March 25, 2020

Free Educational Games: Game-based Learning Options for COVID-19 Quarantine

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In the past few weeks the rapid spread of COVID-19 has forced schools to shut down all around the world. While many schools including the University of Malta have facilitated remote learning, we understand that this may not be completely universal and some people may be struggling to find educational activities. At the same time, educators have been thrust into potentially unfamiliar remote learning environments. Therefore, the Institute of Digital Games is providing a list of educational games developed at the Institute in addition to some resources that may help guide both carers and educators on the use of games in the classroom.

Learning through Games Research

One of the core areas of the Institute of Digital Games is using games to teach and learn. The focus being on game-based learning instead of gamification. The difference is that game-based learning uses the content that should be learned and makes it fun and entertaining while gamification applies game mechanics such as missions and achievements outside of the games (such as handing out achievements for completing homework). Games have been shown to contribute to learning even in informal settings.

Games for the Classroom

Village Voices: Developing Conflict Resolution Skills - Ages 9-11

Village Voices is available for download from the eCrisis website. The game teaches conflict resolution based on Bodine and Crawford’s six-phase model of resolving conflict and encourages the player to analyze their own emotional states and teaches them communications skills, creative-thinking, and critical-thinking skills. It can be played on multiple workstations (see the instructions for networking) but it also has a single person option where players navigate conflict scenarios.

Iconoscope: Developing Language and Visual Communication Skills - Ages 9-11

Iconoscope is a game which aims to foster the creativity of its players. Iconoscope motivates players to creatively interpret concepts (described linguistically) as icons (depicted visually) which convey the same message. The concept both encourages players to think in new ways about abstract concepts (and learn about them in doing so) and demonstrates that people can perceive the world in very different ways. The lesson on perspective is further enhanced by the shared database where they are able to guess what other players have attempted to represent.

Using Educational Games for Kids

For the above games eCrisis provides a number of Learning Scenarios and additional Resources such as:

eCrisis Teacher Guidebook

eCrisis Pedagogical Scenarios

Even educational games, while they are able to teach specific skills still require integration into an overall curriculum and guidance from an educator. For the above two games (Village Voices and Iconoscope) we have compiled a toolkit developed by educators for educators which could be helpful for those interested in using these games. It is available on the eCrisis website. In fact, these games have been effectively used and implemented in the curriculum of St Ignatius College Ħandaq Middle School in Malta.

Virtual Labs: Interactive games for Learning Chemistry and Physics

Under the ENVISAGE Project, the consortium (including the Institute of Digital Games) developed a number of online virtual labs, i.e. virtual spaces emulating real laboratories where students can accomplish a number of learning tasks, it was designed for using labs in distance courses and curricula that otherwise would be difficult if not infeasible to be offered. Obviously actual lab work is difficult to replace, but due to a number of constraints actual lab work is not always a possibility.

Wind Energy Lab (3D) - In our wind energy lab players take control of a wind farm to power a small town with energy in a 3D environment. This will foster an understanding of how random changes in wind speed and power requirements, affects the use of natural energy resources.

Chemistry Lab (3D) - In the 3D chemistry lab players are able to learn everything there is about molecules. From naming a molecule’s formula to building its structure.

GoLab Organic Molecule Covalent Bonding - Select a molecule and create its formula, then correctly find its bond and place the electrons.

GoLab Organic Molecule Builder - Use a molecule builder to explore the properties and nature of 20 different molecules or compounds from various elements.

GoLab Molecule Naming Lab - Select a diagram from a list of numbered molecules, and name it correctly! There are 19 different molecules for you to name. Can you correctly name them all?

The virtual labs are browser based and available for FREE on the ENVISAGE Website.

Funny and Quirky Philosophical Classroom Games

Prof. Stefano Gualeni’s research area focuses on using the virtual world to do philosophy and as such he has made a number of ‘philosophical artefacts’ where players learn about a specific philosophical concept in an interactive way. These games form part of the CURIO Toolbox for fostering creativity and learning and we’ve had great feedback from educators that have incorporated them into their lessons.

Something Something Soup Something - Addresses the philosophy of language revealing, through its gameplay, that even something as straightforward as ‘soup’ can be impossible to define exhaustively. And yet we all claim to know what ‘soup’ is. Can function well as an interactive way to explore Wittgenstein’s thought experiment about a beetle in a box which no one can see but you that is meant to demonstrate that our use of language and its functionality is not affected by the fact that, ultimately, we do not know what is in one another’s box.

HERE - Addresses the philosophical notion of ‘indexicality’ and plays with the question of what it means when the word 'here' is used in a computer game… Areas of exploration include finding meanings and putting them into semantic theory, understanding the logic of arguments such as used in the famous statement by Descartes, and some exploration of self-knowledge and consciousness.

Data Game in the Style of Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? : Subtle Game-based Learning at its Best

Data Agent is a murder mystery that creates a murder victim based on a person’s name and builds the victim’s character and story using data from their Wikipedia article. All the data and information provided in the game is real encouraging the players to learn without them even being aware that they are in the style of Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? (for those who still remember this game). The game was a result of a collaboration with New York University.

It is also available for FREE.

Games to Learn Science for Kids: Com-N-Player App

The COMnPLAYer app helps children discover and learn about science and enable them to have their say on what it actually means to them. The app includes a series of entertaining stories featuring Steamo, the quirkiest AI Life Coach in the world. The stories link to quizzes which encourage users to reflect on their own science capital, and their responses will also further help researchers understand just how kids reflect on their own attitudes toward science.

The app is available for Android on Google Play and there is also a Web Version.

Further Resources and Serious Games that Foster Game-Based Learning

While we (of course) recommend our games to foster game-based learning there is a multitude of serious games that are able to teach a wide variety of topics through game play.

Serious Games Interactive

Serious Games a Danish company specializing in games with educational content has a number of titles available for free, including for example The Plague and President for a Day. They target a wide variety of ages and topics.

Explorable Explanations

Explorable Explanations by Nicky Case hosts a whole range of educational content (including Something Something Soup Something and HERE by the way) covering a wide range of topics. The website allows you to sort games by subject along the lines of art, biology, chemistry, civics, earth science, economics, journalism, math, philosophy, physics, programming, psychology, social science, meta, and miscellaneous. Keep in mind that they are extremely wide ranging in subject matter and difficulty and educators may want to try them out first.

Foldit - Protein Folding Game

Although Foldit is available in the Explorable Explanations database it deserves a special mention considering the global pandemic going on. With Foldit you can currently help researchers discover new antiviral drugs that might stop coronavirus! The most promising solutions will be manufactured and tested at the University of Washington Institute for Protein Design in Seattle. It is an interactive computer game and not a distributed computing project, so you’ll download an application and try to find protein combinations. Foldit is run by academic research scientists. It is free to play and not-for-profit.

Just download Foldit here and create a username to get started. Learn about proteins and help with research.

Much More Playful Learning and Educational Game Content in the Future

The Institute is also currently working on the LearnML project that will teach children the basics of machine learning using games. We announced the project earlier this year and Prof. Georgios Yannakakis explains a bit about the working prototype below. While compiling this blog post, we realized there were so many resources for game-based learning that we made one specifically tailored to teaching Artificial Intelligence!

Give us a shout on Twitter @InDigitalGames or Facebook and let us know if you’d like to know more.

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