Assessing Higher Order Thinking in Video Games

Assessing Higher Order Thinking in Video Games

In his paper Assessing Higher Order Thinking In Video Games, John Rice draws the conclusion that educational computer games, such as Revolution, which was developed by MIT’s Media Lab (the game itself will be discussed in a future post).

With the increased global interest in gaming, educators are looking more closely at how computer games can be used in the classroom. Teachers seem to prefer edutainment style games which offer a “drill and kill” style of repetition practice. There is a wide spectrum of games being used (some ostensibly educational, some commercial but with educational potential) and amongst those games levels of “thinking skill” are required. Some games require only lower order thinking (drill and kill) while other games are more immersive, offering the ability for players to use higher order thinking skills. Rice refers to these as cognitive virtual interactive environments (VIEs).

The benefit of cognitive VIEs is to address the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy – particularly application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. VIEs are virtual (three dimensional) environments which require extensive interaction (reading, clicking, manipulating the environment). Most often, MMORPGs are the best representation of VIEs. Games such as World of Warcraft, Sims, Civilization can be considered examples which fit the genre.

While still being ‘edutainment’ Rice has developed a series of qualifiers, in the form of a rubric, which ascertain whether a game has the elements required to challenge higher order thinking skills.

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The qualifiers, 20 in total, are scored and graded according to a viability scale.

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Rice concludes that a game which scores 15 or more is “highly probable” to encourage higher order thinking skills in users. He concludes that VIEs are a viable as educational tools as long as they can be judged as having the ability to challenge higher order thinking skills. He is particularly impressed with “Revolution” and asserts it to be a high quality educational tool.

In reading this paper I’ve drawn some interesting conclusions myself. First is a criticism of Rice’s approach. While I agree that interactive gaming (particularly virtual environments) show enormous potential as learning tools, I cannot help but be alarmed that Rice’s approach to assessing such games is too prescriptive. The rubric is neither practical nor logical within the context of gaming. Computer games, and the culture created by them, shift constantly and are subject to trends which cannot be predicted. A game like Minecraft, arguably a teaching tool with enormous potential, scores poorly on such a rubric.

The generic codes and conventions of computer games are not static. They fluctuate and with each technology leap, there will be a noticeable shift in computer game standards. The games of today were inconceivable just 5 years ago. Computer games 5 years from now are equally difficult to predict.

While it’s important to recognise the value of gaming in modern culture and education, we must resist the temptation to rigidly define game boundaries.


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