Course notes:

  •  central question –   re students’ ability to transfer what is being learned and experienced in the context of play into other aspects of their lives, i.e. academic development of new knowledge and skills.
  • commercial games designed for entertainment very different – have to be re-purposed  towards educational goals  ie. needs adaptation, compromise and teacher innovation.
  • Shaffer (2006) – video games, computer games and other interactive environments – epistemic frames (a mechanism through which students can use experiences in video games, computer games, and other interactive learning environments to help them deal more effectively with situations outside of the original context of learning).
    • learners use these environments to effectively deal with situations outside of their original context (p.223).
    • students incorporate game-experiences and knowledge which can help them be more effective at problem solving, leveraging their ‘islands of expertise’ into new situations.

Reflection and notes on O’Brien’s article: What do you think to O’Brien’s attempt to align genre’s of educational games with Gagne, Bloom and Jonassen’s theories and models? How useful do these appear in attempting to evaluate games and game-like approaches?

I think O’Brien has made a practical attempt to align educational games with the above theorists/educators. Bloom’s model is well known and familiar to educators, as is Robert M. Gagnes, ‘Five Categories of Learning Outcomes’ (1974) which “outline the overall capabilities each game genre generally engages” (ibid, p. 4): intellectual skills, cognitive strategies, verbal information, motor skills, and attitudes (p. 9).

I had not heard of Jonassen’s Typology which “gives specific information about a game player’s problem solving behavior” (ibid, p. 4). However, with aligning the three, O’Brien connects cognitive skills of Gagne with Bloom’s  psychomotor, affective, and cognitive domains and Jonassen’s problem solving behaviour (actions).

As O’Brien commented, “most educational games exercise all of these domains in some way” (ibid, p. 11).

O’Brien starts from the premise that educational objectives are the starting point before determining the type of game. He notes how “there have been few attempts at developing an organizational system for educational games with the intent of furthering the educational use of games” (ibid, p.3). He realizes that the acceleration and change involved with digital games means that any taxonomy must be based on genres and connected cognitive skills, not on the games themselves. The author does highlight that “although most games can be classified fairly clearly into one genre, any game may include features of multiple genres” (ibid, p. 4). The following image shows the classification system that O’Brien has adopted which separates games into four categories or genres (ibid, p. 4):

  • linear games: use  linear  logic, sequential steps, require only knowledge of information and well-structured problem solving = value in education is exposure to content, research has shown they mostly have the same amount of value in education (Rosas et al., 2003). From a play-based perspective are often puzzle games, shooting games, or “jump-and-run” games in which the player moves through the game collecting objects and avoiding obstacles.  (OBrien, p. 6).  Extremely popular  due to usually very straightforward re rules, often very repetitive. Often require very little complex problem solving ability; while requiring highly developed fine-motor skills. The actions required to win are clear, learning curve is low and there is frequent payoff for effort in the form of points scored or encouraging feedback. Many of these games have a very simple aesthetic. . Players are required to move objects around the screen in response to stimuli, often very quickly and accurately. To understand the stimuli, they must acquire verbal information about the game’s elements and be able to recall it at will. In doing so, they develop their intellectual skills as they learn the rules and patterns that govern the behavior of the game elements. Games can be highly complex as well, increasing use of verbal information and intellectual skills and downplaying the need for acute motor skills. (O’Brien, p. 9). Low learning curve and the ability to adopt them for many different curricular areas may make them the most prevalent genre as games become ubiquitous in the classroom (ibid, p. 10). 
  • competitive games: also often require well-developed fine-motor skills,  linear logic to solve problems, vary widely in aesthetic features. Includes games that simulate real-world sports, competitive versions of the first-person shooter games described above, and their ancestor, Pong.™
  • strategic games:  involve managing a complex system – form of a city, a country, a business, or some other organization. The strategic aspect is in management of resources, cost/benefit ratios, return-on-investments, and military planning and anticipating the same strategies for any opposing players.  Players learn domain-specific content knowledge, and apply knowledge to complex problem solving in an authentic context, adding value to the learning experience (Artino, 2008). Aspects of the linear and competitive genres also in play and also require fine-motor skills. Highly complex, involving  simultaneous management of several sub-systems. Each individual game may be played with a random set of initial conditions, forcing players to use unique strategies with each game. Most important strategy is to understand ones opponent well enough to anticipate their actions and reactions. Communication and socialization much more critical aspect of multiplayer games. Players may form alliances, and so need to collaborate on strategy, economics, and military movements. They may compete, and so need to negotiate, cajole, or misinform their opponents (O’Brien, p.8). … With the inclusion of these problem types, these games become suitable for simulations in natural and physical sciences, business, and politics. Although strategic games can replicate much of the problem solving of real-world systems management, they fail to engage players in forms of problem solving which, although the most ill-structured and vexing, are also the most authentic (ibid, p. 15).
  • role-playing games:  create unique characters at the start of  game comprised of abilities. a character will be more successful in situations that call upon their higher level abilities. Once the player creates a character, the player must succeed at various challenges in order to improve their character’s abilities and advance in the game. Players engage voluntarily in highly collaborative, ill-structured problem solving, also known as computer-supported collaborative learning(Kapur & Kinzer, 2007). Extended length of play and socialization results in players developing long-term relationships and, thus, more subtle interactions. In most RPGs, players form extended groups in the form of clubs, guilds or leagues. Players also assume leadership and management roles within groups to tackle particular challenges. All of these interactions lead to players engaging in problem solving which imitates or even replicates that found in “real life” (O’Brien, p. 8-9). ..emerged with some of the most engaging and rich game play experiences to date (ibid, p. 15)…many are virtual gaming environments in which players may encounter individual problems of many types, often working to solve them simultaneously. As a player begins to develop and enhance the role of their character, they become involved in sub-games of all three previous genres …However, the value of the RPG as
    an environment rather than a singular game is in the way players must learn to cope with unknown
    elements when solving problems …”In RPGs, players often engage in case analysis either casually when trying to plan ahead, or in discussion with other players in-game or in discussion forums (Steinkuehler & Chmiel, 2006). This type of problem solving is highly ill-structured, with no clear reasoning that should be followed, no obvious steps that should be taken, and even no assurance that there is a solution (Jonassen, 2004). These problems, like the complex environments of RPGs, often involve multiple domains of knowledge and are approached using a variety of techniques, none of which is clearly the best. Case analysis problems have traditionally been used mostly in higher education settings, and professional ones at that (Artino, 2008). The ability to present case analysis problems to students in secondary or, even, elementary settings through engaging digital games may open up new avenues for instructional design.”…RPGs also have the ability to extend problem solving to less discrete educational domains, such as social, moral, and ethical development.(ibid, p. 16).

Further reflection: At the beginning of this module the central question of transference of learning was posed. Within my own very small case study with a year 5 (upper elementary) cohort…this is a major question for myself. By incorporating digital/online games and game based learning, will it help  the students to transfer their learning and gain a deeper understanding of the key concepts? I am using Kahoot this week as an evaluation tool, to see whether the previous game on website evaluation, videos, class discussions have all sequentially built upon one another to deepen their knowledge and understanding. From the first few classes, it would appear yes. The final activity will be for the students to transfer these understandings to critically evaluating websites.


O’Brien, D. (2011). A taxonomy of educational games. In Gaming and simulations: Concepts, methodologies, tools and applications (pp. 1-23). Hershey, PA: . doi:10.4018/978-1-60960-195-9.ch101