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What's New in Educational Games

A summary of a few news stories which affect the educational games community.

The biggest news for proponents of learning and educational games comes from a new study conducted at six universities.  The study, which is published here outlines a comparison between groups given an adaptive statistics-teaching program developed by the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon and groups given a traditionally-presented course with the same content.  The results are encouraging.  "In sum, our results indicate that hybrid-format students took about one-quarterless time to achieve essentially the same learning outcomes as traditional-format students."  The paper also goes to great lengths to outline the potential cost savings a hybrid professor/computer methodology might represent for beleaguered higher-ed institutions.

Even more encouraging for makers of educational games: the downfall of this approach is, as the paper freely admits, 'a defect of the CMU prototype course is that it has no “addictive” or “Disney-like” appeal.'  In other words, it's kind of boring.  This looks like an open door for educational game developers in the higher-ed space.

Other news comes from a widely-publicized developmental psychology experiment from the University of Rochester (available here).  Researchers have found a so-called 'Goldilocks Effect.'  They explain, "infants avoid spending time examining stimuli that are either too simple (highly predictable) or too complex (highly unexpected)."

Whether this effect continues to hold influence after infancy is not known, but at least those of us designing games for early childhood now have a simple measure of efficacy, or, at least, entertainment value.  This also indicates that eye-tracking could be of primary importance while creating an adaptive educational game or program, especially combined with research described in the current bestselling book 'Thinking Fast and Slow' by Daniel Kahneman.  Kahneman explains that there is a nearly 1-to-1 correlation between mental exertion and pupil dilation.  Presented with tasks which were trivially easy or impossibly difficult, pupils fail to dilate, providing clear feedback which could help future game designers keep their players in a state of flow.

Lastly, the newly-formed IGDA Learning and Educational Games SIG is in the planning stages of a new collaboratively-written book.  The effort is headed by Karen Schrier Shaenfield, who summarized the effort:

    "We discussed the overall mission and goals of the book, and decided
    the first one should be targeted to educators, parents and school
    policymakers.
    --The mission was encapsulated as: "something a teacher or parent
    could read and be a proponent of in their local district"
    --The tone of the book is more conversational (non-academic) and for a
    lay person audience."
The group is working on a proposal and will be seeking a publisher soon.

I hope you enjoyed the first in what I hope will be a series of educational games roundups.  Until next time, here's your moment of Zen: Bertrand Russel's Ten Commandments for Teachers.

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