A super powerful game I’ve played and had some students play is called Swift Playgrounds. It is an iPad app that walks the user through learning how to program using Apple’s Swift coding language. It’s super engaging and fun, but also highly educational. You become engaged in the game of it all, without realising you are learning how to code! It walks you through levels by progressively building skills over time. There are a lot of similar games like this that teach coding and computational thinking, but I think Swift Playgrounds is the most polished, engaging and powerful of all of them. When you finish the game you have enough skills to build your own app from the ground up, which also adds to the motivation factor. The only downside that I see is that this learning experience is only possible on iPads (and new ones at that). If it were available on more platforms, then I think it would be extremely popular.

Duolingo on the other hand is an app that tries to teach you a new language through a game based approach. It’s a similar model to Swift Playgrounds, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark as you get lost in the game instead of learning. At first, you are super motivated to play as it makes learning new languages accessible and fun. You fly though the first few levels, the instant feedback grounds it in learning, you receive notification to keep playing if you haven’t played for a while and you get in game encouragement and positive reinforcement. It all sounds and feels like a super powerful way to learn a language. However, after a while I realised that I was simply ‘playing the game’ and getting positive feedback, level ups, etc. but I wasn’t actually learning any new vocabulary. Maybe this is what Moore & Pflugfelder (2010) are referring to when they state that games can be less disengaging for student because of a “the lack of pedagogical direction” (p.250)?

It’s interesting that both apps use a very similar model and approach, but their education benefit can vary so differently. Has anyone else played these games before? I’m curious if you had a similar experience?

 

Moore, K., & Pflugfelder, E. H. (2010). On being bored and lost (in virtuality)Learning, Media and Technology, 35(2), 249–253.