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Evaluting educational potential in a COTS game
Things that make a game educational
It’s important to note the word educational. A game has to be good before it can be a good educational game…(please see games that don’t stink, below).
That being said, what is it that makes a game educational?
1) The game has an educationally-accessible context (historical, contemporary, hard science-fiction)
2) Game play has genuinely educationally-accesible content (Age of Empires has a great educational context, but lousy educational gameplay)
3) Success depends on intelligent choices and decisions (not twitch)
4) Failure exists and teaches when it happens. It is possible to lose
5) The tutorial is crystal clear, and checks for understanding
6) There are multiple victory conditions
7) The feedback model is short - students can quickly see how a decision effects a larger whole picture
8) The game becomes increasingly challenging and difficult
Remember, it’s the teacher who ultimately defines the educational efficacy of any learning activity. So while the above points are important, it’s how teachers use a game which makes it educational. A computer game is educational when teachers consistently probe for understanding. Teachers who set up rubrics, or expectations, for understanding. Teachers who encourage students to share their understandings with their classmates.
Games that don’t stink
You have to get four things right when you make a computer game.
It has to work right and well. Technical problems are disastrous in games in education. Short classes and limited technical support make technical problems a serious issue.
It has to be fun. It doesn’t get boring. A guiding mantra should be “if it’s not fun, why do it?”. This is why we always think about the game first and then educational potential.
It has to be challenging at different levels of abilities. Some students are naturally interested in technology and games, others are not. As much as something which is very difficult can cause problems, so can something which is very easy. Levels of difficulty help alleviate this situation.
The game need to be accessible for different types of players (ala Bartle player types). Explorers, achievers, griefers, and socializers. There should be something in the game for everyone.