Building Computer Games as Effective Learning Tools for Digital Natives-And Similars

Article excerpt

Introduction

Several authors discuss the use of digital games as effective learning tools. Aguilera and Mendiz (2003) and Gee (2003) bring extensive discussions--and seminal works--on the topic, as Bransford et al. (2000) and Prensky (2001) have done before. The role of digital games in these processes is being explored in the scientific literature for some time already, as evidenced by the work of Squire (2002). All these authors discuss computer games, as possessors of an attractive addition with strong appeal to motivate children and adults, could amplify the power of exploration and imagination of students, providing moments of research, reflection and learning. Nowadays, more recent discussions bring to light the need for narrative games and applications directed to specific areas such as education in Health Sciences (Tashiro, 2009), Engineering (Mayo, 2007) and Computer Sciences (Mustaro, Silva, & Silveira, 2008), for instance.

Studies on contemporary culture, such as Johnson (2005), lead to the need to address further and specifically on the impact of the games in the education of a young generation of digital natives appropriating the term coined by Prensky (2001). Tapscott (1998) uses the nomenclature "net generation" to describe this generation, characterized by a high degree of autonomy, intellectual openness, inclusion, technology, freedom of expression, curiosity, short-termism and especially confidence.

Shaffer (2007) highlights the use of computer games as effective for children's learning, while Prensky (2007) presents a broader approach, examining the impact of digital games in educational processes in general. Mustaro et al. (2008) argue that this scenario fully justifies even andragogical proposals focused on games, since it is possible to take advantage of nowadays' technological culture to subsidize the construction of learning resources for both formal education and for situations of non-formal learning, for both digital natives and older students that are immersed into (or are strongly influenced by) a culture with a pervasive presence of technology.

The main point behind all these works could be resumed as: the content carried both in formal and non-formal education present some structural problems. Some of them are listed below:

* Content (usually in formal education) have a degree of abstraction that often prevents efficient learning when teaching strategies are used that put students under the condition of passive learners.

* Some learning situations require students to spend huge mental efforts to memorize large amount of information and procedures. This situation occurs equally in formal and non-formal education, being more common in certain knowledge fields than others.

* Presentation of the content in face-to-face education sometime lacks from real-world examples of application of such content. This is more usual in theoretical subjects than hands-on ones.

* Even in practical learning situations, the subject being taught could carry a very high complexity, given the amount of variables involved in real-world experiences. Physics labs and field experiences are good examples of it. These are situations where "real" conditions do not help the learning process--the world could be not so "real" in these cases.

In all these contexts, the application of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in learning and teaching situations could allow new perspectives on various aspects ranging from content organization to a wide range of new opportunities promoted by the effective incorporation of technology into the entire teaching-learning process.

At this point, the concept of Learning Objects (Wiley, 2000) is fundamental for the development of digital educational resources for use both in experimental and large-scale projects involving a massive number of students and disciplines in formal education. …