The role of surprising events in a math-game on proportional reasoning

Pieter Wouters, Herre van Oostendorp, Judith ter Vrugte, Ton de Jong, Sylke Vandercruysse, Jan Elen

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Reviews regarding serious games show that the effect on learning can be qualified as moderately positive. Despite the active involvement of players it seems that they sometimes refrain from relevant cognitive processes during game play. This study addresses a technique involving the generation of manageable cognitive conflicts to stimulate these cognitive processes. Surprise comprises events that undermine an expectation which trigger players to evaluate the new situation more extensively. Participants (N = 94) played a game in which they practiced proportional reasoning skills. The pretestposttest design involved two factors: Surprise (surprise vs. no surprise) and Expectancy (strong vs. weak). Surprise was implemented as an appearing game character that modified some parameters of a problem while the player was solving that problem. We expected that this would prompt players to evaluate their solution strategy and decide whether another strategy was more appropriate. Expectancy pertains to the type of problems that players expect. In the strong expectancy version players received a series of problems with the same structure as before. In the weak expectancy version problems with different structures are randomly presented to the players and each problem may involve a different solution strategy. We hypothesized an interaction between Surprise and Expectancy, next to a main effect of Surprise. The results show that participants learned from the game. We also did find a weak positive effect of Surprise, but no effect of Expectancy nor interaction effect on learning. The facilitating effect of Surprise was stronger when existing proportional reasoning skill was included as factor. These results indicate that surprise as implemented in the game has effect on learning regardless whether expectancy was weak or strong. We discuss some suggestions for finding stronger effects of surprise such as the fact that the repetitive nature may have weakened the 'surprisingness' of the surprises and the observation that our sample may not have possessed a sufficient level of metacognitive skills to interpret the changes caused by the surprises.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 9th European Conference on Games Based Learning, ECGBL 2015
Subtitle of host publicationNord-Trondelag University College, Steinkjer, Norway, 8-9 October 2015
EditorsRobin Munkvold, Line Kolas
Place of PublicationReading, UK
PublisherAcademic Conferences and Publishing International
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-910810-59-0
ISBN (Print)978-1-910810-58-3
Publication statusPublished - 8 Oct 2015
Event9th European Conference on Games Based Learning, ECGBL 2015 - Nord Trondelag University College Steinkjer, Steinkjer, Norway
Duration: 8 Oct 20159 Oct 2015
Conference number: 9


Conference9th European Conference on Games Based Learning, ECGBL 2015
Abbreviated titleECGBL


  • IR-99406
  • METIS-315806


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