Computer Games and Instruction
reviewed by Tim S. Roberts - August 01, 2013
Title: Computer Games and Instruction
Author(s): Sigmund Tobias and J. D. Fletcher (eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1617354082, Pages: 564, Year: 2011
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In Computer Games and Instruction, Sigmund Tobias and J. D. Fletcher provide an indispensable and comprehensive review of the field. Published in 2011, this 550-page book consists of 21 chapters authored by some of the most prominent researchers in the area.
Why is this area of such importance to those interested in effective learning, of both children and adults, whether in a traditional setting such as school or a university, or other less-traditional settings such as public or private companies, or the military, for example? At least three reasons immediately suggest themselves.
The first reason is the widespread popularity of games in general. The games industry is now earning close to ten billion dollars per year in the US alone, due to ever-increasing sales. Second, games are fun they provide interactive entertainment. Many people, of both genders and of all ages, enjoy spending their time playing games, and, given a choice between attending a traditional lecture or playing a game, most would opt for the latter (though there are exceptions!). And, unlike sitting in front of a television or a movie theatre screen, games require the viewer to be an active participant. Third, games, by their very nature, provide incentives to players, in the form of goals to be achieved, such that they are required to complete certain tasks to certain degrees of proficiency.
Although the primary audience for the book is other researchers, and some chapters are aimed squarely in this direction (for example, the chapters by Chris Dede on the development of a research agenda for educational games, and by Marc Prensky on the comparison of games to other methods), classroom teachers and other dedicated practitioners are also bound to find much food for thought within its pages. In particular, many of the authors stress the interactive and competitive nature of games. Educators of all persuasions will be aware that increased interaction, both with course materials and other students, is widely regarded as highly beneficial for many learners, while increased competition, either with oneself or with others, can provide very useful incentives to learning.
But wait. To quote a common conception, arent games only, or at least predominantly, of interest to younger males? Well, no, not really. The mean age for players of computer games tends to be in the late twenties or early thirties, and around 40% of players are female. So the potential applicability of computer games for learning is widespread.
As is pointed out in an excellent chapter by Elisabeth Hayes appropriately entitled Gender and Gaming, the most significant differences in game-playing by males as opposed to females is that the former tend to play games more often and for longer periods, and to enjoy games rated Mature or Adult-Only more than their female counterparts. This chapter has stimulated this particular reviewer to the view that there is an interesting question to be resolved here should the design and the use of computer games for learning be differentiated according to whether the primary target audience is male or female?
Another question of great interest is whether the use of computer games may help to improve the situation with regard to some systemic and seemingly entrenched inequalities, such as those experienced by students from low socio-economic backgrounds, or whether their use may actually exaggerate such inequalities. If socially disadvantaged students have less access to the appropriate technologies, does this have implications for the use of computer games for learning? This question forms a central part of the chapter by Dai and Wind. As with many of the articles in this book, the authors end without any firm conclusions, but with a heartfelt appeal for more research in this area.
Many specific applications are examined, and examined well, within the pages of this book. Space does not permit me to mention them all, but amongst them can be found the use of computer games in the health care sector by Janis Cannon-Bowers et al., in which the authors describe the use of games by both physicians and patients; their application in the US Military, by Ralph Chatham, who has borne primary responsibility for various vital funding decisions in this area; the use of games for vocabulary learning, by Michael Kamil and Cheryl Taitague, who have found that their use with students for whom English is not their primary language may be particularly beneficial; and for the enhancement of cognitive skills by Ashley Anderson and Daphne Bavelier, who have found that playing action games may improve attention and enhance cognitive processing speeds.
The editors, Sigmund Tobias, from the University of Albany, and J. D. Fletcher, from the Institute for Defense Analysis, have themselves authored four of the most interesting chapters in the book. The introduction provides a concise summary of all of the chapters in the book, and is, naturally, the best place to start. The second, a chapter co-authored with Dai and Wind, is by far the longest chapter in the book, at almost 100 pages. The authors provide an extremely comprehensive review of many empirical studies on the use and application of computer games. At the core of this chapter is a table that extends over 29 pages, which provides a summary of studies comparing groups, with details as to their design, their metrics, and, of course, the results found.
The third of the four, authored by J. D. Fletcher, proposes the use of economic metrics, specifically cost-effectiveness, return on investment, and net present value, as ways to assess the value of the use of computer games for the learning process. The final chapter is very much a summary of the current state of research, in which the authors take the opportunity to look at current trends and suggest ways in which the field may be expected to develop in the future.
As to other aspects, there appear to be very few typos or other misprints (I have failed to find any so far.), and the formatting of the book is of high quality throughout. There is no index, but this is a minor inconvenience.
The references provided by the authors at the end of their respective chapters provide a guide to the existing literature that will be invaluable for other researchers just starting out in the area.
This is an important book that I can highly recommend for both beginning and experienced researchers in this area, and for anyone who has an interest in computer games and their current and future use to enhance the learning process.