Abstract Details

Investigating The Design Of Educational Video Games By Fifth Graders: Processes And Outcomes

The problem of school failure brings the need for new pedagogical strategies to motivate and teach students, especially in contexts of higher risk. We propose the creation of educational video games as a pedagogical strategy to motivate students to learn, and engage them with their learning processes. Several studies have highlighted the potential of games for learning, motivation and engagement (Connolly, Boyle, MacArthur, Hainey & Boyle, 2012; Perrotta, Featherstone, Aston & Houghton, 2013). Assigning students the role of game designers is one of the possible approaches to game integration in education, supported by Constructionism (Papert & Harel, 1991; Kafai & Burke, 2015) that argues that knowledge building is more effective when combined with the creation of artefacts. In this view, technology must be manipulated by students to express their ideas, which also aligns with the benefits of learning-by-design (Resnick & Cooke, 1998). We suggest the construction of video games to incorporate curricular contents. Thus, students that design a game have to understand a theme in order to integrate it into their artefact, with the added responsibility of knowing that it can be used for the teaching-learning of their colleagues.

Although there is evidence that video game design can have a positive impact on learning and engagement (Earp, 2015; Kafai & Burke, 2015), there is still a lot of work to be done concerning research of educational video game-design by students (Hava & Cakir, 2017), particularly in the context of Portuguese schools (Lopes & Oliveira, 2013).

With this study we aim to contribute to the research question: what effects does the creation of educational video games by middle school students, in contexts of risk of school failure, have on their motivation and learnings? The study analyses the creation of video games by fifth grade students to teach Mathematics and Portuguese in a classroom context, with the purpose of understanding its processes and outcomes, with the main goals: 1. Implement the proposed pedagogical strategy in a school context, in a classroom situation; 2. Implement the proposed pedagogical strategy with students at risk of school failure; 3. Understand the processes and effects of the creation of educational video games by 5th grade students; 4. Explore teachers’ perceptions regarding the proposed pedagogical strategy.

After having developed a training action with middle school teachers on this subject, the proposed pedagogical strategy (creation of educational video games by students) was implemented at a TEIP (Educational Territory of Priority Intervention) School, with two of the participant teachers and their students, regarding two of the fundamental disciplines of the Portuguese national educational system, Portuguese and Mathematics. The research was carried out in a school located in the district of Braga, in the north of Portugal.

The methodological strategy adopted was a case study. The study was carried out with two groups of eighteen students each, and their respective teachers of Portuguese and Mathematics. Participants worked in teams of three and designed games to teach their peers about curricular content, over four ninety-minute sessions. All work sessions were held during compulsory school time. Students were aged between 11 and 12 years old, and two thirds were male. Besides socioeconomic factors that place the participants in a context of higher risk of school failure, more than one-third of them were identified as having specific problems that affect their learning (most with attention deficit, one student with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, one student with oppositional defiant disorder, and one student with special education needs).

Eighteen students had the challenge of creating a video game about a Geometry theme and eighteen students had the same challenge but with themes related to Word Classes; each team had to plan a game on one of the themes and implement it in a digital format. Within each team students performed different functions, alternating weekly: 1. Organizer, responsible for guiding the team and ensuring everyone worked together; 2. Writer, responsible for completing the necessary documents during work (such as the game design document); 3. Programmer, responsible for developing the game using the chosen software (BlockStudio).

In the first session students were exposed to the main elements of a game, they worked on the curricular contents for which they would be responsible (i.e., that they would have to integrate into their games) and played educational video games previously developed by the researchers using BlockStudio. The second session was devoted to learning to use the software for digital creation, with exercises and video tutorials. In the third session students finished the exercises of the previous sessions and planned on paper the games that they would like to create. In the fourth session participants implemented their ideas in a digital format.

A fifth session was scheduled for students to have time to finish the games, test them and make corrections if necessary but, due to concurrent compulsory school activities, such was not possible, which was then reflected in the completion status of the projects.

Participant observation, inquiry, and document analysis were used as data collection techniques. The research instruments consisted of: 1. field diary, 2. knowledge tests, 3. motivation scale, 4. artefacts created, 5. survey with students, and 6. individual interview with teachers. Data was analysed using descriptive statistics and thematic analysis.

The results show that, even with unexpected time constraints, most groups were able to design video games that represented their understanding of curriculum contents. In general, the creation of educational video games has led to an increase in motivation for learning and building of knowledge, interaction and collaboration, with positive results in four important categories of learning: curricular contents, game design, technological skills, and soft skills.

Despite the barriers to its implementation, and the limitations and constraints inherent to this study, we consider that the creation of educational video games is a feasible and relevant pedagogical strategy, and that it constitutes a relevant approach in contexts where the risk of school failure is high.

This presentation discusses the different outcomes of using educational video game design by students as a pedagogical strategy, the main issues to consider when using it, and possible failure points and solutions.


Educational video games; student authorship; Constructionism; learning; motivation.


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