Children who learn inefficiently, show little initiative or impulsive behaviour are more likely to fall behind at school. It may eventually be possible to use educational computer games to predict, and in some cases even improve, children’s learning behaviour. The way pre-school children use a mouse to play specially developed educational computer games gives an indication of differences in learning behaviour. These conclusions are contained in a thesis written by Baukje Veenstra, for which she will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 26 May 2011.
Veenstra studied the learning behaviour of 184 preschool children between 3 and 5 years of age on the basis of ‘samenslim’ games (www.samenslim.nl), educational computer games designed to help children develop the skills they need to learn effectively. For the purposes of her research, Veenstra focused on the way the children used the mouse while playing. Impulsive children clicked the mouse more frequently and made more mistakes, while more reticent children clicked the mouse less often.
The computer games were particularly effective in improving the inefficient learning behaviour of the more reticent children. They learned how to play faster and more actively and make more frequent use of the mouse. A relatively small improvement was noted in the children who already learned effectively. On the other hand, the learning behaviour of the impulsive children worsened. They clicked the mouse more recklessly during the games, probably because they did not find the games themselves stimulating enough.
For her research, Veenstra compiled a checklist of seven criteria that educational computer games should feature in order to qualify as serious learning environments. The games must have adequate instructions, for example, they must correspond with the children’s level of education and they must contain specific content and teaching aims. Veenstra then used these seven criteria as the basis for studying eight Dutch ‘edutainment’ software programs. The majority of the games failed to satisfy the criteria and could not therefore be deemed serious learning environments.
Veenstra conducted an exploratory pilot study to see whether ‘samenslim’ games could be used as active teaching material for children with learning disabilities such as ADHD and autism. Although children with ADHD were initially impulsive when using the mouse, their learning behaviour did show signs of improvement after playing the ‘samenslim’ games. These findings could warrant further research.
Baukje Veenstra (Meppel, 1983) studied clinical and developmental psychology at the University of Groningen and conducted her PhD research in the Department of Developmental Psychology of the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences. Her supervisors were Prof. P. van Geert and Prof. B. van der Meulen and her thesis is entitled: 'The utility and effectiveness of an educational computer game aimed at improving ineffective learning behavior in preschool children'. She is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Developmental Psychology.
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