HCI – Literature Review


Video games generated over $21 billion in revenue in the United States in 2013 (http://consumerist.com/2014/06/09/its-time-to-start-treating-video-game-industry-like-the-21-billion-business-it-is/). Almost 99% of school age children are playing those video games and some surveys indicate that 70% of college students play video games every now and then. With such wide use of games across such a diverse group of students, is it possible to take some of those characteristics of games and insert them into the classroom or e-learning environment? Once those characteristics of games have been inserted, would this benefit the student? Would students be more engaged in the educational process?

This paper will review the relevant research as it relates to video games and education and will show that there is strong evidence that video games can help students be successful in classroom. A second topic that will also be reviewed is the gamification of the classroom. As with game based learning, the research indicates that this type of classroom teaching model can have a positive impact on student learning outcomes. A theme that will run through both of these topics will be one of human computer interaction and its importance, especially in video games.

This significance of this research is that it can contribute to the small, yet growing body of research that has focused on how the power of video games can be harnessed in the classroom. If this type of teaching model, using video games or video game mechanics can help students in the classroom become more engaged, then it should be shared with teachers. Teachers are constantly looking for ways to get their students more involved, to reach targeted learning outcomes and retain this knowledge. This study could help support teachers in this way by trying to answer the question: Can video game based learning or gamification in the classroom, create a classroom culture where students are more engaged and are willing to go above and beyond the minimum requirements.

 Background of the Research

For this paper gamification will be defined as the use of game like mechanics in non-game situations (Deterding, Dixon, Khaled, & Nacke, 2011), game based learning will be defined as using games to teach (Prensky, 2003), human computer interaction will be defined as the interaction between humans and computers and letting “the human take precedence over the computer” (Norman, 2008, p. ix).   Gamification first started to appear in the literature in 2010, according to Proquest, the number of studies since then have increased every year and covers several different areas, from medicine, to consumer goods, to business management to education.

Several articles about gamification review existing methods and identify potential issues that could develop (Deterding, 2015). These articles may explain the types of characteristics that are foundational in games (J. Gee, 2007) or some of the mechanics and elements that can be used as part of a gamification process (Deterding et al., 2011). Articles that were research focused, tended to be action research articles where instructors reported on the particular experiences in courses the researcher taught (D. Charles, Charles, McNeill, Bustard, & Black, 2011; de Byl, 2013).

Knowledge Construction Occurs During Games

One of the top subscription based games currently being played is World of Warcraft (WoW), with over 5.6 million active subscribers. First released in November 2004, WoW has been the subject of researchers and there have been elements of this game that could apply to education. Research done by Steinkuehler and Duncan (C. Steinkuehler & Duncan, 2008) and Steinkuehler and Williams (C. A. Steinkuehler & Williams, 2006) have focused on some of those elements. In the study from 2008, Steinkuehler and Duncan viewed almost 2,000 unique posts inside one of the discussion boards in WoW. The result of this study was that players had very focused conversation about specific aspects of the game, and that knowledge about how to advance through the game was constructed in these posts (C. Steinkuehler & Duncan, 2008). Gee has also researched knowledge construction from games and came to a similar conclusion “core knowledge needed to play video games is distributed among a set of real people” (J. Gee, 2007, p. 1030). Each unique person that contributes to these games has helped to construct the knowledge needed to have success in the game. De Byl discusses the incorporation of social engagement loops, when happens when a gamer connects and participates in a social call to action (de Byl, 2013).

The user, through interactions with the modern video game itself, can also construct knowledge. By playing a game and getting continuous and instant feedback, users have the opportunity to learn almost the entire time they are playing (Prensky, 2003). These games allow the user to learn different skills that they will need to master at a rate that is challenging, but not so challenging or so easy that the user stops playing (J. Gee, 2007). Once players have been able to master a particular set of skills that are often presented with a problem that requires all of the knowledge that have to attack a new problem.

Instant Feedback is Important

A study that was done with an e-learning course over two semesters shows that instant feedback became a strong characteristic to consider. In the first semester of research, students were given weekly updates. When the data was analyzed, one of the changes that was made for the second semester research was to give student feedback daily (T. Charles, Bustard, & Black, 2008). In a study that examined gamifying student learning and engagement, one of the guiding principles was that feedback was a critical component and was in fact “crucial for learning, engagement, and progression” (D. Charles et al., 2011, p. 639).

Ritter et. al. investigated multimodality and learning and how it relates to game play, one of the elements that was part of this research was feedback loops. The quick reactions of a player determined what feedback the player would receive, which promoted deeper thinking, learning and engagement (Ritterfeld, Shen, Wang, Nocera, & Wong, 2009). Games often provide key information just in time, exactly when the player needs it (J. P. Gee, 2003), avoiding an issue student have in school today, trying to hold onto a key piece of information for an extended period of time and not having to use it.

“Computer games are very effective in the “just in time” deliver of new skills and knowledge” (McGinnis, Bustard, Black, & Charles, 2008, p. 125). Through this process and constant feedback, students are placed in a position where the challenges are optimally balanced (McGinnis et al., 2008).

Goals Are Clearly Stated

One of the elements that is a part of good game design is the use of clearly stated goals (Squire, 2003). The MIT Comparative Media Studies program created several different games for students to play, including a game called Supercharged! (Jenkins, Klopfer, Squire, & Tan, 2003). This game is a simulation that was designed to help student understand the complicated physics that occur with electromagnetics. The goal of the game is for players to lead their class through several different challenging mazes of electromagnetic worlds. This video game had a specific goal: to help the student understand electromagnetics (Jenkins et al., 2003). In a study that was done using wireless mobile hand-held devices that connected to global positioning systems, students had the opportunity to learn about how animal behavior and their interaction with the environment (J. Gee, 2007). The specific goal of this particular game was to survive, as a lion, in the savannah. The game was set up so that student had an open space outside to move through and would use GPS to locate resources that were required for survival. Students also had a “safe” den that was in the classroom, where they could investigate questions that came up while they were “in the savannah.” By creating a game map for students to use, students could see their current location in terms of the overall outcome for winning the game (McGinnis et al., 2008). Students who were asked to reach a specific state inside of a simulation outperformed students who did not have the same opportunity (De Jong & Van Joolingen, 1998). The game map allowed the students to get instant feedback, which was discussed in the previous section.

Communication is Required

Players who play games in virtual worlds frequently communicate with other players. World of Warcraft has an active discussion board system, where players can discuss almost any topic. A study by Steinkuehler and Duncan took data from the official WoW game website using one of the 31 different forums. Those 31 forums had over 270,000 separate and active threads. To get data that was manageable in size they looked at a specific forum that focused on character class (a type of character in the game) and pulled 1,984 posts from 85 different threads out of 4,656 threads in total (C. Steinkuehler & Duncan, 2008). The results of the study indicated that the vast majority of the posts that were coded as focused on specific aspects of the game. These forums are similar to students working together in a classroom on a specific problem. Students would each need to communicate what they understand about the problem so that all students in a group can work together.

As was mentioned in a previous section, a key component of a successful game is clearly stated goals. One way to achieve those goals is to work with other players toward a common achievement. To help support one another, players must successfully communicate information. The use of video gaming in an online space encourages players to do more, rather than have surface level similarities, “virtual worlds go beyond the more classic collaboration tools offered by social media and e-learning platforms, including groupware, email, videoconferencing, and chat programs utilized to support communication and data sharing” (Koles & Nagy, 2014, p. 183).   

Human Computer Interaction

In the case of video games and learning, the gamer will need to interact with a computer. For players to be able to access online games on a regular basis, those games would need to be easy to access as well as be available to play at any time of day (C. A. Steinkuehler & Williams, 2006). Players also have the opportunity to play any place that they can connect to the internet. Other research has stated that some of these virtual worlds would offer a space that could be used to organize employees reach peak performance and help to efficiently manage workflow (Koles & Nagy, 2014). As mentioned in previous sections, there are several places where humans and computers interact.

Conclusion of the Study

            The review of the literature indicates that there are several different characteristics that are used in games that are important in teaching and learning. One of the things that teachers in the classroom are tasked with doing is to create an environment where students are learning and constructing knowledge. As students go through the learning process, they should be constructing their own knowledge inside a particular course. One of the characteristics from games is also a construction of knowledge about how to move through the game.

Feedback is also critical to the learning experience and the quicker the feedback the better it informs the student about how well that learning was demonstrated. Feedback that is very late or non-existent will not help a student with any simple or complex misunderstandings about the class material. Games also have built in feedback and that feedback is instant. As a result, gamers learn very quickly what works and what does not work as they are playing a game. Delivery of information is also important for teachers; the course being taught has information that will require sharing with the students.

In both education and in games, clearly stated goals play a role. In games, players have a specific quest or purpose that is incorporated in the narrative of the game. The player is always working toward achieving the epic win. The same thing occurs in education, students have a goal of successfully passing a course. They are constantly working toward this “epic win.”

Future Research

The literature shows that there is a need for research about gamification in education. There were several questions in the opening paragraph of this paper. My question is this: can gamification create an environment in the classroom where the student will outperform their peers in a non-gamified class? For this study, the same instructor would teach two courses of EDTC 3123, with one section being experimental and one section being the control. The data that would be collected would be number of artifacts created by each student, average daily attendance, mid-term grades, and final grades. The data will be analyzed by SPSS and will use a t-test or ANOVA to determine whether gamification is beneficial for teachers to use or not.


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