National Research Council. (2011). Learning Science Through Computer Games and Simulations.

I paste here verbatim some conclusions from chapter 2 of the above report.  No silver bullet for STEM teachers here.  I assume that the video games or simulations studied here were not of the highly interactive (physically) type since Kinect® / Wii® technology is relatively recent.  Either way a conclusion of “we need more data” seems universally safe.  Also see the executive summary (NRC, 2011). 

CONCLUSIONS


Science learning is a complex process involving multiple learning goals. A simulation or game can be designed to advance one or more science learning goals.

Conclusion: Simulations and games have potential to advance multiple science learning goals, including motivation to learn science, conceptual understanding, science process skills, understanding of the nature of science, scientific discourse and argumentation, and identification with science and science learning.

There is promising evidence that simulations enhance conceptual understanding, but effectiveness in conveying science concepts requires good design, testing, and proper scaffolding of the learning experience itself.

Conclusion: Most studies of simulations have focused on conceptual under-­standing, providing promising evidence that simulations can advance this science learning goal. There is moderate evidence that simulations motivate students’ interest in science and science learning.

Less evidence is available about whether simulations support development of science process skills and other science learning goals. The emerging body of evidence about the effectiveness of games in supporting science learning is much smaller and weaker than the body of
evidence about the effectiveness of simulations. Research on a few examples suggests that games can motivate interest in science and enhance conceptual understanding, but overall it is inconclusive.

Conclusion: Evidence for the effectiveness of games for supporting science learning is emerging, but is currently inconclusive. To date, the research base is very limited.

The available research suggests that differences among individual learners influence how they respond to, and learn from, simulations and games. Some studies of simulations have found that students with lower prior knowledge experienced greater gains in targeted learning goals than students with more prior knowledge related to these goals. Differences across gender and race in young people’s use of commercial games could potentially influence their motivation to use games for science learning;  however, a few studies of games have demonstrated gains in science learning across students of different genders, races, English language ability, and socioeconomic status.

Conclusion: Emerging evidence indicates that different individuals and
groups of learners respond differently to features of games and simulations.

Although the research evidence related to science learning through interaction with simulations is stronger and deeper than that related to games, the overall research base is thin. Development of simulations and games has outpaced research and development of assessment of their learning outcomes, limiting the amount of evidence related to other learning goals beyond conceptual understanding.

Conclusion: The many gaps and weaknesses in the body of research on the use of simulations and games for science learning make it difficult to build a coherent base of evidence that could demonstrate their effectiveness and inform future improvements. The field needs a process that will allow research evidence to accumulate across the variety of simulations and games and in the face of the constant innovation that characterizes them. (pp. 54-55)

 

So I guess more work needs to be done, according to these folks.

I noted that a strong proponent of appropriate games, James Paul Gee once of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, now at Arizona State University, was not on the panel.

References

National Research Council. [NRC] (2011). Learning Science Through Computer Games and Simulations. Committee on Science Learning: Computer Games, Simulations, and Education, Margaret A. Honey and Margaret L. Hilton, Eds. Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.  Retrieved August 25, 2011 from http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13078

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