Preface The objective of this research paper is to describe more recent theories of learning in contrast with the traditional approach, explain the need for teaching aids, and then study in detail a recent addition to the educational market – educational computer programs – by looking into why and how they can be effective as teaching tools/aids. It will also publish the provisional results of an ongoing study that is being conducted on the effectivity of one particular educational computer game in enhancing classroom learning.
In India, educational psychology as a field has still not gained much popularity. Its use is often limited to the teaching of the child with learning disabilities. While this usage is commendable, its confinement to such areas reflects the popular opinion that the existing education system is good enough for the scholastic instruction of the masses. However, a brief analysis of the traditional theories of learning and its inherent drawbacks will show that such complacency is ill founded.
The more recent theories of learning approach education from a much broader perspective, taking into account factors that were previously considered irrelevant, or unimportant, to the acquiring of new information. The methods of imparting education have also changed accordingly – teaching aids have become an integral part of good classroom practices. The types and effectivity of such teaching aids vary greatly. Among the more recent ones is educational gaming. These are very popular with children for obvious reasons; educators and parents, however, may not be as enthusiastic about letting a child ‘learn’ through a computer game.
However, these games are a lot more effective than they realize. This research paper takes ‘JumpStart 3D Virtual World – Trouble in Town’, a product of Knowledge Adventure, a leading educational gaming company, as an example of a good educational computer game and analyses its attributes that are conducive to learning, keeping the more recent theories of education in mind. Finally, it publishes the results of a study that is being conducted on students who have played this game to see to what extent such games can contribute to classroom learning.
Traditional Teaching Methodology and Why it Wont Work “The atmosphere of an ideal school should be so attractive and natural that the children may themselves like to spend much of their time there. Such an atmosphere can be available only when the teaching methods, devices and materials are organized on psychological lines. Indian primary schools do not have suitable teachers and appropriate teaching materials. Hence, they have failed to provide a suitable atmosphere for attracting young children.
The cruel and unpsychological behaviour of teachers and harsh corporal punishment force many children to leave the school in the middle of the session. Suitable teaching materials are not organized due to paucity of funds and ignorance. Most teaching methods emphasize cramming. The students are seldom encouraged to participate in educational activities. The basic education scheme has not been implemented in any real sense. ”[i] Most of these problems are rather common, experienced by children going to school in rural as well as urban India.
In fact, problems in the Indian education system are so prevalent, and worthy of attention, that any book on social problems in India would include a section on it. One such book lists the following among the problems in the Indian educational scene – large amounts of illiteracy, high drop out rates among elementary school kids, inability to pass final year examinations due to faulty methods of education and poor quality of teaching, greater emphasis on academic and theoretical education that is unrelated to everyday practical aspects of the world, and the dearth of trained teachers. ii] While these are problems that any lay man would be able to point out, an experienced professional in the field of education, or even one who has studied educational psychology would protest to many more practices accepted in the system of education followed in India. Many of the problems in an Indian classroom arise from the ignorance or disinterest of the teachers themselves. Teaching is seen as something anyone can do, a job that one can resort to if all other options are not feasible. Most people do not realize how complex the process of learning is, or how many factors it is affected by.
Perhaps that is why there exists in India a paucity for courses such as Educational Psychology, and the few individuals who have received their degree in such a course from foreign universities are more likely to be involved with special education than mainstream classroom learning. On the other hand, people who are interested in the field of education are deterred by a number of factors, low salaries being the biggest. According to Bharati Baveja, head of the department of education in the Delhi University, the decline in the number of students taking admission in the B.
Ed courses – which offer teacher training- has been as much as 20-30% over the last few years. Krishna Kumar, director of the National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT), feels the low pay may also be the source of frustration in teachers that lead to other educational problems like corporal punishment. [iii] A third problem with the quality of teachers in the Indian classroom is the lack of quality in teacher education itself. As the Kothari Commission (1964-66) pointed out, “For the qualitative improvement of education, a sound programme of professional education of teachers is essential. The country’s teacher education system is still not good enough to achieve this goal. [iv] In fact, a lot of the problems that exist in the Indian classroom are the same ones that affect the quality of training a teacher gets in the B. Ed programme as well, like the fact that theory is given precedence over practical issues, the curriculum is not based on real life situations in the classroom, and the method of teaching is predominantly the lecture form. [v] These and many other practices that are not conducive to optimum learning are based on traditional theories of learning.
In fact, these theories are so ingrained into the minds of the people that they aren’t just followed by teachers – these are theories that form the basis of adult interaction with children. Simply because such theories have never been questioned, or because even when they have, newer theories were not easy to put into practice, they continue to shape the teacher – student interaction in the classroom. Also, the techniques through which a teacher was taught during his/her childhood is very likely to influence the methods he/she adopts as a teacher. vi] Some of the theories are discussed here: The Additive Theory – This theory advocates memorization. It treats newer information as something that can just be added to all the information that the child already has – whether the information is related to what the child already knows is not considered important. The problem with this approach is that words, facts and information are actually learnt in relation to other facts, skills, needs and concepts that are already part of the life and experience of the learner.
For education to achieve its purpose of being applicable to the practical experience of the student, it must involve the development of broader concepts and frames of reference, which, in turn, make it possible to learn broader and richer varieties of facts and information. [vii] Children cannot learn things for which they lack experience and purpose. [viii] For example, in a study conducted, children were more easily able to learn the spellings of words that had meaning for them than words that they did not come across in the context of their lives. [ix] Reward and punishment theory –
When a teacher asks a student to write “I will not tell a lie again” one hundred times, to ‘teach’ him/her how to tell the truth, or brings a chocolate to class for the student that finishes its work first, this is the theory that the action is based on. The main problem with this approach is that it confuses control with learning. If a child performs an action, or refrains from performing an action in the face of an external motive, though he/she may do so repeatedly, one cannot say he/she has learnt the action. It will only be a reaction to the external cause. x] Theory of learning as a step by step process: This theory is at the bottom of the structure of all curricula. When preschool children are asked to draw ‘standing lines’, ‘sleeping lines’ and ‘slanting lines’ so that they can then be taught how to draw A’s, B’s and C’s, they are being taught with the assumption that learning is a step by step process. It is important to clarify that a lot of the time, learning is, in fact, gradual. Each new skill builds on skills previously learnt. However, increase in skill is not necessarily steady and gradual. Learning s orderly in the sense that it happens in accordance with the needs and forces with which an individual must cope. However, that does not mean that people learn according to predetermined patterns or formulas. It is wrong to believe that children must learn rules of grammar before they can write an essay, or that they must learn how to add, subtract, multiply and divide before they can handle money. Theoretical principles have been found to be more meaningful for people who have had to cope with some of the problems to which theories are supposed to apply.
Therefore, while in practice it works better for learners to have some direct or personal experience with the subject at hand before theoretical considerations are taken up, the argument that theory must come before learning in the educational sequence is generally the basis for curriculum development in schools and colleges. [xi] Learning is permanent: “Didn’t they teach you anything at all in school? ”, or “Who taught you science? ” reflect the speaker’s assumption that learning is permanent. It reflects the belief that learning is a kind of fixed and permanent status rather than a dynamic, ongoing process.
Now if learning was not permanent, schools and colleges would not be of much use. One might as well wait before learning a skill up to the time when the need for the skill arises. Learning is permanent, but not all types. When material is learnt in order to answer a question, pass an exam, or satisfy other such temporary needs, it is not permanent. [xii] Unfortunately, the reasons for learning information imparted in schools are often one of the aforementioned. It is no wonder then that a student has forgotten much of what was learnt in the previous class at the beginning of a new academic year.
When information learnt is seen as important to the welfare or relevant to the self concept of the learner, or if it becomes part of the learner’s daily life, chances of remembering it greatly increase. [xiii] “Being told” is learning: When a teacher stands in front of the class and talks for an hour about the subject matter in order to teach it to the pupils, this is the theory to be blamed. It is the same theory that a teacher believes in when he/she asks students to read pages from a textbook as homework, assuming the child will learn the material in those pages by doing so.
The truth of the matter is that it is not hearing or reading the information that causes learning, when it occurs. Other factors like interest in the topic, or/and an understanding of the concepts the new information is based on, are what cause the learning, when it does happen on hearing a lecture or reading a book. [xiv] With the knowledge of the inefficiency of practices based on such theories, a second, more closer look at the common practices in an Indian classroom would help one understand how inefficient the system of education followed is.
Perhaps the most common type of homework given to an elementary school child is to write a word, or an answer, or a sequence, a certain number of times. The specific number varies, and therefore the amount of time spent doing such homework also varies, but the fact that this kind of homework does not help the child in any way remains. In fact, all one needs to do is ask the child that has just finished writing an answer five times, as per her homework, to answer the question without looking at the answer – most likely, she will not be able to.
One would be hard pressed to find a classroom that is not teacher – centred. A few of the main differences between a teacher centered classroom and a learner centered classroom is that in a teacher centred classroom, the teacher is the main source of information, often in an undesirable way, ‘telling’ the learner things. In a learner centered classroom, on the other hand, the learner acquires knowledge through problem solving activities, critical thinking, and inquiry. The teacher is just a helper and a guide. In the teacher centred classroom, the teaching strategies used are often lectures, or exposition.
Since it is up to the teacher to ensure learning, the concern is usually how much information is transferred in a given period of time – the quicker portions are finished, the happier teachers are. Therefore, the pace is fast, and not necessarily a comfortable one for all learners. In a learner centred classroom, on the other hand, students acquire information that they find relevant and necessary for their lives. Greater emphasis is placed on understanding. The students are passive receivers of knowledge in a teacher centered classroom, whereas they actively seek knowledge in a student centered classroom. xv] It is quite apparent, then, that a learner centered classroom is inherently conducive to learning effectively, and that teacher centered classrooms are more likely to be unfavourable for effective learning. Teachers will also find it necessary to be in control in a teacher centered classroom, and may therefore resort to unhealthy forms of punishment to achieve control. Making a disobedient student stand on top of the bench, or kneel in a very uncomfortable position for an hour, or even more, are not uncommon punishments.
Sometimes the offense may just be undone homework. Many of the problems stated require of the teachers, better understanding of the principles and influencing factors in the learning process. However, giving them this would not be easy. As mentioned before, many individuals in the teaching profession have not had any formal training in the field. Among those who have, the training system and curricula are not up to the requirements, so the teachers are still not qualified enough, or rather, do not understand enough to be able to do a good job.
In other cases, the very system that a particular school follows, or even the bigger system of education that the entire nation follows, makes it difficult to change certain teaching practices. For example, having a fixed syllabus that all 10th standard students must follow makes it difficult for a 10std classroom to be anything but teacher centered, in that the teacher must teach the students everything that comes under the syllabus in her subject.
She cannot alter the syllabus to make it more meaningful in the context of the learner’s life, nor can she allow the learners to decide which portions of the syllabus will be most useful to them, and then assist them in the understanding of those concepts only. Therefore, having a comprehensive and relevant syllabus is also important – a child cannot gain much from knowing that the First Battle of Panipat was fought in 1526; what lessons can be learnt from the war may be a more useful piece of information.
The memorization of pages of information is even more redundant in this day and age, when facts are so easily available. Again, a more useful skill to learn would be how to use the Internet effectively to get the necessary knowledge, or how to look up a reference book to find what one needs. To change the system of education followed in India would be no easy task. Equally difficult would be changing the syllabus for students in school and teachers in B. Ed programs. However, what can be done is to supplement the substandard classroom learning with more efficient educative practices outside the classroom.
Before one can decide on what these efficient educative practices can be, it is necessary to understand what makes a good educative practice. If traditional theories of learning are faulty, what are better theories? Newer Theories of Learning Perhaps the biggest mistake that educators make in their perceptions of learning is the tendency to view it in isolation from other aspects of a child’s life. The idea of the education of a child is often confined to the classroom, or may be extended to the desk at which the child does his/her homework.
With more credence and attention given to educational psychologists and their findings, the established systems of education began to undergo changes in countries like the United States of America. Educators began to look at the process of teaching and learning as one that is a lot more complex than standing over a child with a stick and ‘ensuring that he’s learning’. Factors that were previously thought to be unconnected to the learning process began to be studied as necessary to understanding the learning situation better. A human being is a social being.
The growth of a human being is not so much physical as it is social, the world humans live in is not so much a physical world as a social world. Social development is as important an aspect of growth as physical development, and is a major feature of growth years; it should therefore be a big part of the educational program during these years. The work assigned to a child, and the methods used to teach a child should be decided on with due consideration to the social maturity of the child. Therefore social psychology is also of importance in the field of education to better be able to teach the child. xvi] The change in perspective is summed up rather well in the saying, “To be able to teach Sam algebra, it is not enough if you know algebra. You must also know Sam. ” With comprehensive studies regarding the psychology of the learner, and the realization that a lot more than what was previously thought to be related to learning was involved in the process of acquiring knowledge about things in the environment of the learner, came the conclusion that that the approach to teaching required modification in the light of these findings.
The theories of education that are prevalent today among students of the field are much wider than their predecessors, and account for a greater set of influencing factors than earlier theories. For example, one of the most advocated theories today is that learners must be able to see a direct relation between their interests and desires, and what is being taught to them. This fact was not wholly unacknowledged in the traditional education system, because the concept of marks and grades was partly to artificially provide this relationship.
However, what is being advocated today is a much stronger relationship – one that is more realistically connected to the everyday lives of the learners, or their self concept. Providing this kind of relationship also ensures that learning is long lived. If, on the other hand, as discussed under the ‘Learning is permanent’ theory, the learner’s objective is to get high grades in the upcoming examination, the information loses its value after the examination, and is therefore as quickly forgotten.
Another aspect that was never given much thought in the traditional methods of teaching was the readiness of the child to learn the new information. The readiness to learn a new concept is a very important prerequisite to actual learning. Readiness covers a broad range of factors: mental maturity, the mastery of prerequisite skills, the ability to see the relevance of the skill to be learnt, the interest to learn the new skill, are all integral parts of the readiness that is needed for efficient learning.
Studies have shown that waiting until a child is ready before teaching him/her a new concept reduces the learning time and increases the efficiency with which the concept is learned, as compared to children who were taught the concept before they were ready. Children who were taught the same concept later than the latter group were found to catch up to the proficiency level of their counterparts rather quickly. However, it is important to note that waiting too long before teaching the skill, especially if it is motor – related, can have adverse effects. [xvii]
Another approach that was altered with new research on learning was the ‘learning as a step by step process’ model of teaching. The questioning of this approach is known as the ‘part vs the whole’ question. It advocates a shift from teaching students the parts of a concept before arriving at the whole. Using the example cited earlier, it debates the wisdom in making a child draw standing lines and sleeping lines before showing them how to write the letters of the English alphabet. It maintains that following such a process will only make the initial work boring and monotonous, devoid of any sense or meaning.
It ignores the requirement of a learner to have a frame of reference from which he/she can understand the importance of what he/she is learning. [xviii] Based on the broader understanding of learning, Blair, Jones and Simpson identified specific classroom practices that can be changed to foster better learning. The present system of assignments can be utilized to realize learning objectives. An assignment is often viewed as unconnected to the process of learning that occurs in the classroom, specific to a particular lesson. Instead, a teacher can make the assignment a source of motivation for classroom learning.
The assignment, if designed to allow for diverse individual interests, can help the learner find meaning in the related lesson, and contextualize it, making the learning for that lesson more effective. [xix] The placement and function of reviews can have a great impact on the retention of the learnt information. The learning curve, a graph drawn with the time elapsed since learning on one axis and the amount of material retained on the other, shows that the maximum amount of forgetting occurs very soon after the information is received.
A review that is placed at this junction, perhaps one or two days after the material is learnt, has the greatest positive effect on retention. A review that is placed, say, a month later, will have a much smaller effect on retention, because most of the forgetting would already have occurred by then. [xx] Testing also has a very direct relation to what is learnt. This is because the kinds of tests used are statements of objectives, and will shape what a student considers important and worthy of attention and interest. [xxi] For xample, asking a child, in the final examination, when the Battle of Panipat was fought, would be a statement of the teacher’s perception that remembering such information is important. It would be difficult for children to then feel that the education they are receiving will be of any more use to them than help in getting a grade that they need to pass the examination at the end of the year. Finally, the very sequence of activities leaves a mark on the effectivity of learning. The most common sequence always has testing at the end of the course (with study and teaching as precedents).
Doing so makes the test the focus of the learning. Also, the current sequence does not allow for the measurement of the student’s skill or knowledge before the commencement of teaching. [xxii] Learning may be inhibited or enhanced by various factors in a classroom – some of them have been mentioned already. However, one important factor that hasn’t been dealt with yet is the organization and the presentation of the learning material. If dealing with textual information, this encompasses the words used, the way sentences are formed, or the way paragraphs are divided. xxiii] However, learning material is not, and should not be, confined to textual information. Another way to present information is through audio – visual aids. Seeing and hearing play a large part in the learning process, and audio-visual aids make use of this fact. These are not the only types of teaching aids – in fact, the function of any teaching aid is to make an appeal to those senses that can respond adequately. The senses made use of may even be the senses of taste and touch, depending on what is being taught. For best results, the use of aids that make use of several senses are better than those that supply information to one. xxiv] In trying to give learners such a learning experience, technology is a most useful tool. Its adaptability, and the high comfort level it offers for the present generation of learners are some of the reasons that using technology in classrooms is a growing trend. Very innovative ways of doing so, as well as more accessible ways of utilizing technology to create a better learning environment are dealt with in the next chapter. The Role of Technology and its Benefits Research in the classroom shows that teachers are beginning to use technology to change the way information is imparted, and to alter the curriculum.
For example, the use of educational technology is part of an instructional shift towards more learner centered approaches to teaching and learning within a context of school improvement or reform. These approaches move the concept of learning beyond the mere memorization of facts and procedures towards learning as a process of knowledge creation. [xxv] However, apart from such revolutionary practices, technology is being used to create a better learning environment in simpler ways as well. For example, a teacher may use a video to teach children about a particular topic.
While this is not very different from traditional teaching practices in terms of methodology, it does make the learning material more interesting due to factors like audio and visual stimulation, or by just being a break from the usual classroom routine. Other ways that technology is now used to create a better learning environment are through some of the following inventions: Interactive White boards: The digital white board is an electronic interactive version of the standard dry-erase board. It is capable of presenting dynamic lessons, connecting to the internet and the computer.
It can be a powerful tool to bring interactivity into the classroom. Interactive activities can offer several cognitive benefits to the students, since they supplement the typical didactic approach of pure observations with the added component of hands-on “doing. ” These activities can help with visualization of abstract concepts and can provide an added cognitive dimension by allowing students to view ideas through motion and music. Further, they are just pure fun and a good way to break up the monotony of a typical lecture.
Thus, it is constructive to incorporate interactivity to reinforce and enrich the curriculum. [xxvi] Mind Mapping: Mind-mapping software such as “Kidspiration” and “Inspiration” can be used in a different number of classroom contexts. It is excellent for group brainstorming for social studies projects and may even be used to help students understand larger pieces of literature by creating logical outlines. This software can also be used by students individually, when they are planning out essays, small and large projects and reading books and stories for language arts. [xxvii] Statistical Analysis:
High school students working in the social sciences should learn to use computers to perform statistical analysis. Computers are important in psychological research, particularly because contemporary psychological research is so statistically intensive. Computers can be used in combination with specialty software for processing and analyzing large data sets. Psychological research, in many cases, is focused on studying large populations over long periods of time. But, this can be scaled down for high school students who are attempting to finish smaller research projects that also require the analysis of large data sets.
Computers and software technology can be used to help students process data in a speedy and constructive way and can facilitate the learning of social science research techniques and methodologies for future career development. [xxviii] Architectural Modeling: Computer software such as 3D Studio Max can be used at the high school level for projects in architectural modeling. It is a professional software package with a lot of easily accessible options, and students can really explore their creativity through various design projects.
They can model buildings, design parks or create the interfaces for their own video games. They can even use it to create different animations. This kind of computer software can be used across the curriculum, in art class and even in science class, where students can use it to model the human body. The digital and interactive components are sure to create a new level of comprehension for the subject being studied. [xxix] Mathematical Software: Computers, together with specialty software such as “Mathematica” or “MatLab” an be used effectively to enhance mathematics instruction at the high school level. That kind of software is particularly excellent not just because of its vast functionality but also because of the store of knowledge that the community supporting it possesses. Students who embark on a study of mathematics with the use of these computer applications can easily gain proficiency in the subject, but will also be motivated to further their exploration of mathematics and connect with other students and mathematicians using these tools for their studies and research. xxx] These are just some of the uses that technology has been put to, to make learning a richer and more natural experience. While many of these are expensive, and it is unlikely that they can be used regularly in most classrooms, what is notable about them is how adaptable they are to human needs. The advantage in creating good learning material is that as long as the developer or the designer of the products have a good understanding of the learning process, thousands of such material can be created that will help improve classroom learning.
This is quite different from what would happen otherwise – to create a good classroom learning experience for thousands of classrooms, thousands of teachers would need to be trained in more appropriate teaching procedures. As previously mentioned, this would be no easy task. A more common use of technology for learning would be the use of computers. Computers are becoming progressively more and more popular among teachers as a tool for teaching. Using computers helps present an important interactive component and allows students a diverse and exciting way of integrating information into their lessons. xxxi] Educational gaming is one way of using computers to help in learning. Perhaps one of its biggest assets is that it need not be used in the classroom alone. In fact, much of the current use of educational gaming is in individual homes. This enables a child to benefit from its learning features without the school having to adopt its use in the classroom. One of the reasons computers seem to be excellent tools for learning is the attraction they exercise upon children. If we were to go deep into this henomenon to understand why this happens, we will find that there are two possible reasons: what is called “cosmetics” and the “video game effects”. “Cosmetics” refers to users being attracted to the multi-media effects, such as pictures, sound and animation which captivate them. “Video game effects” refers to an certain excitement similar to that which is felt when playing a video game. The setting is entirely, mathematically defined, and the user may feel the need to have a certain power over the machine.
When the desired result of having this sense of authority over it is not reached, either not being able to force the computer to do what the person wants or being unable to figure what needs to be done to get the desired result by trial and error method, the person enters into a state of excitement which stems purely from intellectual challenge. The challenge that is presented has nothing to do with the person’s physical ability (such as those required in sports). The certainty that there has to be a right way to do something and having it just be a matter of figuring it out what it is attracts the person to it.
Such motivation is hard to find in a normal classroom setting. [xxxii] When used for educational programs, what attracts the child or adolescent is not the beauty or interest of the contents being learned, but these cosmetic and video game effects. One may object that a human teacher also tries to present each subject in a fascinating fashion. However, there is a possibility that the teacher presents the subject using his/her own enthusiasm and knowledge. What the teacher presents may not be nearly as fascinating to the student.
Education software does not have the ability of “knowing” or deducing what is the student’s context: what she or he has learned the week or even the year before, what has been happening around or in the world. Therefore it may be said that it presents a new context, one which the teacher fails to present. The child may be more fascinated by it and may feel the need to explore it. Once the child feels the need to do that, he or she learns along the way, by trial and error and a context that he or she makes for himself or herself rather than one that is presented and has to be ccepted and adopted. [xxxiii] With the great popularity of technological games today, and the resultant qualitative improvement in them, the usefulness of computer games in teaching is not confined to attributes like the cosmetics or the video game effects. In 2006, the Federation of American Scientists organized the Summit on Educational Games. The reason for the summit was to harness the attraction games had for kids and the ability to learn complex skills and acquire new knowledge through games to utilize games to educate children.
In its report, several features of a game that are useful for learning are listed. The first of such features is the presence of clear learning goals, which contextualize and organize the understanding of what is to be learnt; this makes the learning more relevant. Then is the availability of broad experience and practice opportunities that challenge the learner. Also important is the continuous monitoring of progress, and the use of this information to diagnose performance. Recognized progress towards the goal is an important factor in the learning situation for effective learning. xxxiv] Games also move players to higher challenges as mastery is gained. Not only does this ensure readiness before a more difficult challenge, it also takes care of the learner that has mastered the skills required, and allows him/her to move on. Compelling games that motivate their players to seek out information on game strategies and concepts from other gamers, friends, tip guides, web sites, and other resources encourage inquiry and questions, and provides responses with answers that are appropriate to the learner and the context.
Games also provide the very important contextual bridging, closing the gap between what is learned and its use. The example cited is the theories of business management – supply, demand, pricing and budget – that come alive in the “owners mode” of a popular video game as players manage an NFL football franchise. One feature that would be impossible to achieve through traditional classroom practices is the amount of time a person is willing to spend working on a given task – with games, some players spend hundreds of hours trying to achieve mastery.
The motivation players have in successfully completing the game is similarly much higher than the motivation present in a classroom to master a concept. They also provide the player with scaffolding like cues, hints, prompts and partial solutions to keep him/her progressing successfully. Finally, a game has infinite patience – it will not declare, after numerous failed attempts, that the player “just isn’t cut out for maths”, as a human teacher may. It offers repeated opportunities to try, try again. xxxv] With such qualities, using educational games to teach seems only right and natural. A Brief Overview of Knowledge Adventure and JumpStart In order to study in greater depth the effectivity of using educational computer games to enhance classroom learning, the researcher decided to ask schoolchildren to play a chosen educational computer game and monitor their academic progress to see what effects the former has on the latter. The game the researcher chose was Knowledge Adventure’s JumpStart 3D Virtual World ‘Trouble in Town, Ages 5-7’. The choice was made for a number of reasons.
Knowledge Adventure is a company that is known for its popular educational software. As its official website informs viewers, “Since 1991, Knowledge Adventure has set the standard in kids’ software by creating the finest educational products for use in the home and the classroom. Today, Knowledge Adventure’s JumpStart and MathBlaster products invite kids to learn through endless gaming adventures in 3D virtual worlds. By blending learning and entertainment, Knowledge Adventure’s adventure-based learning inspires kids’ minds through immersed play.
Knowledge Adventure designs and produces award-winning products under two primary flagship brands: Trusted by over 30 million parents, the JumpStart brand has been a leader in the educational software market for over 10 years. Recently, the internationally renowned brand expanded into the online gaming market with a new website at JumpStart. com. Launched live on March 10, 2009, JumpStart. com is a groundbreaking evolution in children’s learning games and the first learning game delivered in a browser with high-quality 3D graphics and advanced game play.
A completely safe and secure online environment where kids can interact, explore and learn, JumpStart. com is quickly becoming the epicenter of online gaming for the 3-10 year old demographic. ” Its products have won over 500 awards, including eight 2007 Practical Homeschooling Interactive Learning Awards, reader’s choice, the Parent to parent Adding Wisdom Award, the Award of Excellence, the Dr Toy 100 Best Children’s Products Award, the Dr Toy Smart Play Smart Toy Award and the Family Choice Award. [xxxvi]
The researcher’s decision to use a product of Knowledge Adventure for the study was based on this wide appreciation, and enthusiasm for the educational software of Knowledge Adventure, both among the children as well as the parents themselves. The JumpStart series has a fair share of its own awards, The Toy Man Award of Excellence 2008, National Parenting Seal of Approval – 2008 Winner, iParenting Media Awards – Outstanding Product 2008, Great Interactive Software for Kids Award and the Mom’s Choice Awards 2008 Silver Recipient being some of them.
Since the 3D Virtual Worlds were the latest products in the series, the researcher thought it would be interesting to use one of them for the study. She also felt that efficient learning was more important at the younger ages, when the basics of higher concepts were being taught, and when children were learning how to learn. Therefore, she chose the 3D World meant for students of Grade 1. On studying the structure of the game, the researcher was impressed to find that many important aspects of learning were taken care of by the way the game was played.
The basic outline of the game is as follows: the player first chooses his/her online character, or ‘Jumpee’. The player then enters the game, where he/she is taken to a small campfire, around which other members of ‘Camp JumpStart’ are seated. The leader, Frankie, explains to them that this year, in the camp, they are training to become leaders, and that they will be given missions to complete; the completion of a number of missions earns them ‘keys’, and the twelfth such key is the Key to Leadership – when they receive that, they will become a leader. Other keys include the Key to Knowledge, the Key to Dedication, the Key to Friendship, the Key to Inspiration, etc. All these keys represent the qualities a good leader must have. ) The player is then left to explore the 3D world. Frankie takes the player to the Maths arcade, where the player is allowed to play games. The games are all learning games, modeled on the kind of games that are popular with kids. For example, one of the games is similar to the game of tic-tac-toe, but the player must solve a problem before he/she gets a chance to place his/her marker.
Another game is similar to the game ‘Snake’, but the player moves around in a train instead. The shape of the object the train must run over is determined by the child, by deciding what shape is needed to complete a given pattern. Similar to the game ‘Snake’, the objects keep shifting position. The games earn the player gems, which are used to buy objects in the virtual world. Once the child tires of the games in the Maths arcade, Frankie shows them the Reading arcade. Again, the player plays learning games to earn gems from here.
The missions that the player must complete are basically helping the other members of Camp JumpStart, like helping Keisha train for her running by racing with her, or in another instance, cheering Hops up; it is up to the player to figure out how, with hints from the other members of the camp about what Hops likes, and what’s bothering him. An interesting aspect about activities like this, and the concept of the keys to leadership, for example, is that they all are related to social skills and values – helping others, being considerate and thoughtful.
As mentioned earlier, learning should occur in those areas that are most relevant to the life and experience of the learner. As such, in many books about educational psychology, one finds the author stressing the importance of learning social values, or as contributing to the socialization of the child. [xxxvii] Such learnings are especially relevant for the school-going child, since children attend school at a stage of rapid social development. Therefore, it is important to recognize the value of teaching skills like cooperation and getting along with others. [xxxviii]
Using the gems earned from the learning games, the player buys items in the virtual world – either to complete missions, or for personal use, like furnishing and decorating his/her cabin, or grooming his/her pet. Another point to be noted here is that in this virtual world, the child plays the role of the adult. This would add greatly to the self esteem of the child, and be a great motivator for the player to function efficiently. In classrooms, even in the absence of corporal punishment, the self esteem of the child often suffers greatly, even if simply by the discarding or ignoring of the child’s “silly” ideas.
The game also has, inherently, all the qualities that were mentioned during the Summit on Educational Games. However, some of the qualities, like a knowledge of clear objectives, and regular feedback, may not be as important to a child between the ages of 5 and 7. Some other qualities are present in a more integral way in this game. For example, the encouragement to ask questions is provided by the ready access to the ‘communicator’, that can be used every time the player is unsure about what he/she should be doing at any point during the game.
Also, all the other members of the camp are always ready and willing to help the player on his/her mission. The learning games themselves are notable for the thought that went into them. For example, in one game that is classified under the reading game section, all that the player is expected to do is to match similar looking shapes, although in the guise of a fun game. To any parent, such a game would seem like a waste of time – how it is related to reading would be rather difficult to imagine.
Interestingly, in one of the books that advocated readiness before learning can occur, the example given for readiness for reading was that the child be able to discriminate between visual stimuli before he/she can be expected to differentiate between the various letters of the English alphabet. [xxxix] This indicates an obvious inclusion of principles of educational psychology in the designing of the game. In a game situation like the one described, there is an absence of the humiliation factor that prevents children from exploring their potential in normal classroom settings.
The child’s fear of failure, and the accompanying ridicule or humiliation would normally hold a child back from experimentation. However, in a democratic set-up, like the one present in the game, the child, feeling safe from the hazards of humiliation,will feel more confident to identify deficiencies and inadequacies, and develop his/her own education program. Children possess a drive to achieve their best potential and to develop efficiently and adequately. [xl] This drive seems to be taken advantage of in this game.
The researcher has seen some learning games that are more learning than game. In such cases, the motivation to keep playing may be reduced, because the player would feel more like he/she is doing an assignment than having fun. However, the JumpStart 3D Virtual World series is in fact of much better quality than most games that a child would normally play on a computer, or online. The child is completely immersed in the Virtual World, where he/she is a resident. The quality of the visuals and the sounds is very high.
Birds chirp in areas with trees, one can hear water flowing near the waterfalls and streams, and as the Jumpee runs about, its footsteps are quite prominent. The child can personalize the world by choosing his/her favourite music track to be played on the music systems that exist in various places. Therefore, every time the Jumpee walks around these areas, or even just passes them, the music begins to play. The parent can also personalize the game by choosing pictures of the child to be displayed on various billboards around the Virtual World.
Also, the parent has the option of leaving messages for the child on blimps that fly overhead once in a while. The game can be further personalized by creating ‘Super Gems’; the parent can create vouchers for rewards like staying up an hour later than usual, going out for ice cream, going out for a movie, a trip to the park, or even a custom reward, that can be redeemed when the child earns a super gem. This provides a very strong relationship between the game and the child’s life, increasing the strength of the incentive and motivation to play the game.
Therefore, the researcher felt JumpStart 3D Virtual World, ‘Trouble in Town’, was a very good example of an effective educational computer game, and that it would be an appropriate choice to use for the study. Provisional Results of the Study The researcher chose to work with the students of Oasis International School for the study, since the students in an international school are more likely to have internet access at home. Having access to the internet was important because JumpStart 3D Virtual World requires a high speed internet connection to be played.
It was also a good idea to look for participants who had computers and internet access in their homes because such kids are more likely to be comfortable with the two, and would therefore not have any difficulty in using either. A third reason that such details were important is that the games are designed for kids with access to such facilities, and the kind of activities and features JumpStart World has would be attractive to a child that regularly plays, and is familiar with, games on the computer, or the internet. The students all study in Grade 1, since ‘Trouble in Town’ is meant for kids between the ages of 5 and 7.
The participants belong to two different sections (1A and 1D), and are therefore taught by two different sets of teachers. Among the information collected from them was how much time each child spent in front of the computer and the television. This was seen as important by the researcher because the accents of the characters in the game are American, and she thought there may be a relationship between the amount of cartoons a child watched, and how easily the child was able to understand what was expected of them in the game, especially since all instructions in the game are verbal.
Also, the researcher felt the familiarity that a child had with the computer and computer games may affect how comfortable the child was with the Knowledge Adventure game. Students who are not familiar or comfortable with computers and digital media may have to tackle an additional cognitive load in trying to understand lessons and assignments that use the computer. [xli] The researcher also asked about the child’s interest in school, and subjects like Maths and English, to monitor any changes in the players’ attitudes towards learning, and towards these subjects in particular.
In all, she chose fifteen students to play the game, making up the experimental group. She also chose fifteen more students with similar academic proficiency to use as the control group. These students would not play the game, and would therefore be representative of the kind of learning that might have occurred if the experimental group had not played the game. Therefore, comparing the performance of the two groups after a period of about 2 months would give one an idea about the effects such educational computer games have on classroom learning. Profile of the subjects Eight of the fifteen students belong to 1A:
Student 1: S1’s marks in both English (25) and Maths (23) in her most recent examination are very good. The description of S1’s interest in scholastic activities by her parent reveals that she is a good reader, and that she enjoys learning and practicing what she has learnt in subjects like English and Maths. Going to school is an enjoyable experience for her. She spends 2-3 hours in a week watching TV, and 5-6 hours playing on the computer. Student 2: S2’s marks in English (23) and Maths (23) in his most recent examination indicate a very good aptitude for both subjects.
The description of S2’s interest in the two subjects reveals that S2 enjoys reading once in a while, and loves Maths. S2 is reported to be very good at Maths. Going to school is enjoyable for him. He watches TV and plays on the computer during the weekends. Student 3: S3’s marks in the two subjects in his most recent examination indicate that he is good in English (22) and above average in Maths (18). According to his parent, he is good at reading and enjoys listening to stories. His understanding of Maths is very good, and he enjoys practicing it.
He is creative, enjoys learning new things, and finds going to school enjoyable. On an average, he watches only around 1-2 hours of television in a week, and spends about 2 hours playing on the computer. Student 4: From his marks in the most recent examination, S4 seems to be excellent in English (25), and good in Maths (19). No description of his interests or activities were provided by his parents – why they neglected to do so is uncertain. There is a possibility that it reflects on the interest they take in the child’s activities.
Student 5: S5’s marks in his most recent examination indicate that his aptitude for English (21) is good, and for Maths (14) is average. His parent reports that he enjoys reading stories, and loves doing Maths practice on his own. He greatly enjoys going to school. He spends around 2-3 hours watching television in a week, and plays on the computer on weekends. Student 6: S6, from her marks in her most recent examination, appears to be good in English (21) and below average in Maths (11). Her parent reports that she enjoys reading, but is a slow reader. She likes doing mental Maths, and enjoys going to school.
She watches television on weekends, and plays on the computer for an hour on weekends. Student 7: S7’s marks in English (23) and Maths (18) in her most recent examination indicate that her aptitude in the two subjects is very good and good, respectively. Her parent describes her as being good in both reading and maths, and as an attentive and smart student. She watches around 3 hours of television in a week, and plays for about 2 hours on the computer. Student 8: S8’s marks in both English (14) and Maths (12) in his most recent examination indicate an aptitude level that is below the average for his class.
His parent describes him as an average student, with poor reading skills and satisfactory performance in Maths. He is reported to enjoy going to school. He spends ‘a lot of time’ watching TV, while the time he spends playing on the computer is a lot less. The remaining seven students belong to class 1D: Student 9: S9’s marks in English (17) and Maths (20) in his most recent examination indicates that his proficiency in both subjects is good. According to his parent, he doesn’t seem to enjoy reading. However, he is reported to be good in Maths, and to go to school with enthusiasm.
S9 doesn’t watch television at home, and plays little on the computer. Student 10: In her most recent examination, S10 has done very well in both English (22) and Maths (22). She is reported to love reading books, and to spend roughly half an hour every day reading. According to her parent, maths is her favourite subject, and she enjoys working out maths problems at home. S10 spends around 15 hours a week watching television, and roughly 7 hours a week playing on the computer. Student 11: S11 has, in her most recent examination, scored marks that indicate an overall above average performance in English (17) and Maths (16).
She is described as an enthusiastic child that is keen to go to school and enjoys doing her work in reading and mathematics. She watches around 8 hours of television in a week, and doesn’t play on the computer at all. Student 12: S12, in his most recent examination, has done well in both English (22) and Maths (19). Neither parent has given any other details about the child’s interests and activities – why they neglected to do so is uncertain. There is a possibility that it reflects on the interest they take in the child’s activities.
Student 13: S13 has done well in both English (20) and Maths (21) in his most recent examination. His parent describes him as a boy who is good in Maths and who enjoys reading books. Apparently he does well in the classroom. S13 watches an average of 3 to 4 hours of television every week, and spends roughly 1 or 2 hours playing on the computer. Student 14: S14’s performance in his most recent examination is above average in both English (18) and Maths (18). His parent says he is very interested in reading books, and that he is a quick and efficient learner when it comes to Maths.
Apart from trouble with classmates, S14 enjoys going to school, and classroom learning. He watches an average of 12 hours of television every week, and plays on the computer for about 8 hours in a week. Student 15: S15’s marks in her most recent examination indicate that her overall performance in both English (8) and Maths (11) is below average. Interestingly, though her performance was similar in a previous examination, and her teacher expressed concern over S15’s perceived difficulty in learning, the parent describes her as being good at reading and “average” in maths.
She is also reported to enjoy going to school. S15 spends an average of 7 hours in a week watching television, and about 2 hours a week playing games on the computer. Progress of the study The researcher faced a lot of problems in getting the participants to play the game. Of the 15 participants, only 5 students have played the game at all. This could be due to a number of reasons. The participants were given their user names and passwords on the day their school closed for a 2 week vacation. Perhaps many participants were therefore travelling during this time period, and were consequently unable to play the game.
The researcher had found, during her interaction with the parents of the students in the two classes, that many parents were not easy to contact – they had either given wrong contact information, or did not bother to pick up their phones. She also noticed that the students did not always show their parents letters or circulars they received without repeated reminders. Therefore, she found it difficult to ensure that the parents received the information about getting started on, and playing the game. This could have been another reason for the small number of students who played the game.
Another factor that is likely to have affected the number of students that played the game is the technical difficulties sometimes experienced in downloading the game – a number of other users have faced problems in downloading and playing the JumpStart 3D Virtual World series as well. However, due to the aforementioned difficulties in getting in touch with the parents of the students, the researcher could not confirm her guesses about the reasons for the passivity of the participants in getting started on the game. The five participants who have played the game are S1, S2, S5 S6 and S13.
The researcher noticed that among these 5, there was strong motivation to play the game, based on the frequency with which the students played the game, and the speed of their progress in the game. S1 seemed to be the most regular in playing the game, and has also made the most progress, finishing 5 of the 12 units required to complete the game. Due to difficulty in downloading the game, S2 did not play for a very long period in the beginning. However, he started playing on the weekend after school reopened, and played a lot on that day. He has not progressed beyond the first unit.
S5 played for two days only. He played a lot on the second day, and then stopped playing. The reason for his discontinuation is unknown. He has not progressed beyond the first unit. S6 played very often during the first week, and made a lot of progress in that much time, finishing 3 units. However, she stopped playing after the first week – the reason for her discontinuation is unknown. S13 started playing only a week after school reopened – why he did not play until then is unknown. The researcher is unsure of his regularity in playing once he started. He has not progressed beyond the first unit.
Information about the academic progress of these 5 students has not been collected. In any case, the researcher feels that S1 is the only participant that has played regularly enough so far to notice a change in scholastic proficiency resulting from the playing of the educational computer game. These results are provisional, and the researcher intends to continue her study with all the participants. ———————– [i] Sharma, Ram Nath, Rajendra K Sharma. “Problems of Education in India”. New Delhi: Atlantic, 2004. p97. [ii]Madan, G R. “Social Problems”. 3rd edition. Reprinted 1982.
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Oct 1, 2009. http://www. ehow. com/about_5374913_use-computers-education. html Bibliography Pressey, Sidney L, Francis P. Robinson and John E. Horrocks. Psychology in Education. Delhi: Universal Book Stall, 1967 Lindgren, Henry Clay. Educational Psychology in the Classroom. Fifth printing. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1956 “Teaching profession has few takers in India today”. February 24, 2009. National Network of Education. September 20, 2009. http://www. indiaedunews. net/in-focus/February_2009/Teaching_profession_has_few_takers_in_India_today_75
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