As a way to improve student academic performance, educators have begun paying special attention to computer games (Gee, 2005; Oblinger, 2006). Reflecting the interests of the educators, studies have been conducted to explore the effects of computer games on student achievement. However, there has been no consensus on the effects of computer games: Some studies support computer games as educational resources to promote students' learning (Annetta, Mangrum, Holmes, Collazo, & Cheng, 2009; Vogel et al., 2006). Other studies have found no significant effects on the students' performance in school, especially in math achievement of elementary school students (Ke, 2008).
Researchers have also been interested in the differential effects of computer games between gender groups. While several studies have reported various gender differences in the preferences of computer games (Agosto, 2004; Kinzie & Joseph, 2008), a few studies have indicated no significant differential effect of computer games between genders and asserted generic benefits for both genders (Vogel et al., 2006). To date, the studies examining computer games and gender interaction are far from conclusive.
Moreover, there is a lack of empirical studies examining the differential effects of computer games on the academic performance of diverse learners. These learners included linguistic minority students who speak languages other than English. Recent trends in the K-12 population feature the increasing enrollment of linguistic minority students, whose population reached almost four million (NCES, 2004). These students have been a grieve concern for American educators because of their reported low performance.
In response, this study empirically examined the effects of math computer games on the math performance of 4th-graders with focused attention on differential effects for gender and linguistic groups. To achieve greater generalizability of the study findings, the study utilized a US nationally representative database--the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
The following research questions guided the current study:
1. Are computer games in math classes associated with the 4th-grade students' math performance?
2. How does the relationship differ by linguistic group?
3. How does the association vary by gender?
4. Is there an interaction effect of computer games on linguistic and gender groups? In other words, how does the effect of computer games on linguistic groups vary by gender group?
Academic performance and computer games
According DeBell and Chapman (2004), of 58,273,000 students of nursery and K-12 school age in the USA, 56% of students played computer games. Along with the popularity among students, computer games have received a lot of attention from educators as a potential way to provide learners with effective and fun learning environments (Oblinger, 2006). Gee (2005) agreed that a game would turn out to be good for learning when the game is built to incorporate learning principles. Some researchers have also supported the potential of games for affective domains of learning and fostering a positive attitude towards learning (Ke, 2008; Ke & Grabowski, 2007; Vogel et al., 2006). For example, based on the study conducted on 1,274 1st- and 2nd-graders, Rosas et al. (2003) found a positive effect of educational games on the motivation of students.
Although there is overall support for the idea that games have a positive effect on affective aspects of learning, there have been mixed research results regarding the role of games in promoting cognitive gains and academic achievement. In the meta-analysis, Vogel et al. (2006) examined 32 empirical studies and concluded that the inclusion of games for students' learning resulted in significantly higher cognitive gains compared with traditional teaching methods without games. …