Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Student Response to Risk in Classroom Learning Games

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Student Response to Risk in Classroom Learning Games

Article excerpt


Ideal learning situations provide opportunities for immediate feedback and student involvement (Garris, Ahlers & Disckell, 2002; Hequet, 1995; Foreman, 2003). Ramaley and Zia (2005) stress that most learners have a strong need for a social, active, learner-centered environment, but this is especially true for the Millennial generation. Because they have grown up with TV games shows, interactive video games and the internet as forms of entertainment and education, they expect that education should be entertaining. They simply tune out if it does not meet their expectations. In contrast, they are willing to devote a great deal of time and effort to master new games and electronic devices (Prensky, 2001).

Games have become an established method for teachers to engage their students (Bergin, 1999; Ritzko & Robinson, 2006; Robinson, 2007; Rotter, 2004; Sugar & Takacs, 1999). The type of mild stress associated with playing games could also aid learning (Howard-Jones, 2009). Such fun and engaging learning activities are likely to be very effective in connecting with Millennials. The following section presents a brief review of the literature on the effects of risk-taking and uncertainty on learning games. The results of a study examining students' reactions to learning games incorporating uncertainty and chance are then presented.


Prensky (2001) highlights a variety of positive characteristics of digital games that are beneficial in educational activities. In addition to being fun, they provide an opportunity for interactivity and social interaction. The rules and objectives of the games provide a structure for competition, while leading to a chance to obtain feedback and to win. Although Prensky was describing video games, simple non-electronic games can also provide these positive experiences. Over 25 years ago, Cruickshank and Telfer (1980) pointed out that games promote a responsive environment in which learners immediately know how they are doing.

Question and answer games resembling the TV show Jeopardy! Are probably the most commonly used classroom learning games (e.g. Azriel, Erthal, & Starr, 2005; Benek-Rivera & Mathews, 2004; Gast & Leatham, 2005; Grabowski & Price, 2003; Massey, Brown & Johnston, 2005; Revere, 2004, Ritzko & Robinson, 2006). One study examining the effectiveness of Jeopardy-type games found that 80% of student participants gave it the highest ratings for usefulness in learning and reviewing material (Ritzko & Robinson, 2006, p. 46). Such learning games can reinforce important information while at the same time avoiding rote repetition (Rotter, 2004). As material is reviewed and recall becomes more automatic, mental resources are freed up to learn new material (Howard-Jones, 2009).

Fairness is a key element in effective learning games (Robinson, 2012). Instructors often try to reduce chance as much as possible to make a game seem fair, but the danger is that the "game" becomes more like a public quiz or test. Introducing uncertainty into games can also make them more pleasurable because feel more like games (Hong, Hwang, Lu, Cheng, Lee & Linn, 2009; Howard-Jones, Bogacz, Yoo, Leonards & Demetriou, 2010, 2011; Robinson, 2007; Schell, 2008). Robinson (2007) determined that university students prefer learning games that are not based strictly on skill, but involve some element of chance. Dealing with the younger set (age 11-12), Howard-Jones and associates (2009) found that students preferred to ask questions from "Mr. Uncertain" (meaning a correct answer would be rewarded with either 2 or 0 points based on the toss of an animated coin) rather than from "Mr. Certain" (meaning a correct answer would receive 1 point). Mr. Uncertain was chosen approximately 60% of the time, and 30 of 50 participants chose Mr. Uncertain more than half the time. Although the content consisted of math questions, Mr. …

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