Simulated "real" worlds: Actions mediated through computer game play in science education

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Simulated "real" worlds: Actions mediated through computer game play in science education


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Publication Doctoral Thesis
Title Simulated "real" worlds: Actions mediated through computer game play in science education
Author Nilsson, Elisabet M.
Date 2010
English abstract
Over the last decade, a great variety of visionary ideas and beliefs have been brought forward, regarding the potentials of using computer games as a tool for learning and mediation in educational settings. This thesis aims at contributing to research in this field, by empirically exploring what happens when students play and reflect on their computer game play in science education. Three empirical studies and a research review have been conducted. The first study was part of a design-based research project on mobile learning, and involved 17 students (aged 15−16) playing the mobile educational game Agent O. The two following studies involved 72 students (aged 13−15) playing the COTS game SimCity 4, in connection with the annual Swedish school competition Future City. Research questions aimed at clarifying, in a science learning context, what aspects of scientific practice are: (1) mediated through computer game play; (2) used and referred to by students, when reflecting upon their actions during computer game play. This work is not about science education. Instead, it studies actions mediated by computer games, and possible implications for science education. The focus is on mediated actions that occur during computer game play and their potential relevance to school science learning. Two tendencies are important as a background to the thesis. Firstly, the rapidly increased use of digital media among young people. Secondly, the challenge digital media pose for education, generally, and in this case science education, more particularly. The results suggest a number of ways in which computer game play can play a role in science education. Findings show that computer games may provide platforms for engagement in scientific practice, support authentic experiences, and constructively constrain students’ actions, by confronting them with simulated complexities. Computer game play is an activity of great variation, that can take many directions, and outcomes may therefore correspond to teachers’ expectations in some cases, while leading to quite different outcomes in others. It is noteworthy that during game play the students in these studies were primarily playing a game, not simulating a “real” world situation. They did not relate to occurrences outside the game world, unless they were specifically instructed to do so. Conclusions further indicate that instruction is a crucial factor, to benefit from potentials of computer game play in educational settings.
Publisher Malmö University
Series/Issue Malmö Studies in Educational Sciences;50
Studies in Science and Technology Education;30
ISSN 1651-4513
ISBN 978-91-86295-02-8
Pages 108
Language eng (iso)
Subject computer game play
science education
computer games
game-based learning
mediated action
empirical studies
Agent O
SimCity 4
Humanities/Social Sciences
Research Subject Categories::SOCIAL SCIENCES
Note Creative Commons Erkännande 2.5 Sverige Licence, www.creativecommons.o... (see Details for more)
Included papers
  1. Nilsson, Elisabet M. & Svingby, Gunilla (2009). Gaming as Actions: Students Playing a Mobile Educational Computer Game. Human IT, 10(1), 26–59.

  2. Nilsson, Elisabet M. & Jakobsson, Anders (Accepted). Simulated sustainable societies: students’ reflections on creating future cities in computer games. Accepted with revisions by the Journal of Science Education and Technology.

  3. Nilsson, Elisabet M. & Svingby, Gunilla (Accepted). Simulating a “real” world or playing a game? COTS games played in the science classroom. In Cai, Y. (Ed.), IDM and VR for Education in Virtual Learning Environment. New York: Nova Sciences Publishers.

  4. Svingby, Gunilla & Nilsson, Elisabet M. (Submitted). Research review: Empirical studies on Computer game play in Science education. Under review by by Felicia, P. (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Improving Learning and Motivation through Educational Games: Multidisciplinary Approaches. Hershey: IGI Global.

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