Can videogames be used to teach kids? That’s what four researchers set to find out when they created a social networking game called Epidemic, which was designed to teach kids about communicable diseases as well as test if digital games could offer newer, more critical ways of learning beyond what is traditionally taught in the classroom.
Epidemic is an online, game-based learning environment where kids create custom viruses based on real epidemiological facts and virology, make and remix disease PSA posters, and write their own stories in comic form. Each student also cultivates a “viral” social network where their virus’ potency is tied to their creative output and the number of friends they make.
The researchers took 178 kids, ages 11-14, from two suburban schools in Ontario, and put them into three groups: a standard group, an experimental group, and a baseline group. The standard group was taught using a traditional lecture format, the experimental group played Epidemic, and the baseline group was given no instruction and allowed to play their favourite online game. All three groups were then tasked with making their own disease posters or comics.
Comparing test scores and creative output from the first two groups yielded interesting results. The standard group scored higher on a final test but their posters simply repeated the given facts. Despite a lower test score, the experimental group was better able to critique, parody, and engage with the material in the digital comics they made using Epidemic. The experimental group demonstrated learning that could not be captured in standardized testing.
Digital, game-based learning environments can teach but what they teach is ignored by print-based assessment methods. This means newer assessment models are needed to truly uncover what kids are learning when they play videogames.
— Article excerpted from “Real Play 4 Kids” non-profit newsletter