Educational Games, sometimes called “edutainment” have the potential to teach extracurricular information to children in a fun and stimulating manner. This project examined the effectiveness of a CD-ROM game about the brain in increasing interest and knowledge about the brain. Two studies were conducted. The first study was a quasi-experiment conducted at two schools with 302 children ages 7-11. Participants were divided into three groups, which played the CD-ROM game, heard a story based on the CD-ROM game, or solved math problems. Subsequent measures showed strong support for the CD-ROM increasing interest in the brain and small increases in knowledge about the brain. The second study examined use of the CD-ROM game at home with 35 children. Participants’ increases in knowledge were substantial although their interest in the brain and enjoyment of the game were slightly lower than in the first study.
The effectiveness of an educational CD-ROM about the brain was examined in two studies. The first study compared children who played the game to other groups of children. The second study examined its effectiveness in typical, at-home use. Effectiveness was defined as increases in participants’ knowledge about the brain and their interest in playing the CD-ROM game.
We found dramatic differences in knowledge in the brain between participants who played the CD-ROM game at home and those who played the game at school. The children who played the game at home showed stronger gains in knowledge than the school participants. One reason for the higher performance of the home participants could be the additional time the children were able to spend playing the game than was allowed in the study at the school. That is, the children who played the computer at home played the game longer and more often than the children at school. Since the children at home were choosing to play the game during their “free” time at home, this higher level of the use of the CD-ROM game is impressive.
As mentioned previously, this CD-ROM game has been designed primarily as an edutainment technology. Therefore, it is expected that its primary use will be at home during children’s free time. The games ability to teach information about a subject not generally covered in elementary curricula demonstrates that edutainment has the potential to be a fun and educational resource for children.
There were also some interesting findings related to gender in this project. Girls enjoyed helping the main character more than boys did, although the difference between the genders was less in the home study. Additionally, there was an interaction between the genders’ preference for characters in the school study; children expressed higher preference for characters of their own gender and less preference for characters of the opposite gender. Although this finding was not replicated in the home study, it was quite strong in the school study. Developers may want to include primary characters of both genders so that players can identify with a character similar to their own.
Edutainment has the potential to teach children skills and knowledge outside of the classroom through the use of educational and fun extra-curricular technology. Topics can be introduced to children in a conceptually appropriate format to take advantage of their natural curiously. While acknowledging the tremendous opportunity to develop software that teaches children as well as entertains them, we stress the importance of carefully assessing how children learn. Attention should be paid to evaluating the effectiveness of edutainment in teaching, not only its effectiveness in entertaining. The current study shows it is possible to do both.