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Game Based Learning for Computer Science Education
50672 Köln, Germany
0049-221-277 995 14
Mainzer Str. 5,
50678 Köln, Germany
Heerlen, The Netherlands
Heerlen, The Netherlands
Today, learners increasingly demand for innovative and
motivating learning scenarios that strongly respond to their habits
of using media. One of the many possible solutions to this
demand is the use of computer games to support the acquisition of
knowledge. This paper reports on chances and challenges of
applying a game-based learning scenario for the acquisition of IT
knowledge as realized by the German BMBF project SpITKom.
After briefly describing the learning potential of Multiplayer
Browser Games as well as the educational objectives and target
group of the SpITKom project, we will present the main results of
a study that was carried out in the first phase of the project to
guide the game design. In the course of the study, data were
collected regarding (a) the computer game preferences of the
target group and (b) the target group’s competencies in playing
computer games. We will then introduce recommendations that
were deduced from the study’s findings and that outline the
concept and the prototype of the game.
Categories and Subject Descriptors
K.3.2 [Computers and Education]: Computer and Information
Science Education – information systems education.
Design, Experimentation, Standardization, Verification.
IT knowledge, game based learning, game design, learners
difficult to reach
Making education accessible to everyone is a problem: Besides
age, the earning capacity as well as the social background
influences the use of information and communications technology
(ICT) (cf. ; ). As Unterfrauner  states, the smaller the
income the smaller the penetration rate of PCs and the smaller the
possibility for youths to have access to the Internet (no access
point). Also, according to the JIM Study , the level of
education influences the way, the computer is used. It is stated
that the higher the educational background, the more likely youths
are prepared to use the computer as a means for information
people with a lower educational background rather use the
computer to communicate and to play games. Thus, people with a
lower educational background less likely develop competence in
using the computer as a tool for information and/or work (e.g.
word-processing programs) or in applying technology and media
to certain subjects, i. e “digital literacy” . Nowadays, most jobs
however require at least basic skills and knowledge in the
professional use of common computer applications. They are
virtually indispensable for vocational integration, preservation
and continuation, and already for creating an adequate application
e-skills are mandatory. Thus, social circumstances seem to
reinforce prevailing educational disadvantages. And for many this
barrier is difficult to overcome. People with a low educational
background very often have negative learning experiences. They
have little or no confidence in their skills and abilities and only
limited motivation to learn . Traditional education has little
chance to bring them back into education. Game based learning
approaches however seem to meet the target group’s needs (cf.
; ; ; ).
2. GAME BASED LEARNING
Within the past decade, studies have analyzed and demonstrated
that commercial as well as educational games (a) support
constructivist learning and teaching, i.e. constructive, situated and
social learning (, , ) and (b) almost perfectly match the
determinants of intrinsic motivation (, ).
According to Meier and Seufert , game-based learning
approaches particularly make sense if the content to be learned is
dry and only somewhat interesting, if the considered target group
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Conference CSERC '2011, 7 - 8 April, Heerlen, The Netherlands
Copyright © 2011 ACM ISBN 978 90 358 1987 0 $10.00
is rather difficult to motivate for learning, if the target group
already has an affinity for (computer) games (e.g. younger target
groups), and/or if the target group does not have the necessary
competencies to deal with a CBT/WBT (e.g. the competence to
act or learn self-directed).
Playing games, whether they are explicitly designed to foster the
acquisition of knowledge or not, may support the development of
certain strategies and skills such as problem-solving, decision-
making, understanding complex systems, planning or data
handling (cf. , ). Computer games may also support the
acquisition of knowledge according to a predefined set of subject-
related facts  that can be matched against a fixed syllabus. The
German research project SpITKom for example supports the
acquisition of IT knowledge to master the European Computer
Driving Licence (ECDL).
When it comes to the development of Multiplayer Browser
Games, research from Social Cognition Studies is of paramount
importance. Steinkuehler’s (, ) work on Massively
Multiplayer Online Games, for example, emphasizes the potential
of social mechanisms for learning such as collaborative problem
solving practices as well as reciprocal apprenticeship “through
which individuals enculturate one another into routine and valued
practices and perspectives” [25, p. 12]. According to a study
carried out by Klimmt et al. , gamers like Multiplayer Browser
Games because of their particular social aspects of the game play
and because of their specific characteristics regarding time and
flexibility („easy-in, easy-out“).
3. THE SPITKOM PROJECT
SpITKom (Spielerische Vermittlung von IT-Kompetenz)
the decision to realize a Browser Game against the background of
the currently very successful Multiplayer Browser Games (e.g.
). Its main focus is to support the acquisition of IT
knowledge, thus preparing and enabling educationally
disadvantaged learners to find an apprenticeship. Further on,
SpITKom aims at supporting the acquisition of practical
knowledge related to the building industry. Therewith, SpITKom
targets at bringing forward the participants’ professional and
social competence. Also, by directing the game to the building
industry, it is intended to support the development of a
3.1 Educational Objectives
SpITKom focuses on the acquisition of IT-knowledge as one of
the key competencies and requirements of today’s labour market.
It has chosen to integrate the ECDL as a commonly accepted
standard that reflects and certifies up-to-date skills and knowledge
in the use of a computer and common applications. In its standard
version 5.0, the ECDL syllabus comprises 478 learning outcomes,
organized in seven modules including topics such as „Using the
computer and managing files“, „Word processing “ and „Web
Browsing and Communication“ (see: www.ecdl.org).
Besides IT-related skills and knowledge, SpITKom aims at the
acquisition of knowledge related to the building industry. As
The project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of
Education and Research (BMBF) and the European Social Fund
(ESF). Up-to-date information on the project can be retrieved
opposed to the ECDL, this content is not based on a fixed
curriculum or a certain syllabus of instruction but is geared to the
different scenarios (garage, detached house, park, etc.) as realized
in the game. Every scenario is described by means of phases and
their respective workflow. Building a garage for example
comprises the phases: setting-out the building-site and stripping
the topsoil, trenching for the strip foundation, casting the strip
foundation, etc. For every phase additional information is
3.2 Target Group
SpITKom is directed at learners difficult to reach who are
participating in state funded professional qualification programs
offered by the Education Centres for the Building Industry (BZB).
The target group consists of predominantly male participants aged
17 to 25. According to the target group analysis that was carried
out in the beginning of the project, only a few of the participants
have a school leaving certificate. Their level of literacy is very
low. Also they have strong personal and social deficits that
hamper or even inhibit finding an apprenticeship. Their command
of the German language is poor. Also, their capacity to memorise
or to concentrate on something is rather low. They have little
stamina, a poor frustration and conflict tolerance and only little or
no ability to work in a team or to communicate. They are not used
to learn at all and they are not willing to actively participate in
learning activities . Despite these similarities, the target group
is not homogeneous. They have very different attitudes towards
work, different working techniques, talents, expectations and
Instead of a computer, this target group is rather in possession of
television and gaming consoles . Thus, they have developed
little or no competence in using the computer as a tool for
information and/or work. By now, most jobs require at least basic
media competencies though. This also applies to the building
industry which increasingly relies on the use of computers for day
to day communication or logistic matters for example.
4. PARAMETERS FOR THE GAME
In order to meet the target group’s game play needs, a study was
carried out in the beginning of the project (i.e. autumn 2009) that
assessed the target group’s computer game preferences and their
computer game literacy (cf. , ).
The study’s methods of data collection included questionnaires
(n=43), qualitative interviews (n=18) and observations of the
target group playing the Serious Games McVideogame and
Techforce (n=9). The transcripts of the qualitative interviews were
coded and analyzed with qualitative content analysis. The data of
the videotaped game sessions were assessed as case studies and
interpreted with a combination of segmentation and sequential
The samples consisted of predominantly male participants of
several state funded professional qualification programs in the
field of building industry aged 17 to 25. Besides lacking basic
abilities in reading, writing and calculating, a lot of these young
people had negative experiences with formal education.
The majority of the target group prefers to play action games (e.g.
Sports and Racing Games and First-Person-Shooter) in its spare
time. Multiplayer Browser Games are not played on a regular
basis. However, the results of the study suggest that Multiplayer
Browser Games (which usually contain construction and
management features) could appeal to the target group. From the
analysis, several potential reasons that support this suggestion
have been identified.
Firstly, parts of the target group get into construction- and
management-oriented actions within other genres. 68 % of survey
respondents agreed that in computer games it is fun to build
something up and to manage it (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. What do you like especially in computer games?
(in %) (n=39)
The following quotations from the qualitative interviews offer a
closer look at target group’s fascination for building up and
managing in computer games:
“I like Age of Empires because you have to build up everything.
First, you have several citizens, you build up a city, soldiers, then
you are going all through the ages, from the middle ages to nano,
to space ships and stuff like that. It is always going further, up to
pirate ships, then you are going to the age of military, World War
I, World War II, and then modern world war. It is always going
further up, it always takes years, then you have to collect more,
and then you are coming into another age, and that is also a kind
of strategy, you have to expand, you have to watch out with whom
you are allying yourself, see who could become a danger to you.”
“If you have a favorite team, and if you are then thinking that [in
FIFA Manager 2008] you are the manager, what do I say, you
are the president of that team (...), that is, I have the players in my
hand, I have the arena in my hand, everything belongs to me, so
to say, I am allowed to lead, I am allowed to say yes or no, I am
this person, that as well, that's why, I found it really cool.” (I17)
Secondly, the observation of participants playing the Online Anti
Advergame McVideogame shows that, in general, the target group
is interested in and able to handle a management simulation in a
However, the observation also reveals that many players have
difficulties dealing with a complex game system which is not
offering a high degree of guidance and instruction. Many players
were overwhelmed by too many variables and options as well as
they were confused as their inputs were not followed by
immediate feedback. Thus, it can be assumed that the target
group’s mastery of construction and management games
presupposes a well-structured game environment, high level of
stimuli and immediate feedback to game play actions. The
following statement of an interviewee contains an assessment of
the interface of the management simulation Hospital Tycoon
(based on a screenshot which was presented to him during the
interview). It illustrates the target group’s desire for well-
structured games offering pretty clear guidance und instruction:
“[In Hospital Tycoon] the clicking here and there could be
simplified. There should be not that many bars and buttons. (…)
First of all, I would need reference points in order to know what
my task is, what I have to accomplish. (…) I need a definition of
task to know what to do. [In Hospital Tycoon] I would not right
away know where to begin (…). There are too many categories
(…). It should be structured better! (…).” (I7)
Although the majority of study’s participants does not play
Multiplayer Browser Games in its spare time, the construction and
management features of Multiplayer Browser Games could attract
the target group. Furthermore, “the social relationships involved
in game play“  could contribute to the attraction of the target
group, which is very keen on playing with or against other people
(see Figure 1).
In order to meet the target group’s game play needs, it is
recommended to offer a well-structured game environment
(including a lucid interface and clear instructions), a high level of
stimuli and immediate feedback to game play actions. As a
consequence, it is recommended to look at Social Games such as
or Social City
as a reference for accessible, easy to
use game environments that offer high level of stimuli as well as
ongoing feedback. Further recommendations derived from the
student’s gaming habits and preferences comprise (cf. , ):
• The player should be able to choose and/or design an avatar
(though the avatar can not be controlled within the genre). In the
course of the game the avatar should change its appearance
according to the score.
• The story should enable a career advancement; e.g. from
apprentice to master.
• The text embedded should be as short and clear as possible.
• The in-game ranking should not reproduce the usual classroom
ranking. Therefore, in-game success should not only be
influenced by performance of IT knowledge, but also by stamina
and, above all, collaboration.
• The interface should be clearly arranged and simple (e.g. a
manageable number of functionalities the player has to use
while playing the game).
• Elements other than game play elements (e. g. IT questions, IT
knowledge) have to be tied in with the game logic, (i.e., it must
always lead to an in-game advantage). Additional information,
which does not offer any in-game value, will be neglected by the
• Latency should be avoided (e.g. immediate feedback should be
given to anything the player does).
5. CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK
SpITKom aims at utilizing the pedagogical potential computer
games provide (cf. , ) by offering a learning scenario based
on a Browser Game. It aims at initiating intrinsic motivation
because, as compared to extrinsic motivation, intrinsic motivation
increases the efficiency of learning . Moreover, SpITKom
builds on the learning potential of collaboration and reciprocal
apprenticeship . The main user interfaces for the learner are
the learning game (see Figure 2) and the IT-Café (see Figure 3).
Figure 2. SpITKom Browser Game (Draft Version)
The game guides the learner through building- and construction-
projects. Its main intention is to bring the target group (learners
difficult to reach) “in touch” with the integrated IT-knowledge. A
more elaborate engagement, i.e. the actual learning, takes place
within the IT-Café.
In the course of the game, test items related to IT knowledge
(ECDL) are displayed to the user. The answers influence the game
play (score, money). By matching the ECDL learning outcomes
against the learner’s concrete abilities it analyses the learner’s
needs and offers questions and Units of Learning in the sense of a
concrete, contextualized unit of education or training (cf. ) that
can each be traced back to a single learning outcome. The
questions are rated 1 (easy) to 3 (difficult). Depending on the
learner’s performance (right/wrong), the system’s core backend
component - the CCT (Competence Checker and Trainer) which is
realized through the IT-Café (see Figure 3) - chooses the follow-
up question in an adaptive manner in order to rate the learner’s
knowledge. Also, answers of learners are collected and stored in
the learner’s profile. The learner can enter the IT-Café to perform
some explicit learning tasks (access learning contents, perform
comprehensive tests, review own profile). Additionally, the
learner can communicate with co-learners and teachers.
Figure 3. IT-Café (Draft Version)
6. BASIC TECHNICAL ARCHITECTURE
The SpITKom system is partially based on the Open ICOPER
Content Space (OICS), which was developed in the context of the
. The OICS is based on the OpenACS
that is available under an open source licence, as it is the case for
all modules needed for running the OICS. The OICS platform
offers services that integrate concepts and data for the
management of sharable educational resources.
In the context of SpITKom, the webservice infrastructure of the
ICOPER components were integrated into a completely new user
interface (i.e. game and IT-Café) . In the following, the
relevant OICS resource types and their respective data models as
realized in the SpITKom project, are depicted:
In the OICS, learning outcome definitions capture the key
characteristics of a learning outcome, independently of its use in
any particular context or target group, using the LOD schema
. Within the context of SpITKom, the items of the ECDL
syllabus are represented as LODs. They are stored in the learning
The OICS enables to pull learning content from repositories
through the OAI-PMH protocol  or to push content from
authoring environments through a publication service with
metadata described in a profile of the LOM standard . Within
the context of SpITKom, the ECDL learning contents are realized
as SCORM units stored in the OICS content repository .
The OICS associates assessments with learning outcomes, which
allows generating personal achievements. They are stored in the
QTI format. In the course of SpITKom, the individual ECDL tests
are played using the open source QTIEngine
In the OICS, personal achievement profiles allow learners to
organize their achieved learning outcomes. Evidence records
related to them are stored in the PALO data format . In the
course of SpITKom, assessment results delivered from the QTI-
engine are stored into the profile repository, using the PALO
7. CONCLUSION AND OUTLOOK
It has proved rather difficult to motivate learners difficult to reach
to get involved with learning activities. The SpITKom project is
set to tackle this challenge though by providing a learning offer
that is geared to the target group’s preferred activities. The
recommendations that were deduced from the target group
analysis and that were implemented with the prototype have led to
a Brower Game which is set to meet the target group’s needs. It
therefore has all the chances to be successful, i.e. to help learners
difficult to reach to get involved with learning. First results of a
recent prototype evaluation show that (a) the game design meets
the target group’s expectations regarding the graphical user
interface (GUI) and that it is (b) accepted as an intuitive and low-
threshold learning offer. Its game play was evaluated as easy to
understand and that requires no genre specific prior knowledge.
Moreover, game testing demonstrated that the game indeed
motivated players to engage themselves in information technology
(at least, in the course of the game), which cannot be taken for
granted when it comes to the SpITKom target group. It can be
assumed that the game’s linkage between players’ IT knowledge
and their success in the game (via parameters such as Duration of
Building Time, Score and Money) plays a major role in the
initiation of that engagement.
An overall study with particular focus on the learning in SpITKom
however, will be carried out in the first half of the year 2012.
Until then, the game and the IT-Café will be finalized (05/2011)
and the target group will have played and learned with the
SpITKom-game for nearly half a year (07/2011 – 12/2011). This
will allow the final study to draw conclusions with regard to (a)
the implementation of the game into the instruction of a state
funded professional qualification program, (b) the effects of the
game-based-learning-approach on the target group’s engagement
with information technology, (c) the (possible) appearance and
structure of collaborative learning processes within the
Multiplayer Browser Game, (d) the effects of outcome-oriented
delivery of content and services on the individual learning
processes, and (e) the learning outcome with a special focus on
IT-knowledge, building industry knowledge and professional
identity. It will be of particular interest to evaluate the general
capacity and motivation of learners (i.e. learners difficult to reach)
to take over responsibility for their learning and respectively the
corresponding learning outcome.
It is planned to set up a mobile version of the SpITKom game in
order to scrutinize additional effects on motivation and learning
outcome for learners difficult to reach. The mobile version will
complement the existing Browser Game and will make use of the
integrated infrastructure (IT-Café) thus providing the basis for a
game-based learning approach for mobile devices.
Parts of this work are funded by the eContentPlus Program of the
European Commission through the ICOPER project and by the
German BMBF-program Further Education and the use of
Web2.0 technology in Vocational Education through the
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