[This blog entry originally appeared on Game Design Aspect of the Month for the topic, Game-Based Learning.]
I read this article from the International Journal of Educational Development. I don't usually read such journals, but I have read a couple theses on the use of games in the classroom. I thought this article, called "A comparative analysis of a game-based mobile learning model in low-socioeconomic communities of India," by Paul Kim et al, would be interesting to note what differences or similarities there might be with classrooms in India vs. classrooms in Europe or in the U.S.
First of all, when it's a low-income area, we usually don't think they'll have access to computers or the Internet. Maybe they're just struggling with adequate lighting or teachers. In this study, the mobile devices were brought into the communities courtesy of NGOs and there was not enough for each student. This is similar to situations in Europe where children (usually 2) may be sharing a computer. In the India study, a group of children would share a device.
I have previously noted in this article that girls tend to yield control to a boy playing the game but in situations with 2 girls, they will crowd around and participate together. They will either have one use the controller and the rest give comments or as in the India study, all of them are touching the device. While this did happen in India across genders, this hesitant behavior is also evident in those who had less exposure to technology. This could be the difference between the poor and the more well-off students. Perhaps girls only display that behavior because they are typically less familiar with gaming, and not because they are girls.
I found the most interesting finding from this study to be about group formation. The study discovered that the optimal group size was around 3, at least in terms of sharing and learning how to use the device and excel at the game. A student with a device to him/herself struggled more than a group of 3 students. At a group of 7 students, some never got close enough to the device. Frustration and disengagement prevailed in a group size less than 3 and more than 3.
From a design standpoint, we might think about designing educational games for a group of children to play together rather than for one child alone.
Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.