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Computer Games for Learning

Richard E. Mayer
MIT Press
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Russell Jay Hendel
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This is a superbly written book on the research issue of whether, and how, computer games can be used to enrich learning. The book:

  • Should be read by anyone interested in using technology to enhance education — for example, Deans, Provosts, Department chairs.
  • Could also serve as supplemental reading for education majors in education courses: Either, the book as a whole could be used, or, alternatively, specific chapters or collections of chapters could easily function as stand-alone supplements. More specfically:

o Chapter 3 gives a brief, comprehensive but detailed survey of instructional theory: three cognitive processes of meaningful learning (selecting, organizing, integrating), four characteristics of useful assessment (validity, reliability, objectivity, referenced), four types of academic knowledge that can be learned (facts, concepts, procedures, strategies), two ways to measure learning outcomes (transfer, retention), four theories of learning (reinforcement, schema, automaticity, social learning), four sources of motivation (interest, belief, goals, needs).

o Chapter 2 gives a brief, comprehensive survey of methods: four goals of research (what works, when does it work, how does it work, what happened), six principles of educational research (disclosure of results, replication, linkage to relevant theories, questions that can investigated empirically, methods that directly investigate the question, provision of coherent reasoning), three experiment designs for effectiveness (experimental control, random assignment, appropriate measures), eight typical research mistakes (wrong dependent measures, no control group, use of preexisting groups, inappropriate comparisons, small participant size, reliance on anecdotes, testing ineffective items, not reporting means, sample size and standard deviations).

o Chapters 5–7 present 3 genres of game research: a) are games more effective than conventional media, b) what is learned from playing games and c) which features improve a game's effectiveness.

The book skillfully utilizes all features of modern texts:

i.    Outlines: Two-level chapter outlines for each chapter,

ii.   Tables: Plentiful use of summarizing tables and figures — about every three pages, the reader finds a tabular summary or illustrative figure of material just read,

iii.  Breadth / Depth: Simultaneity of breadth and depth — the author, over the span of the book, compactly summarizes hundreds of journal papers, so that the typical reader can become aware of research trends while the more serious reader can pursue particular topics,

iv.  Bibliographies: Bibliographies by chapter. Although the book has no exercises, the rich bibliographies offer ample research projects;

v.   Assumptions: Discussion of methods, theory and statistical approaches

vi.  Lean and Lively look: 8 Chapters in 250 pages.

Russell Jay Hendel, RHendel@Towson.Edu, holds a Ph.D. in theoretical mathematics and an Associateship from the Society of Actuaries. He teaches at Towson University. His interests include discrete number theory, applications of technology to education, problem writing, actuarial science and the interaction between mathematics, art and poetry.

The table of contents is not available.