Monday, April 25, 2011
There has been an increased interest in educational games lately — especially those that truly give the player a deeper understanding of a topic but are still fun in the process. History seems to be one of the topics that games have successfully tackled (see for instance several of the chapters in The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning), but other subjects, like math, are a bit trickier. Many math games often dress skill and drill practice with game mechanics, for instance, and it's not clear how effective they are.
I'm personally interested in games that help teach computer science. If students could play a few games either in class/lab or on their own and get a deeper understanding of topics like pointers right away, then perhaps the success rate would be higher and more students could be attracted to study CS in the first place.
When I did a search to see what games were already out there, I found something interesting. There were two types of results: first, games that taught programming logic directly or indirectly (e.g. Karel the Robot), and second, programs that helped teach CS concepts through making games (e.g. Kodu). The second category isn't quite what I was looking for, and the first category covers a fairly narrow range of actual computer science topics. Both are quite valuable in my opinion, but there's definitely a gap to be filled.
What I'd like to do is explore how we can make games in the same spirit as CS Unplugged activities, where specific high-level CS concepts are taught. I'd like to see if augmented reality would be a good interface to use. I'd start with first-year concepts because that would provide the largest audience (including non-majors), but it would be nice to tackle some of the more difficult topics as well.