Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Undertaking an Ecological Approach to Advance Game-Based Learning: A Case Study

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Undertaking an Ecological Approach to Advance Game-Based Learning: A Case Study

Article excerpt


There is growing willingness among teachers and administrators to use digital games in schools (Millstone, 2012). However, despite the rising number of empirical studies that report an improvement in student academic achievement and motivation as a result of using games (Barab, Pettyjohn, Gresalfi, Volk, & Solomou, 2012; Kebritchi, Hirumi, & Bai, 2010), the evidence for it in many academic domains remains slim (Young et al., 2012). It has been suggested that research studies need to consider the dynamics of teacher intervention, social contexts, classroom environments, learning activities, and the alignment of the games used to facilitate an adequate understanding of the educational value of games (Young et al., 2012). This article reports results from a case study utilizing the Play Curricular activity Reflection Discussion (PCaRD) pedagogical model (Foster, 2012) in a K-8 private school over three months. We explored the ecological conditions of how a game-based learning course can be incorporated in classrooms through partnership with teachers.

First, a literature review on game-based learning is presented. This section also describes the rationale for undertaking an ecological approach to integrate digital games in schools and the theoretical framework adopted for the current study. Second, the research question and methodology are described. Third, the results section illustrates our ecological approach, highlighting the interaction between the participating teacher as the innovator, PCaRD as the game-based learning innovation, and the participating school as the larger context. Fourth, the concluding sections discuss the benefits of the ecological approach with PCaRD for the integration of games into K-12 classrooms.

Literature overview

Trends in game-based learning

Current trends suggest that many classroom-based game studies examine the effects of games on student achievement and motivation (Kebritchi et al., 2010; Papastergiou, 2009; Tobias & Fletcher, 2012). For instance, Kebritchi and colleagues (2010) examined high school students' mathematics achievement after using the game Dimension M and found gains from pretest to posttest. Papastergiou (2009) assessed and found significant effectiveness of a computer game called LearnMem1 on high school students' knowledge of and motivation to learn computer memory concepts.

Conversely, game studies conducted afterschool focus their attention on interpreting the process of student learning through games (Foster, 2011; Squire, DeVane, & Durga, 2008). For instance, Foster (2011) used RCT3 and showed middle school students' development of motivational valuing and disciplinary knowledge construction for microeconomics principles associated with operating a business. Squire and colleagues (2008) used Civilization III and showed how learning in games motivated disengaged high school students, leading to an interest in academic practices and development of world-history knowledge. Studies in both settings indicated the appeal of digital game-based learning for improving student learning and motivation; however, neither the in-school or afterschool studies explored the role of classroom dynamics or teachers in these learning environments.

Some recent studies have indicated that teachers have the potential to augment the effect of games on students' interdisciplinary knowledge construction and motivation to learn (Barab et al., 2012; Silseth, 2012). For instance, Silseth (2012) examined how the interactional episodes of one high school student with his peers and a teacher in a gaming context contributed to his understanding of the multifaceted nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Barab and colleagues (2012) described the role of one teacher facilitating two curricula (game-based versus story-based) on persuasive writing and its impact on student engagement with the topic. In both studies, teachers were knowledgeable about the game and used it as a resource to support students. …

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