It’s easy to see how educational games might hold the attention of grade-school youngsters and help them learn vocabulary or practice math. But how do educational games work for college-aged students?
Two games created by Pearson’s Center for Learning Science and Technology, with its technical and testing partners, provide a means for postsecondary students to build their skills in argumentation and bioengineering through collaboration and role-playing in fictitious environments.
In the Argubot Academy game, students debate how the first colony on Mars should function, such as the best types of food for the inhabitants to raise. Students conduct research to prepare their arguments and use a “robot battle” format to present their points and refute those of their opponents. If student-players back their arguments with insufficient or irrational evidence, their robotic power diminishes and they lose the battle.
“They can see not only that their argument wasn’t strong, but also what the weakness was, based on the types of attack an opponent launched,” wrote Kristen DiCerbo, principal research scientist for Pearson’s center, in an Educause Review article about the games. Students proceed through multiple levels of mastery.
In the Nephrotex game, students act as interns working on a nanotechnology project for a bioengineering firm. The students collect technical information and data, develop and test hypotheses, and analyze results, all the while recording their activities and communicating with team members via chat and email.
To enable the participation of first-year students, who have just begun to study the field, the setup is adjusted to their knowledge level, with the game automatically filling in the areas the students haven’t studied yet. Students can also interact with live mentors through the game. The purpose is to build a sense of professionalism early on and points “to the promise of games to encourage student persistence in difficult STEM [science, technical, engineering, math] subjects,” DiCerbo said.
Both games allow instructors to track and assess students’ progress.