Systematic literature review update

The November 2015 issue of Computers and Education contains the paper:

An update to the systematic literature review of empirical evidence of the impacts and outcomes of computer games and serious games.

Authors: Elizabeth Boyle, Thomas Connolly, Thomas Hainey, Grant Gray, Jeffrey Earp, Michela Ott, Theodore Lim, Manuel Ninaus, Claudia Ribeiro and Joao Pereira.

Data examined: 143 papers from 2009-14.

Abstract: Continuing interest in digital games indicated that it would be useful to update Connolly et al.’s (2012) systematic literature review of empirical evidence about the positive impacts and outcomes of games. Since a large number of papers was identified in the period from 2009 to 2014, the current review focused on 143 papers that provided higher quality evidence about the positive outcomes of games. Connolly et al.’s multidimensional analysis of games and their outcomes provided a useful framework for organising the varied research in this area. The most frequently occurring outcome reported for games for learning was knowledge acquisition, while entertainment games addressed a broader range of affective, behaviour change, perceptual and cognitive and physiological outcomes. Games for learning were found across varied topics with STEM subjects and health the most popular. Future research on digital games would benefit from a systematic programme of experimental work, examining in detail which game features are most effective in promoting engagement and supporting learning.

My notes: This is a comprehensive, but also easy, read for those of us interested in the evidence or proof for the effective use of digital games in teaching and learning. The data is clearly presented and discussed, and the listing of coded papers that closes the paper is a mine of relevant literature.

More information at:

October 2016, Paisley: Games Based Learning

Website: www.academic-conferences.org/conferences/ecgbl/

6-7 October 2016, The University of the West of Scotland, Paisley, Scotland.

This is a traditional academic conference, with a European field of speakers. Papers submitted to this particular series of conferences are often reproduced in several publications, and there’s been some interesting works concerning the evidence and proof of effective game use in learning within these.

Keynote Speaker Outlines.

From the conference website: “Welcome to the 10th anniversary of the European Conference in Games-based Learning. For the 10th anniversary we return to where ECGBL started, Scotland. Over the last 10 years, we have explored and debated different aspects of games-based learning. While we know more about the use of games in education and training since ECGBL started, there are still many open research questions and there is still a dearth of empirical evidence and, in particular, longitudinal studies.”

July 2016, Chapel Hill: Serious Play

Website: seriousplayconf.com

26-28 July 2016, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.

This is an annual conference dedicated to the wider applications of games and play. Consequently, there is less of an academic focus on “serious play”, but more of a cross-sectoral range of discussions. The speakers, drawn from all manner of fields and sectors, demonstrate this.

This year’s conference program.

From the conference website: “The Serious Play Conference, now in our 6th year, is a leadership conference for professionals who embrace the idea that games can revolutionize learning. Speakers, who come from all parts of the globe, share their experience creating or using games in the corporation, classroom, healthcare institution, government and military and offer tips on how to move game-based education programs ahead.”

August 2016, Madison: Games+Learning+Society 12

Website: glsconference.org

17-19 August 2016, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, USA.

This is, without much doubt, the main annual conference for games and learning in North America. Madison itself has been a centre for games and learning companies for a while now; this, and GLS, are somewhat by-products of the games research undertaken there.

This year’s schedule.

From the conference website: “The GLS Conference is the premier videogames and learning event. Now in it’s twelfth year, our event continues to be one of the top destinations where the people who create and research high-quality digital learning media can gather to discuss and help shape the direction of the field. GLS is best known for its high quality program, top notch attendees list, and playful atmosphere. Each year, we foster in-depth conversation across diverse disciplines including game studies and culture, game design, learning sciences and education research, industry, and policy. Our aim is to connect, learn, and explore.”

The importance of play: what universities can learn from preschools

There’s a nice piece in The Conversation, by Professor Nicola Whitton, titled as above. It’s not a long read, though the final third has some interesting links you may wish to explore for a while.

Microsoft purchase MinecraftEdu

As reported in a thousand newspaper articles, a million blog posts, and seemingly a billion edtech tweets, Microsoft have now bought MinecraftEdu, the, well, education version of Minecraft. They seem happy, TeacherGaming seem happy, edtech commentators and journalists have something to write about, and future uses of Minecraft in schools especially seem more likely.

As the website now says:

Microsoft will release an entirely new version of the game called Minecraft: Education Edition that will have many features inspired by MinecraftEdu. Microsoft will also use their impressive resources and reach to bring Minecraft into far more classrooms than ever before. We believe that Minecraft’s educational potential has barely been explored and that there are exciting times ahead.

THE journal digs a little deeper on this and mentions the enhancement of OneNote to make development within Minecraft a little smoother. Which sounds like a good thing; one of the enduring problems with game, simulation and virtual world use in classrooms is the fragmented timetable, and lesson blocks of an hour or even less. The pupil or student needs to be up and quickly progressing with something on-point, relevant and constructive, rather than spending a significant proportion of each lesson block undergoing initialization routines, or using laborious tools and routines that suck time away from useful activity.

How will Minecraft sit within the roll-call of digital games, environments and simulations used within education?

Thankfully, we should be getting a clearer picture by now. The early days of speculation-oriented writing on the use of this specific technology have given way to an increasing proportion of articles, papers and reports containing data of Minecraft use in formal and informal learning situations. I’m looking forward to seeing quality research and meta-analysis of these works over the next few years.

Five hopes for 2016

A new year is upon us, and who knows what it will bring. Global peace, or global chaos? Advances in medicine and science, or pandemics and problems?

However, this is a game research website so I’m restricting my hopes to game-related ones. Here’s five.

1. Google Scholar is still around at the end of the year. I’ve come to rely on GS a lot – though not exclusively – in recent times for picking up on game research articles and papers. Google Scholar Alerts in particular is a nifty thing for being rapidly told when a cool researchers work has appeared. While it’s not the only service of its kind – there’s also academia.edu and researchgate, as well as databases researchers inside a university can use – it’s still a pretty useful source of materials and notifications about materials. The problem is that Google has a habit of shuttering niche services (Reader was far more popular and that didn’t survive), but I’m hoping they won’t take the axe to Scholar, especially as the tiny number of GS staff – less than ten – means it costs very little to maintain. Plus, looking at own citation graph which is starting to tail off is a good nudge to publish more.

2. Let the next Zelda game be a classic. Whenever it appears. Everyone has a different view on the Legend of Zelda games franchise. I really, seriously, enjoyed Ocarina of Time on the N64, to the extent that work was neglected for two months while exploring it as much as the internal system allowed (and occasionally, progressing the main quest). Since then, other Zelda games have fallen short. I didn’t like the constant moon-crashing-into-you time pressure of Mask, and the sailing of Windwaker, though initially lovely, soon became samey. Thus, a classic Zelda game would be most welcome. With just some elements of previous ones, such as shooting arrows while riding a horse, though original enough not to be a total remake. Also, it would be nice to see it available actually in 2016. While Nintendo do the quality-perfectionist-finished-when-its-absolutely-finished development thing more than most, there are limits and many other distractions for expectant gamers.

2.1 While we’re in Nintendo territory, a new Animal Crossing game for the Nintendo 3DS, please. There’s next to no chance of getting that, and I’m not picking up any 3DS-AC vibes so am not counting on that as a hopeful hope. Alas.

3. Reasonable reporting and consideration about Virtual Reality hardware, software and systems. Especially in academia (where you would think that cooler heads would and should prevail) we’ve often seen the “Tech X will disrupt education” vs “The Tech X is dead” polarising divide which doesn’t help anyone. Social media and its tendencies to be a platform for shooting off, and amplifying, pithy soundbites, is not always a great help either; edtech is often complicated and nuanced – like it or not. There is going to be a lot of ephemera around VR for the remainder of this decade at least; too many venture capitalists and companies have sunk too many dollars into this particular tech, and they want their investment plus a bit of profit back. But, as it does, this is leading to a giddy numbers headline race while not answering the reasonable issues educators have (note you can swap out VR for another tech in these questions):

  1. How much will VR cost (that’s the total cost of everything, including time to learn, set-up and run the tech in a educational situation)?
  2. Are there relevant and independently analysed examples of VR use in education?
  3. Is there independent research showing it works in education i.e. VR gives “better” results than using other tech, or no tech at all, in comparable pedagogic scenarios?
  4. How supported and sustainable is VR tech? Will the same kit still be relevant, useful and actually usable across several academic year cycles?
  5. Can the robust and relevant pedagogic evidence for VR to date be summarised in an easy-to-read manner?

…and not uncited “Look, LOOK, at my massive bar chart!!” graphical sales guesses I mean forecasts for 2019.

4. Running on from that last hope, it would be good to see Jisc and similar organisations in other countries more fundamentally commission and update reasonable, useful, timely and evidence-based guides and reports on gaming and other technologies. Yes, there’s an element of self-interest here as I am one of those people who occasionally writes a few of these. But they are needed, especially – as in the previous point – where educators otherwise just encounter polarising arguments and grandstanding while looking for more relevant materials. In the recent case of Jisc it is pleasing to see guides gradually come back to the foreground as something open, free and useful that they provide. Having an explicit guide search option for reducing costs is also pretty useful in these times; the most feedback I received about the gamification infokit compiled last year for Jisc Digital Media concerned the low-cost options as opposed to expensive shiny systems (see 8.5 and 8.6). It would be good to see many more such guides commissioned and updated regularly, not just for games, gamification, virtual reality and augmented reality but for the wider spectrum of other technologies which educators may consider investing in and using.

5. Please: just one decent regular TV series on video games. The UK hasn’t had one since BITS and that was a very long time ago. It’s a weirdly strange thing, this almost total lack of intelligent game analysis on TV, especially as this particular medium outsells most other in the wider entertainment sector. The BBC in particular has a regular film review show, and book review and author programs, and even regular gardening programs – but no games show. It can be done on mainstream TV; Charlie Brooker hosted an excellent documentary on games not that long ago…

…but it was just a one-off, not a series or regular TV slot. So we’re back to games being pretty absent from terrestrial TV, and predominantly mentioned in the mainstream media for some negative reason, whether accurate or just blatant opportunistic bandwagon joining. Just one, weekly, fifteen minutes show that considers the wider range of digital and analog games which a large proportion of the viewing audience choose to indulge in, doesn’t seem much to ask. Or maybe it’s really too late and the audience has already gone to other places.

Anyway; that’s my wishlist. I wish all games researcher, developers and players everywhere a great year of great games, no matter what else happens.

July 2016, Manchester: Playful Learning

Website: conference.playthinklearn.net/blog

13-15 July 2016, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, England.

The conference is being chaired by Mark Langan, Alex Moseley and Nicola Whitton

Call for papers: conference.playthinklearn.net/blog/call-for-papers

From the website: “Playful Learning is pitched at the intersection of learning and play for adults. Playful in approach and outlook, yet underpinned by robust research and working practices, we’ll be providing a space where teachers, researchers and students can play, learn and think together. A space to meet other playful people and be inspired by talks, workshops, activities and events. Based in the heart of Manchester, we’ll also be exploring some of the city’s playful spaces with evening activities to continue the fun and conversations after the formal programme ends.”

(I’m on the conference committee and therefore officially endorse this event 🙂 )