Pedagogical Usability & Video Games: Turning Fun into Learning, While Learning if Fun is Actually Good for Learning

I have been thinking a bit about pedagogical usability as of late, as I am prepping for presenting a paper on pedagogical usability at the 2013 E-Learn conference in Las Vegas. Petri Nokelainen and others have come up with evaluations of pedagogical usability for online courses, learning management systems, knowledge management systems, wikis, and websites, and my presentation (with two friends of mine from Missouri University) is a pedagogical usability evaluation of a digital library system, a unique application for this kind of evaluation. Pedagogical usability is the affordance in a system for (or presence of): learner control, learner activity, cooperative/collaborative learning, goal orientation, applicability, added value, motivation, valuation of previous knowledge, flexibility, and feedback. These components go hand in hand with usability of the normal technical variety (what helps you understand and get through a website or designed experience efficiently and effectively). But pedagogical usability has a constructivist pedagogical leaning, and seeks to assess a system’s pedagogical affordances in this regard.

I have been reading through some of the literature on the use of video games in education (for instance, see Leonard Annetta’s 2008 Video games in education: Why they should be used and how they are being used), specifically the use of popular entertainment games for learning purposes (like the Civ series). Educators are using these games, and there has been extensive research on how they are using them (and theories about why they are using them). But I have not found research that offers educators ways to assess how useful these games are for pedagogical purposes. How would you even test that?

Pedagogical usability evaluations may be one way forward. If we take the top popular video games being used in education for learning purposes (maybe just the top 3), analyze how they are being used, and then assess their pedagogical usability, we could offer both assessments of those specific games, and models for pedagogical assessments of any other games in the future. Educators would then have a tool in hand to test the latest-greatest game and see if it will meet their specific pedagogical aims. Omar, Ibrahim & Jaafar (2011) have presented a very brief outline of doing this with educational computer games. I am suggesting something further: assess the pedagogical usability of games that are not meant to be used in education at all. Basically, game designers make a game they intend to be played for fun, educators use it for learning, and we test it to see if that is a good idea with that specific game (given its pedagogical usability–usefulness for educational purposes).


Omar, H. M., Ibrahim, R., & Jaafar, A. (2011). Methodology to evaluate interface of educational computer game. 2011 International Conference on Pattern Analysis and Intelligent Robotics. http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?arnumber=05976931

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