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    Topic review

    Serious Games and Mathematics

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    Submitted by: Ana Rodríguez-Groba

    Definition

    The possibilities that serious games offer have been an area of ​​increasing interest in recent years in the field of education. Unlike video games, which are created for entertainment purposes, serious games focus on the educational aspect in one of the possible developments that this type of software is capable of offering. The serious games recover characteristic elements of the free time of the students and take them to the classroom, generating an experience that favors learning.

    1. Background

    The presence of video games has progressively ousted other forms of entertainment. Data provided by the Spanish Video Game Association [1] show very high average weekly consumption figures: 6.7 h a week on average in Spain (in countries like the UK the figure almost doubles, with 11.6 h) and a male profile in 58% of the cases. This should be added to a larger presence in the lower age ranges: 75% of the boys and girls aged between 6 and 10 years fit this profile, thus reducing the percentage as we include higher ages. With these consumption levels, we find studies that point out the benefits of video games [2], also shared with serious games [3]. However, they are not exempt from possible negative assessments either. Research exists [4] showing that the use of video games during school days is related to a worse academic performance. Moreover, intensive video gamers have worse academic results in a research line that relates excess time dedicated to this type of leisure with problems in school performance [5], a situation occurring twice as often among boys than among girls [6].

    However, the use of serious games offers an opportunity, because students showing difficulties working in ordinary situations at school increase their engagement in this type of proposals [7]. We do also have to be aware of possible improvements in learning processes, which are highly dependent on the contexts [8] and the design of the game experience [9]. The relation between motivation and learning benefits offers an opportunity to explore new proposals applied on teaching and learning.

    The improvements produced by the use of serious games are summarized in three distinct types of engagement [10] related to behavior, affect and cognition. This explains the enormous impact that they usually have on the students’ motivation [11], which results in an improvement of the participation level and high engagement levels [12]. This strong link with software may help to understand the advantages in learning processes [13][14] and school curriculum [15].

    2. Serious games and gender

    Research work in the field of video games from a gender perspective is often found. In this sense, several studies have been carried out, dealing with the personality of boys and girls and the relation with the type of preferred video game [16] or how gender governs the interaction between cognitive and personal factors [17]. These works help to understand the relation between gender motivations that lead boys to spend more time playing [18]. Moreover, some works have shown that in the case of women, the relation between the type of game chosen and future fields of academic interest is stronger than in the case of men [19].

    As opposed to the large volume of studies on gender and video games, there are only a few works focusing on this field in serious games. The analyzed studies show differences at social interaction level [20] and investigate differences in academic performance, concluding that in the case of girls it is, unexpectedly, as good as among boys, despite completing less missions and scoring worse in the game [21]. There are even studies according to which girls exceed boys in terms of commitment to the proposal and the learning level achieved [22][23], which is evidence of the concern of women to relate the proposed experience with the academic achievement [24]. These data apparently contradict some studies in which the teachers do state gender differences in the motivational capacity perceived in favor of boys [25]. Other works [26], although they do not find differences in performance, show differentiated styles: women collaborate and are more willing to accept experiences with serious games, while men are more competitive.

    3. Serious Games and Mathematics

    Figura 1. A game in ReflexMath software.

    Figura 2. Teacher dashboard.

    The data from the research carried out with this software in a primary education center show that, in a context such as Spain and with a curriculum structured differently from the American one, this software leads to great improvements in mathematical fluency in schools with ordinary schooling students in the first four levels of primary education with a statistically significant and large improvement in mathematical fluency. The data are consistent with previous studies with the same software with much smaller samples [36] and also with students with learning difficulties [37].

    However, surprisingly, the performance differences shown in the gender-segmented pretest are very favorable for boys. The pretest data also reproduced that, with the methodology used in the school, these differences did not decrease over the years. In addition, it was an aspect in which the educational center of the study showed concern because it had never been evaluated and there was no knowledge of this fact. It is an emerging element that requires analysis and that could potentially be worked on through an alternative methodology through serious play.

    The entry is from 10.3390/su13126586

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