Engaged Kids Are Better Learners
July 16, 2013

Keeping Kids Engaged With Educational Games

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

How do you get children to remain engaged with educational games? A new pilot study from North Carolina State evaluated how well middle school students were able to pay attention to game-based learning tasks, and the researchers have some interesting ideas.

For the study, students at a Raleigh, NC middle school were divided into two-person teams. The researchers had each team test gaming concepts for an educational game called "Engage." Engage only allows one student at a time to control gameplay. The game has two research goals: first, to determine how effective educational gaming tasks are at teaching computer science concepts; and second, to allow the researchers to monitor how engaged each student was.

The researchers suggest switching seats often helps with engagement. They also found, for each team, the student not actively performing the game tasks had more trouble staying engaged.

"This is a very useful finding, because we can use it to improve game design to better keep the attention of the 'navigator,' or second student," says Dr. Kristy Boyer, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State. "For example, we could assign tasks to the navigator that are critical to team success and make sure that each student has an opportunity to take the controls during each gameplay session."

The study performed by Boyer and her colleagues is part of a larger effort to develop a game-based curriculum that teaches middle school students about computer science principles ranging from programming and big data to encryption and security.

"We are doing this work to help ensure that Engage is a fun, effective learning environment, and to ensure that we can keep kids focused on the game itself," says Fernando Rodríguez, a PhD student at NC State. "Keeping kids' attention is essential if we want them to learn."

The findings of this study were presented at the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Education (AIED) in Memphis, Tenn., this week.