Tuesday, August 26, 2008

5.*: Primary research on gaming and academic performance

The latest issue of the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology (AJET), 24, 4 includes an article by Barry Ip, Gabriel Jacobs, Alan Watkins called "Gaming frequency and academic performance". The article measures the exam performance of students vis-a-vis their 'gaming frequency'.

The results are not surprising, but they are timely. Marc Prensky popularised the use of video games for learning, and optimism over their use in education persists. To be fair, Marc emphasises the use of simulations rather than true recreational gaming. However, the article in quesiton here disputes Prensky's optimism.

There is a real difference between games as recreation and games as education. Many of the by-products of gaming are fine for developing spatial awareness and simple (bounded) problem-solving however the line between educational simulation and gaming can be a rather fine one. Kids are more likely to get involved with World of Warcraft and Grand Theft Auto IV (shudder) than Restaurant Empire, for example. I challenge anyone to find beneficial education outcomes from this list of Top Ten 2008 computer games... even those designed to encourage collaboration (such as WoW)!

Anyway, Ip et al took a sample of 713 university students and measured their gamer profile according to four groups: non-gamer, infrequent gamer, regular gamer, and frequent gamer. The result: well, I said there would be no surprises...

The results reveal that examination marks are in fact negatively correlated with gaming frequency - i.e. frequent gamers generally achieve lower marks than less frequent gamers.(2008, p.355).
Of course, this assumes that the games were little more than a distraction from formal studies. But at least we now have a reference to a primary research study that disproves any assumed link between frequent gaming and academic achievement. Of course learning takes place during recreational gaming, but this is at the expense of the (more transferable) learning that takes place during formal education. The effect of simulation on educational achievement is a very different matter!