since today's students are used to having any information they request immediately available to them and feedback is instantly delivered, they do not have the patience required for lectures and classes that follow traditional learning. Examinations are mostly seen as being too far in the future to motivate them. Thus, Digital Natives prefer learning that is relevant, active, challenging, instantly useful and fun.
Games, on the other hand, fascinate students and bring a sense of engagement. When games are used in an educational environment - game-based learning - and thus, follow the curriculum established objectives and contents, they can be used to deliver lessons that are more learner-centred, easier, more enjoyable, more interesting and more effective. Moreover, such games can increase the learning factor due to their ability of:
improving problem-solving skills and critical thinking skills
providing immediate feedback to learners and thus, learners can learn from their actions
self-assessing learners through the game score and levels reached
allowing collaboration between learners to reach solutions and share their knowledge and skills
Malone lists challenge, fantasy and curiosity as vital game characteristics that contribute to this engagement (Malone, 1980). Prensky also points out that if used correctly the power that games have on engaging the player may be the biggest motivator ever.
increasing the level of motivation
Motivation is seen as a key factor in using games in learning environments. The reason for this is that games motivate the learner to look for information in order to successfully complete a challenge, overcome an obstacle and promote to another level. In traditional learning environments (e.g. classrooms) the learner is provided with facts and figures and then has to figure out how such data fits and is relevant to the general picture (Tham & Tham, 2012). Motivation is also related to what is known as flow experience, that is, the ability of a game to fully immerse the learner into completing that gaming activity to the extent that the learner loses track of time and has no intention of completing any other task except finishing the gaming activity (Mattheiss et al., 2009).
intensifying learning effectiveness
Games that are used in an educational setting are expected to teach learners. In order to measure if learning has really taken place, there must be a change in behaviour. When a learner encounters a similar situation in the future, he must do something differently from what he has previously done and instead apply what has been learnt in that particular situation. If a game does not manage to bring this change in behaviour, then there is something wrong with the game. The faultiness is not in the concept of game-based learning, but rather in the bad design of that particular game.
increasing the level of remembering information
Play and fun are ways of relaxation. The psychiatrist William Glasser formulated the Glasser's Choise Theory and in it identified fun to be one of the basic needs that drive human behaviour. Brain researchers also suggest that for genuine learning to occur and for learners to remember the material for a long time, fun is necessary. Thus, educational games will help the learner to incidentally increase the level of remembering information while playing and having fun. (Tham & Tham, 2012)
Game-based learning is not a novelty. On the contrary, there are various games on the market that were designed specifically for educational purposes and there are others who were adopted by teachers as a learning resource (Williamson, 2009). Since the advent of game-based learning, several individuals studied on their effects on learning in several curricular subjects (Divjak & Tomic, 2011) (Papastergiou, 2008) (Tham & Tham, 2012) (Yien et al., 2011).
Another important subject to consider when studying games in general is the gender issue. Traditionally it is considered that games are mostly popular with males rather than females. In fact, it is normally assumed that younger boys spend more time playing than girls of a similar age. However, from studies carried out (Williamson, 2009) it was identified that more intense games, such that those that involve combat, shooting and sports, are more popular with boys than girls. Although girls do play such games, however, the way they play games is not the same as the boys. As they grow up, girls tend to lose interest in games more quickly than boys and shift to using the computer for other reasons. On the contrary, boys still use the computer primarily for gaming purposes. Even the way, both genders look at game playing is different. While boys choose game playing as their first choice activity, girls resolve to game playing when they get bored and have nothing more interesting to do. (Kirriemuir & McFarlane, 2004)
Considering all of this, there will always be some who do not agree with game-based learning and rightly so they have their own reasons. Some may argue that gaming will further distract the students from the learning objectives. Following this idea will result in having students who are wasting their time whilst playing games and they are not being properly educated. Dr Heather Coffey, from The UNC School of Education thinks that using games for educational purposes may cause unnecessary burden on teachers because of the idea that in order to adopt this approach in class, the teacher needs to be a 'tech-savvy'. More burdens for the teacher will be caused if the material being used is not technologically advanced. (Coffey)
From a researcher's point-of-view, it is worth noting that game-based learning can actually be an innovative way how to teach students in these days. If games are properly designed, they would be means of how to motivate and engage students more. Lack of motivation and learning effectives should not be attributed to the use of games but rather it may be due to having a badly designed game that does not cater to teach the learning contexts and outcomes properly. Another reason may be that the teacher did not mash the game correctly within the lesson plan. A real-life on-going example that game-based learning can actually be a successfully method in teaching today's students is the New York City public school Quest to Learn (Q2L). Q2L is based on the principles of game design and it is interesting to observe how their teaching staffs have incorporated play, socialization, teamwork and learning into its curriculum. If game-based learning worked in Q2L, it can also work in everyone's classroom. It is not an easy task but through effort and preparation it can be possible.
This research is thus intended to serve as a proposal for studying the effects of game-based learning in improving engagement, motivation and learning effectiveness in ICT lessons in Malta taking into consideration the gender issue. More details about how game-based learning can be used during ICT lessons will be explained in the coming sections of this research proposal.
Overview of the proposed research method
This paper proposes the comparison of two methods how ICT is taught in the early secondary school years. The first method includes a gaming application and the second one those not. However, in both methods the same learning objectives, outcomes and material will be covered. From an analysis of both methods, it will be determined which method the learners favour on the basis of engagement, effectiveness and motivation.
The students participating in this research will be divided into two groups. The first group (Group A) will be using a gaming application whilst the second group won't (Group B). Both groups will be assigned equal amount of time in the learning sessions that will be used. A pre-test questionnaire will be distributed to both groups prior to the start of the learning session so as to gather data related to résumé variables and to also measure the amount of previous knowledge that the students have. After the learning sessions, the students will be required to fill up a post-test questionnaire to elicit quantitative and qualitative data. Any change which regards to the students' knowledge base on the topic will be attributed to the learning method they followed. At the end of the learning sessions, the students' views and suggestions on the learning method followed will be valued in a feedback questionnaire in the form of open-questions. It is important that the knowledge related questions distributed before and after the learning sessions contain the same questions to both groups.
The participating students will be randomly selected from Form 2 students from a Boys' Secondary School and a Girls' Secondary School. The sample will be 90 students, 47 boys and 43 girls, aged between 12 and 13 years old. Preferably, all students will be selected from the same college so that the study won't be affected due to the catchment area. The random selection is important so as to have a mixture of students with different abilities. It is important, however, that all students possess basic computer skills (e.g. know how to manage opened windows, basic typing skills, mouse handling, etcâ€¦)
This sample of students will be divided into six classes of fifteen students each, with each class having a mixture of boys and girls. Three classes will form Group A and therefore, will be using the gaming application, whilst, the other three classes will form Group B.
The learning methods
The gaming approach
Rescue La Vallette - An Adventure in Time (Zammit, 2007) is the game being considered to teach ICT to Form 2 students. It was developed by Manuel Zammit in 2007 with the main objective to be "for students to work collaboratively in a fun and motivating environment and to acquire ICT skills in the process". This game successfully immerses the students in the era of the Knights of St John of Malta and all the game's tasks, adventures and quests revolve around this historic storyboard. Through the use of Rescue La Vallette the students can learn ICT skills related to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, the Internet and email. It is worth noting that this game has won the EU eLearning Award. (Danish Technological Institute (ed.), 2008)
A set of lessons plans should be prepared so as to incorporate the game within the learning sessions.
The worksheet approach
From school observations that the researcher has carried out, it was noted that Maltese ICT teachers tend to teach ICT with the primary objective being that their students successfully achieve the ECDL certificate. Following this approach, the teachers tend to deliver lessons with an introduction containing an explanation on how a task can be carried out and then the students are given a worksheet to work out, with content having the same level of difficulty as in the ECDL exam.
For the purpose of this research study, the sessions will follow a similar approach that of the students working out worksheets on the topic being delivered.
Based on the literature review, the following hypotheses were formulated to be considered throughout this research study:
The participants of Group A will perform better in the post-knowledge test than Group B.
The participants of Group A will submit more positive post-questionnaire responses than Group B.
Boys in Group A will perform better than in the post-knowledge test than girls in Group A.
Boys in Group A will submit more positive post-questionnaire responses than girls in Group A.
To investigate the above hypothesis and to gain results on the premises of engagement, effectiveness and motivation for each learning method, the participants will be required to answer a pre and post-test questionnaire together with a post-test feedback questionnaire, as was already described in the previous section.
For the first part of the pre-test questionnaire the participant will be asked to fill in data related to résumé variables. Information about the student's gender, age, average grade from the previous scholastic year will be asked. Moreover, on a four-level Likert scale (1 = 'never'; 2 = 'occasionally some time per month'; 3 = 'fairly many times per week'; 4 = 'everyday') the participant will be asked questions related to computer use, e.g.:
to grade how often the participant makes use of a computer besides school hours, and,
to grade how often the participant plays computer games outside school lessons.
In the same section of the pre-test questionnaire, the participant will be asked to grade on a four-level Likert scale (1 = 'not at all; 2 = 'very little'; 3 = 'somewhat'; 4 = 'to a great extent'):
how much the participant considers himself as being a computer literate,
how much the participant likes playing computer games, and,
how much computer gaming experience the participant has.
The second part of the pre-test questionnaire will be related to a knowledge test. The participants will be provided with a set of preferably true or false and multiple choice questions to test their knowledge on ICT skills related to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, the Internet and email prior to the start of the learning sessions.
This type of questionnaire will be distributed to the participants at the end of the learning sessions. Another knowledge test questionnaire will be delivered, similar in format to the one in the pre-test questionnaire. All the learning gains or misses will be attributed to the learning method taken by the participant.
Moreover, a set of questions will be asked so as to determine the overall appeal of the learning method. A five-point Likert scale (1 = 'extremely poor'; 2 = 'below average'; 3 = 'average'; 4 = 'above average'; 5 = 'excellent') can be used to determine the extent to which the participant found the learning method to be:
easy to understanding the ICT concepts
simple to use
In order for the participant to provide feedback on the learning method used, open-ended questions can be used. Questions related to the participant general opinion on the use of educational games in schools and proposals for improving the learning sessions conducted may be queried.
This paper proposes a way how to study students' engagement, motivation and learning effectiveness using a game-based learning approach. Since 21st century students spend hours per day playing computer games, it is a gradual step to take to include games within an educational context. Through the use of well-designed computer games and through teacher's assistance, games can be used as a new teaching method. In this research proposal, the gender issue is also taken into account.
A possible way how this bias can be evaluated is proposed. The research designs, the sampling of participants, the learning methods used including the gaming application are presented. Moreover, the material related to how to carry out the evaluation (through the distribution of a pre-test questionnaire, a post-test questionnaire and a post-test feedback questionnaire) is also explained.
Following such method, the level of student engagement, motivation and learning effectiveness can be determined for both where a class follows a game-based approach and where not. The effects that gender plays on the same topic can also be evaluated.
In order to strength this bias it is suggested to consider carrying out such evaluation in another college so as to widen student participation or to apply the game-based approach in other subjects and evaluating the results achieved.
Considering such research, may provide an alternative way how ICT and other subjects can be taught in Maltese secondary schools using the technology of the 21st century.