Unpacking Digital Game-Based Learning : The complexities of developing and using educational games
Abstract: Digital game-based learning has traditionally been examined from an ‘artefact-centric’ perspective that focuses on understanding how game design and principles of learning are, or can be, intertwined. These types of examinations have resulted in many descriptions of games’ educational potential, which has subsequently led to many types of arguments for why games should be used more extensively in formal education. However, comparatively little research has been done to understand the educational settings in which many game-based learning processes and educational games are intended to be applied. The relative lack of research on formal education settings has resulted in a scenario where the educational potential of games is well detailed through theory and understood independently of their actual contexts of use, while successful examples of games “making good” on their promises as educational tools remain rare.This thesis explores and describes the various challenges that the realities of formal education present to developers and educators who attempt to work with educational games. In order to examine the multi-faceted nature of educational games, the research has used a qualitative mixed-method approach that entails extensive literature reviews coupled with several case studies that involve educators, students, and developers. Interviews were conducted in order to investigate these actors’ various attitudes towards, and experiences of, educational games and game-based learning. In addition, more in-depth researcher participation methods were employed during case studies to examine the processes involved in developing, integrating, and using educational games in formal settings. The research revealed obstacles which indicate that processes associated with “traditional” game development are incommensurable with educational game development. Furthermore, the research demonstrates that the use of games in formal education introduces heavy demands on the recipient organisations’ infrastructures, cultures, and working processes. So, while games created for “formal” and “informal” use are superficially similar, the different contexts in which they are used make them distinctly different from one another. The conclusion of this research is that educational games manifest a unique mixture of utility, gameplay, and context-dependent meaning-making activities. Educational games cannot be understood if they are only seen as a teaching utility or only as a game experience. To make educational games viable, both educators and developers need to alter their working processes, their own perceptions of games and teaching, as well as the way they collaborate and communicate with each other and other actors within the educational game ‘system’. The thesis thus argues that a more systems-oriented understanding of educational games, where the game artefact is not treated separately from the context of use, is necessary for both research and practice in the field to progress. To contribute to such an understanding of educational games, a comprehensive model (dubbed the Utility, Gameplay, and Meaning Model) of the ‘educational game system’ is presented, as well as a series of recommendations and considerations to help developers and educators navigate the complex processes involved in creating and using educational games.
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