How game-based learning could help students in maths

It's no secret that's games have helped with education in a wide variety of topics and there's plenty of literature to back this up...

Games and psychological benefits

Parents of children with attention deficit disorder reported fewer truancies, drop-outs and better grades as a result of linking video games with brainwave bio-feedback. But additionally, the handling of imagery in alternative locations on-screen was shown to increase spatial awareness (i.e. a sense of distance between one object and another). A more recent literature review by Boyle et al. (2016) exploring the more general benefits of educational games identified a regularly emerging outcome of increased general knowledge acquisition.

Games and practical skills

Children with diabetes were to found to have improved self-care, communication with parents, and reported a reduction in medical visits due to an educational game designed to enhance self-care skills. Adolescents playing an educational HIV/AIDS prevention game became significantly more knowledgeable about contraceptive practices, and felt confident in their ability to apply their knowledge in real life. Mitchell & Savill-Smith (2004) found that the use of computers by children who were gamers made them better at adapting to a more IT-oriented society.

Furthermore the closer to real life the game, the better students learned. Aircraft pilots found that games simulating the inside of an aircraft cockpit (first person view) enabled to them to perform better when flying in real life. This was in contrast to games where the camera was placed outside of an aircraft (third person view).

Games and maths skills

Mitchell & Savill-Smith (2004) also found computer-based mathematics games were shown to be very effective at improving mathematics exam scores (moreso than other subjects) among high school age students.

The study also included entertainment games, introducing a broader range of benefits depending on the type or genre of game. Some of these included affective changes (increased feelings of flow and motivation), cognitive behaviour changes (improved problem solving skills/ability to identify causes and solutions), perceptual changes (enhanced ability to see and give meaning to visual information) and physiological changes (better physical fitness, in particular as a result of exercise games). The most frequently occurring topics being taught using these games were maths and general STEM and health fields.

That said, the literature demonstrated that while users do learn from educational games, there is less evidence of transfer taking place, with many game designers required to find ways to close the gap between games and real life external tasks. Additionally, the games have proven to be effective with high school age students. But can they work their magic with university level counterparts?

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