Game-Based Learning in Universities and Lifelong Learning:
"UniGame: Social Skills and Knowledge Training" Game Concept1
(FH JOANNEUM, Information Design, Austria
(FH JOANNEUM, Centre for Multimedia and Learning, Austria
Abstract: How to design effective learning opportunities? Why
is learning by experience often more efficient than learning by studying?
How to provide the learning experiences needed to respond to current challenges?
Using computer games and games in general for educational purposes offers
a variety of knowledge presentations and creates opportunities to apply
the knowledge within a virtual world, thus supporting and facilitating
learning processes. An innovative educational paradigm such as game-based
learning, which is considered suitable for the given purpose, is described
in this article. The connection of the collaborative social context of
education with game-based learning is discussed in the first part of the
The second part of the paper introduces the game concept of "UniGame:
Social Skills and Knowledge Training". Game ideas along the educational
background of the UniGame game concept are outlined. UniGame scenarios
presented and possible use cases should stimulate users to apply game-based
learning approach in the future for their classes.
Keywords: education, collaborative learning, constructivism,
game-based learning, game, motivation
Categories: H.4.3, I.2.1, I.6.8, K.3.0, K.3.1, K.8.0
"The reason most kids don't like school is
not that the work is too hard, but that it is utterly boring"
(Dr. Seymour Papert, Prof. at the MIT)
"Computer-based training designers could learn
a lot from the people who build computer games." (Bob Filipzak,"
Despite decades of research we still experience a lack of appropriate
and interesting content that would engage learners and improve the learning
process. That is the reason why we have to invent radically new ways of
learning that mesh with the new world, style, and capabilities and newest
ways of Human-Computer Interactions (HCI) of so called computer "natives".
 A short
version of this article was presented at the I-KNOW '03 (Graz, Austria,
July 2-4, 2003).
As early as the 80s and 90s, many scientists stated that computers and
later hypermedia could be used as a cognitive tool for learning, and also
outlined a number of other potential advantages that computer aided learning
offers. Among the researchers of hypermedia applications for education,
the following basic questions were proposed: How to design effective learning
opportunities? Why is learning by experience very often more efficient
than learning by studying? How to provide the learning experiences needed
to respond to current challenges?
David reported in [David 97] that there is an increasing
demand for greater interactivity to be built into learning materials. There
is a clear need to offer a variety of different knowledge presentations
and to create opportunities to apply the knowledge within the virtual world,
thus supporting and facilitating the learning process. To achieve that
goal, it is necessary to provide a complex level of interactivity that
stimulates users' engagement, apply different interactivity concepts as
object, linear, construct or hyperlinked interactivity, and non-immersive
contextual interactivity as well as immersive virtual interactivity.
When using computer games, and games in general, for educational purposes
several aspects of the learning process are supported: learners are encouraged
to combine knowledge from different areas to choose from a number of given
solutions or to make a decision at a certain point, learners can test how
the outcome of the game changes based on their decisions and actions, learners
are encouraged to contact other team members and discuss and negotiate
subsequent steps, thus improving, among other things, their social skills.
Recently there have also been several initiatives within the EU ([UniGame
02], [GAMENET 03], [GAMERESEARCH-NET
03], [PROMETO-CG 03]) that focus on facilitating
and improving the learning process owing to the introduction of digital
games into learning as well as fostering innovative learning paradigms
like game-based learning.
2 Games and Learning
Most researchers conceptualize learning as a multidimensional construct
of learning skills, cognitive learning outcomes, such as procedural, declarative
and strategic knowledge, and attitudes. The game based learning model is
used in formal education very successfully, in particular, in military,
medicine, physical, etc. training.
Let us consider, based on the Model of game-based learning Figure
1, how and when learning occurs when learners interact e.g. play a
game. The main characteristic of an educational game is the fact that instructional
content is blurred with game characteristics (see the next paragraph on
elements of computer games). The game should be motivating, so the learner
repeats cycles within a game context. While repeating e.g. playing a game,
the learner is expected to elicit desirable behaviors based on emotional
or cognitive reactions which result from interaction with and feedback
from game play.
In Figure 1, one can see the debriefing process
between the game cycle and the achievement of the learning outcomes. Debriefing
provides a link between simulation and the real world; it draws a relationship
between the game events and real-world events and connects game experience
and learning. This part of the model corresponds, as [Kolb
et al. 71] have written, to "doing, reflecting, understanding,
and applying" process of study in a game.
Figure 1: Model of game-based learning by [Garris
et al. 02]
Let us reflect upon this learning model based on an example of an adventure
game. The purpose of an adventure game is entertainment or edutainment.
In adventure games there are very complex environments i.e. microworlds,
with no deterministic problem representation. Adventure games use intrinsic
motivation. Intrinsically motivating games incorporate learning activity
in a virtual world. Game characters have to solve a certain problem and
can proceed further only after solving the problem. In this case the problem
is part of the game and players are motivated to provide a solution in
order to continue with the game. An example for intrinsic motivation is
a game where players discover different rooms of the house. The access
to the next room is possible only by solving a riddle that is actually
a problem in the topic of, for example, logic. (In contrast to extrinsic
motivation where a player is rewarded when a correct problem solution was
provided) In the described game, enjoyment is strongly related to the learning
activity, which can be viewed as a desirable outcome.
There are different opinions about what the game characteristics are.
For example, [Thornton et al. 90] claim that interactivity
is an essential aspect of a game. [Johnston et al. 93]
suggested that the dynamic visuals, rules, goal and interaction
are the essential features. [Baranauskas et al. 99]
stated that the essence of playing is challenge and risk. According
to [Malone 81], four elements of computer games can
be defined: fantasy, curiosity, challenge and control.
Fantasy stands for the scenario and the 'virtual' world in which
the activity is embedded. Games involve imaginary worlds, activity inside
this world has no impact on the real world, and nothing outside the game
is relevant. The fantasy in the context of the game leads to greater interest
on the part of the student as well as increased efficiency of learning.
Curiosity is sustained by the continual introduction of new information
and non-deterministic outcomes. Although game activity takes place apart
from the real world, it occurs in a fixed space and time period with rules,
which govern the game for its duration. Different types of rules help players
to reach a goal of the game. The system rules define the game world; procedural
ones define actions (e.g., "When the time runs out, whatever's "on
the screen" will be implemented as the decision"); imported rules
are those that players import into the game from the real world and that
allow the game to take place. Games create a second-order reality for their
Challenge is provided within each appropriate level of difficulty.
Using progressive difficulty levels (e.g., accelerating tempo or switching
to the expert option in Chess), multiple goals, which need to be meaningful
for individuals, game developers design challenge by participants' activities.
In the case where the activity level of difficulty is too low, players
lose interest. The same occurs if the activity level is too high relative
to the players' abilities.
Through opportunities to make choices that have direct consequences,
players control the game development. There is the possibility to
control a character within a game that has to solve different tasks and
is confronted with problems. However, the players or learners have to be
the ones making the decisions and choices. For example, what makes an adventure
game fun to play is the satisfaction of advancing the story by solving
riddles or puzzles. In an adventure game solutions to problems should be
difficult to conceive but not difficult to execute.
Game-based learning is not the superior learning method per se. [Druckman
95] states that games enhance motivation and increase students interest
in subject matter ... yet the extent to which this translates into more
effective learning is less clear. A number of studies were carried out
that focused on retention of learning. Eight out of eleven studies showed
that retention is better when using game-based learning, whereas the results
of the three studies showed no significant difference. Researching students'
preference, results of seven studies out of the eight were in favor of
games. However, we are also aware of other studies where the results are
not so clearly in favor of game-based learning.
There are specific educational domains where game-based learning concepts
and approaches have a high learning value. These domains are interdisciplinary
topics where skills such as critical thinking, group communication, debate
and decision making are of high importance. Such subjects, if learned in
isolation, often cannot be applied in real world contexts. These subjects
are targeted by the research reported in this paper.
3 Educational game design
In this chapter we will present a theoretical framework for designing
a game with an emphasis on the educational component. As collaborative
learning has become so popular, we will present options for including collaboration
by means of creating shared playgrounds where players can experiment with
knowledge and where they can design common activities to achieve the goals
of the game. The chapter concludes with a description of several different
games that are applied for game-based learning.
3.1 Steps of educational-game design
[Cordova 96] have shown that enhanced learning
which is fun can be more effective. Using some simple educational tasks,
they demonstrated that learning embedded in a motivating setting improved
learning outcomes and that engagement can facilitate learning. Learning
occurs when the learner is mentally involved and actively interacts within
the game, where a balance of challenge and possible courses of action is
provided. To support learning we have to create appropriate mapping of
education and engagement.
To create a successful game-based learning opportunity, the following
steps of game design, elements of learning and engagement outlined below
should be taken into consideration:
- Determine Pedagogical Approach (how you believe learning takes place)
- Situate the Task in a Model World
- Elaborate the Details
- Incorporate Underlying Pedagogical Support
- Map Learning Activities to Interface Actions
- Map Learning Concepts to Interface Objects
When designing an example of an educational game we have to reflect
upon didactical approach and related topics. We have to create the situation
asking "What do we want that learners learn?" Before defining
the activities we should reconsider the saying failure opens the gate
to learning and we should try to provide an answer to the question
"Why?" There are many interactive learning techniques that have
already been used in game based learning. According to [Prensky
01], one of those techniques is "learning from mistakes",
where failure is considered a point where user gets some feedback. In game
based learning making a mistake - or trial and error - is a primary way
to learn and is considered the motivation for players to keep on trying.
In games failure consequence i.e. feedback is provided in the form of action
(as opposed to feedback in the form of the text explanation that is provided
in instructional material).
We then have to define clear goals for the activities, keeping in mind
that challenge should match the skill level higher than mean. Students
should also be able to asses their own activities to see how they are doing
and to be able to evaluate their decisions / actions. There must be a close
link between action and feedback. With the unexpected and repeated introduction
of novel events students should be additionally motivated to play the game
and to interact with the learning material. Successful learning opportunities
could be created when following the constructivist learning theory, where
'constructivist' means an exploratory approach to learning. Major characteristics
of the constructivist approach are, among others, interaction, coping with
problems, understanding of the whole, etc. From the constructivist point
of view learners are active participants in knowledge acquisition, and
engaged in restructuring, manipulating, re-inventing, and experimenting
with knowledge to make it meaningful, organized, and permanent.
The constructivist method of design is different from the linear task-oriented
method of an instructional system design approach. Designers who use a
constructivist method to create learning environments are less focused
on a how-to or process approach but emphasize elements that facilitate
a learning process. Designers applying this method take into account seven
pedagogical goals: 1) to provide an experience with the knowledge-construction
process, 2) to provide experiences encouraging appreciation of multiple
perspectives, 3) to embed learning in realistic and relevant contexts,
4) to encourage ownership in the learning process, 5) to embed learning
in social experience, 6) to encourage the use of multiple modes of representation,
and 7) to encourage self-awareness of the knowledge construction process
3.2 Collaborative Learning
Most researchers agree that an important role in current learning structures
is played by "collaborative learning", which allows participants
to exchange information as well as to produce ideas, simplify problems,
and resolve the tasks. In this model the teacher is the active partner,
moderator and advisor of the educational process, not just a repository
of the information importing his or her own knowledge to a passive student
as in traditional education.
This methodology called "constructivism" guides the design
of the effective learning environments. Students bring their prior skills
and knowledge to the class-community. The trainer structures learning situations
in which each learner can interact with other students to develop new knowledge
and fashion their own needs and capacities [Vygotsky 78,
86]. Knowledge is generated from experience with complex
tasks rather than from isolated activities like learning and practicing
separately. Skills and knowledge are best acquired within the context.
According to Vygotsky's theory, problem solving skills of tasks can be
graded on (1) those performed independently by a student; (2) those which
can be performed with help from others and (3) those that cannot be performed
even with help. The second situation occurs in the classroom collaborative
environment. So that it helps the students easily to transfer learning
from classroom to "real life" and back, or information from one
subject to another. Therefore this method requires that the trainer and
students play nontraditional roles such as interaction and collaboration
with each other within the educational process. The classroom becomes a
community of learning.
In online distance education Internet plays the role of the classroom.
In her theory [Salmon 02] proposed the design of a
collaborative e-learning process that includes a five-stage framework,
which is helpful and useful for an e-moderator that builds online courses.
In the first stage an e-trainer designs (1) access and motivation of the
participants. Online socialization of the learners (2) is then reached.
By using the results of these two steps the e-moderator organizes the next
processes: (3) the information exchange, then (4) knowledge construction
and as a benefit - the development of knowledge (5). An important note
is that without successful processes in the first two stages there is no
possibility for successful development in the last stages.
3.3 Several cases of Game-based Learning
Analysis of the current situation in the field of the game industry
shows that at the same time, new multiplayer environments give opportunities
for interaction for thousands of simultaneous players. In January 2003
a record number of 120,000 users simultaneously played EverQuest an online
role-playing game. Its producer SONY "celebrated" a huge success
when 430,000 subscribers joined the game last year [Rowan
In this chapter we give a brief description of some examples of game-based
learning. More examples on game-based learning can be found in [Prensky
01]. Information on various games suitable for educational purposes
can be found in a Survey on online game-based learning [Dondi
et al. 03].
[TopSIM 02] by TERTIA Edusoft provides different
business games which have been used in business education and advanced
training. A business game provides a model of the enterprise or of parts
of the enterprise. The participants learn through experience the connections
within the organization and the internal and external factors that influence
the profit of the enterprise. They learn to implement business methods
and means of information and to deal with uncertainty during decision making.
The target groups are as follows: senior and junior managers in business,
administration and authority, employees in technical and scientific areas,
who need business knowledge for their activities, students of business
administration and industrial engineering and trainees.
[Myzel 02] is an online community game.
The rules of the game are created by the players themselves. Players define
what is allowed and what is not allowed and see firsthand the complex interconnections
of economy, politics, and society. The players have to select a role and
try to survive in the virtual world of Myzel with its various planets and
complex social and political life. Myzel is not a commercial product, and
has been largely supported through public funding. Nevertheless, a game
world is available with all the important features in place, so anyone
interested can register and download the client and have a look around
the Myzel world.
The [Monkey Wrench Conspiracy 99] videogame
tutorial puts players into the role of an intergalactic secret agent dispatched
to deep space to rescue the Copernicus station from alien hijackers. It
is a complete tutorial for a complex technical product, designed to teach
industrial engineers how to use new 3-D design. Videogame tutorials are
a natural for engaging a younger, technology-oriented public. They employ
a "Discovery Learning" approach that can include any combination
of questions and performance tasks, with backup to reference manuals and
videos as needed. They also include non-game alternatives to accommodate
learners who do not like games or do not want to play at a particular time.
[Environmental Detectives 02] was developed
by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Microsoft within the
Games-to-Teach project where conceptual prototypes for the next generation
of interactive educational entertainment are developed. Environmental Detectives
is a handheld PC game where players role play as scientists investigating
a rash of health problems in their city stemming from point-source pollution
problems. Players learn the science behind contaminants such as mercuric
chloride, the properties of chemical cycles, and inquiry skills. Environmental
Detectives is designed to be used in any environmental education context
e.g. environmental science classes at the high school level. Students learn
basic investigative skills (observation, hypothesis testing, data gathering,
data analysis, and data reporting) that are a part of any environmental
4 UniGame: Social Skills and Knowledge Training
4.1 Game Idea
"UniGame: Social Skills and Knowledge Training" is a framework
that provides a possibility for every interested teacher to apply game-based
learning for his/her classes. "UniGame: Social Skills and Knowledge
Training" is a game platform where teachers can define various topics,
thus modifying the game for their own purposes.
It can be classified as a role-play game, that fosters participation
in problem-solving, effective communication, teamwork, project management,
as well as other soft skills such as responsibility, creativity, micro-entrepreneurship,
corporate culture, etc. The game is based on constructivist learning approach
and collaborative learning. It should be used additionally to regular face-to-face
or online classes.
Figure 2: Welcome screen
The entire UniGame public domain consists of three parts as shown in
the Figure 2. Information section provides Quick Info about the
Game, Tour and Rules of the Game. This section should facilitate the use
of the site in general and play the game in particular. Section Play
Game supports the registration process for new users and log in
for users. After log in users are able to select between different game
themes and decide for a team. If authorized (i.e. in role of a trainer)
users can also define a new game theme. Community is a place for
active game players to exchange ideas and experiences related to game-based
4.2 Scenario of the game
In this chapter important parts of the "UniGame: Social Skills
and Knowledge Training" scenario are outlined. See [Dziabenko
et al. 03] for more detailed information.
Game theme (i.e. assignments and subjects to be discussed) are defined
by the teacher. Play time can fluctuate from several days to few weeks
and depends from the difficulty of the Theme and basic skills of the students.
Game flow and various stages of the game are presented in the figure 3:
Time plan of the Game. In the game, basic stages can be distinguished as
follows: team work and team preparation time, general discussion, student
feedback, discussion of the game in the seminar.
Figure 3: Time plan of the Game
In order to play a game, students should form four teams. Each student
can also select a particular role within a team. Formed teams are able
to connect to the map of the Subjects which are relevant for future discussions.
Each team has to create a strategy for the discussion.
Each member of the team takes a Subject that he/she is responsible for.
Because each team has to discuss all proposed Subjects, within the team
one player i.e. team speaker should be responsible for one Subject. This
player will discuss the defined Subject in the Virtual Conference. Every
player of the team has to participate actively in a discussion at least
once i.e. at least for one Subject. Trainer defines the duration of team
work i.e. time necessary for preparation for the Virtual Conference. During
the team work, players develop a game strategy, collect and select valuable
information and prepare for argumentation. Teams communicate and exchange
information in the Team Space (Forum, Virtual Conference, Library, Member
List and MyInfo).
Speaker, i.e. team member responsible for the Subject, downloads general
standpoint of the Subjects and all relevant collected information into
the Library of the Team Space.
When search for information is finished, team has to organize a Team
common session. This session enables students to discuss all problems of
the Subjects and have all information for argumentation (for the case that
any of the students will be unable to attend the General discussion).
At the end of the team preparation time teams have to present a final
mission statement within the game platform where they have to outline their
The Game starts with allocation of the chips. Each team has to decide
which subjects are more important for them and where they want to set chips
and how much. Each team has to allocate chips to the three subjects they
want to discuss. This has to be done within 30 minutes.
During the game the chips allocated to the subjects can be seen by the
team in the screen. However, teams don not see chips allocation of other
teams. Moderator has all the information about allocated chips of all teams.
During the general discussion all teams meet in a Virtual Conference to
discuss subjects in a given time. Discussions are moderated. The aim of
discussion is to reach a consensus. The role of a moderator is to formalize
the reached consensus and to support the constructive discussion. Team
that wins most points is a game winner.
General discussion is followed by detailed feedback within the team
and debriefing carried out in a seminar. Feedback of the player's performance
is provided by other team members. Debriefing in the seminar should provide
some general feedback on issues like information gathering, discussion,
argumentation, consensus and some theme related issues related to consensus
that has been achieved.
4.3 Possible use cases
To illustrate possible application of proposed UniGame framework, we
present two examples of the game usage.
A teacher that wants his/her students to reflect actively upon interdisciplinary
consequences and ethical behavior of engineers defines a game-theme called
Tunnel building. The aim of the game is that 4 teams are competing
to make the best offer and technical solution to build a tunnel on the
defined location. The solution should consider different parameters like
financial frame, time dead-lines, technology applied, ecological acceptance,
etc. During the game teams can "buy" knowledge from other experts.
Teams are also expected to be able to react on unexpected new conditions
e.g. new emission law, or the law regarding an area near the tunnel location,
that was declared a natural park, etc. Teams use the preparation time of
the game to elaborate their solution. During general discussion different
important subjects should be discussed and a consensus on which solution
is the most appropriate should be achieved.
To experience Multicultural differences another game-theme could
be defined. In this game students worldwide can form teams. There are various
possibilities: multinational teams or each nationality builds own team.
Teams should work on the same task e.g. to design a multicultural web site.
Within the team session teams should work on their proposition, research
similar web-pages in different cultural environments. Teams should publish
their ideas and propositions about functionality and design of a page.
Within the general discussion teams have to discuss the subjects and reach
a consensus (e.g. about features of a web page, which design would be the
best, which parameters should be considered for cultural adaptation, etc.).
5 Conclusions and Further Research
Game based learning has been proposed for adult education. Gaming is
becoming a new form of interactive content, worthy of exploration for learning
purposes. Universities are also looking for a new positioning in the changing
setting of lifelong learning. Universities need to develop innovative forms
of learning in order to provide concepts for lifelong learning to their
prime customers, students. Modern technology needs employees proficient
in effective communication, teamwork, project management and other soft
skills such as responsibility, creativity, micro-entrepreneurship, corporate
culture, etc. Game-base learning is an approach to tackle the above issues.
Games fascinate people. By using this circumstance and elements of collaborative
learning, researchers of the FH JOANNEUM Graz in the framework of the EU
project UniGame designed a new game concept. Searching for information,
selecting the appropriate and necessary information, development of discussion
strategies, "conflict" of the arguments, decision-making process
and negotiation are the important central aspects of the game. But the
target and the culmination of the game is reaching a consensus in a problem
solution. Players learn to understand and to combine different points of
view, such as: individual/corporate interests versus team/societies interests;
their own standpoint versus understanding the standpoints and opinions
of others; from single aspects versus integrating of multiple aspects,
from confrontation to cooperation. By playing different roles students
learn and obtain both basic knowledge and practical experience and soft
skills that are needed for the organizations of the modern industrial manufactures.
The developed game concept can be seen as a game platform where different
instructors can introduce different knowledge and contexts to apply game-based
learning for their particular topics and specific learning goals.
Future work within the UniGame will be carried out in the form of development
of the technical realization and screen design of the proposed UniGame
game concept. First pilot trials are scheduled for the WS 2003/2004, where
the concept will be evaluated within different cultural settings. On the
Online Educa 2003 in Berlin a workshop on game-based learning is scheduled
with intention to introduce UniGame framework and game concept and to disseminate
aspects on educational game design and application.
More details on educational game research and related theoretical frameworks,
use cases and proposed UniGame game model can be seen at the UniGame web
UniGame: Game-based Learning in Universities and Lifelong Learning is
a Minerva Project: 101288-CP-1-2002-1-AT-MINERVA-M. Many thanks to Anni
Koubek. Her ideas, enthusiasm and persistence made the project possible
in the first place. Thanks also to Irmgard Schinnerl for her work on the
project and her contribution to the paper. Christian Schrei has designed
the interface for the UniGame platform.
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