INF541 Assessment 3 Critical Review

Arnab, S., Berta, R., Earp, J., De Freitas, S., Popescu, M., Romero, M., … & Usart, M. (2012). Framing the adoption of serious games in formal education. Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 10(2), 159-171.

Beavis, C., Rowan, L., Dezuanni, M., McGillivray, C., O’Mara, J., Prestridge, S., … Zagami, J. (2014). Teachers’ beliefs about the possibilities and limitations of digital games in classrooms. E-Learning and Digital Media, 11(6), 569–581. doi:10.2304/elea.2014.11.6.569

Van Eck, R. (2006). Digital game-based learning: It’s not just the digital natives who are restless. EDUCAUSE Review, (20), 16-18.

The following critical review will analyse and evaluate three articles that discuss trends in game based learning (GBL). The review will seek to outline each article’s purpose as well as their major strengths and weaknesses before synthesising the major themes present within the work.


At it’s core, Arnab et al.’s (2012) article ‘Framing the adoption of serious games in formal education’ aims to raise awareness of game based learning so that more educators adopt this practice in a formal learning environment. The work, derived from eight different authors, recommends that educators embrace a “multifaceted view” on the subject in order to attain a  “deeper understanding” (Arnab et al., 2012, p. 168) and thereby move beyond inhibitors to adopting this approach. Through crystallizing the role of the educator and implementation strategies, Arnab et al. cover a range of topics including pedagogical approaches and applications to formal settings.


The discussion centering on the nature of games and their pedagogical underpinnings was particularly effective. Drawing from Kebritchi and Hirumi (2008), the authors were able to establish the pedagogical classifications that were at the crux of game design and therefore position educators to see the value in games. The authors reinforce this by noting that the study is a, “useful reference point” for those seeking to research further (Arnab et al., 2012, p. 161).


Although not completely tainting the article, Arnab et al.’s (2012) decision to include the flawed, “digital native” narrative in the abstract, casted doubt on the authors and punctuated several other shortcomings of this piece. Claiming that Serious Games (SG) “offer the chance to ‘hook’ today’s (largely) digital native generation of learners” (p. 159) implied that the loud and generally accepted criticism of Prensky (2001) by Bennett, Maton and Kervin (2008), Guo, Dobson and Petrina (2008), and Helpsper and Eynon (2010) were largely ignored by Arnab et al. This initial blunder offsets the reader, causing them to view the remainder of the article through a critical lense.


More concerning is the article’s failure to emphasise the socio-cultural context which plays a pivotal role in the success or failure of the learning. Admittedly, Arnab et al. (2012) barely address it through the inclusion of Four Dimension Model under the heading of “learner specifications” (p. 162). When this is explained further, the discussion merely notes that it involves the “elicitation of the characteristics defining learner populations” (p. 162). Here, a more robust discussion would benefit educators as it is necessary for them to be aware that factors such as a “shared cultural background” (Montola, 2012, p. 314) or gender and class (Beavis et al., 2014, p. 577; Beavis & Charles, 2007) can directly impact the outcome of the GBL trial.


The implementation strategies suggested by Arnab et al. unfortunately falls short for many in the K-12 education setting. Their decision to focus on 21st century skills (ex. collaboration) as a primary implementation strategy leaves out the content knowledge required by the curriculum. This approach endorsed by Gee (2007) has students immersed in the game context and developing new literacy skills. A more favorable approach, heralded by Squire (2011), yields content knowledge as well as skill (p. 15). Though it’s acknowledged that Arnab et al. (2012) believe that “considerable benefit would be gained from aligning with games with the curriculum” (p. 163), it’s disappointing that one of the suggested strategies didn’t focus on it. This may reflect the difficulties educators have when trying to incorporate both (Jan, 2013, para. 23).


The article “Teachers’ beliefs about the possibilities and limitations of digital games in classrooms” seeks to address the “uncritical stance”, in some literature regarding “the role of context and the ways in which teachers impact upon what games achieve in school” (Beavis et al., 2014, p. 570). Beavis et al.’s (2014) central argument addresses the importance of teachers’ mindset when adopting game based learning into their classroom as its success or failure is “closely tied to the way teachers think about games including what they believe can or cannot be achieved with games and how they believe games should or should not be used” (p. 570). The nine authors’ exploration of the study ‘Serious Play: digital games, learning and literacy for twenty first century schooling’ which examined a range of students and teachers of primary and secondary schools (p. 571), revealed that the teachers surveyed “were overwhelmingly positive about the potential for games to impact positively upon learning environments” (p. 576) citing students’ ability to use them to build new skills and knowledge (p. 576).


While this cross section of teachers’ mindsets remained primarily positive, the study raised concerns about teachers’ naivety about the importance of their involvement within the learning process. Beavis et al. (2014) drew upon this overtly positive belief in the “almost magical properties of games to engage, inspire and teach students” (p. 577) as justification for their argument to call for effective professional development and attention to the pedagogical strategies that are drawn from when determining how games are used (p. 577). This suggestion would also relate to the teachers whose discussion revealed that they were more focused on game use to improve skill rather than content. Beavis et al. (2014) notes that “widespread agreement that every curriculum area could find a way to work with digital games” (p. 577) and therefore should also be a focus.


The authors’ abilities to identify the void in the teachers’ knowledge and practice would also be seen in their evaluation of their students’ learning contexts. Variations in socio-economics as well as differences in gender, and cultural background can have “a profound impact upon how/when/why students would be engaged or motivated in working with specific games” (Beavis et al., 2014, p. 577). This ethos reflects the first of the core practices of ‘The Game School’ where it is acknowledged and valued that learner identity is complex (Salen, Torres, & Wolozin, 2008, p. 7).


There are three fundamental shortcomings with this piece. Firstly, while the data collected does come from a range of sources at differing levels of primary and secondary education, it fails to account for the actual impact of teachers’ mindset on game based learning because the study uses only “phase one” of the project (Beavis et al., 2014, p. 571). A more comprehensive approach may have examined the impacts of this grounded yet optimistic mindset on the units being studied. Secondly, the teachers that opted in to the ‘Serious Games’ study were already part of an organisation that felt favorably towards GBL. Therefore, the result of being ‘grounded and optimistic’ cannot be applied to the country, but only towards schools that already value GBL. It is also interesting to note that Beavis et al.’s (2014) results contrast to Bourgonjon et al.’s (2013) study that identified teachers’ perceptions that games couldn’t help their job performance (Bourgonjon et al., 2013, p. 31). Finally, the strong criticism centering on the assumptions about Prensky’s (2001) ‘digital natives’ that were directed towards Arnab et al. (2012) also applies to these authors as they make similar assumptions. All of these impact the usefulness of Beavis et. al’s analysis.


This objective article, ‘Digital game-based learning: It’s not just the digital natives who are restless’, written by Richard Van Eck (Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning at the University of North Dakota), carefully relates the challenges and opportunities associated with Digital Game-Based Learning (DGBL) with application to formal education. The context of GBL in 2006 moved Van Eck to write the article, citing an ideal climate that was drawn from an increase in research, the growing popularity of games and problems associated with Digital Natives (p. 17). The author may be forgiven for his misplaced views on Digital Natives, something he later acknowledged, noting that they were “not necessarily the video game savants we assumed they would be” (Van Eck, 2015, p. 14).


Van Eck’s (2006) argument advocating DGBL centres around why it is effective and engaging, and how it can be leveraged, integrated and supported (p. 18). This piece draws its strength from its grounding in pedagogical discourse. The somewhat “skeptical” audience Van Eck (2006) was writing for still needed to be convinced of DGBL’s validity and base in the principles of learning (p. 18). Therefore, the author’s powerful discussion of situated cognition, assimilation, accommodation and cognitive disequilibrium effectively positioned the more critical educators to listen attentively to the entirety of his argument (p. 18-19).


Van Eck’s (206) balanced analysis of the ways educators can integrate DGBL into the learning process logically discussed the strengths and weakness of each method. While this may seem basic, his audience, who were realistically still early adopters to DGBL (Novak and Nackerud, 2011, p. 292), would benefit from this breakdown of sorts. Noting the problems of time restraint and quality around student designed games, Van Eck (2006) saw more potential in either a partnership between educators and designers to create the games, or the adoption of commercial, off the shelf games (COTS). This analysis remains accurate in the current discussion of DGBL (Van Eck, 2015. P. 18)


The real strength of Van Eck’s (2006) discussion was in his delineation of the considerations required for implementing COTS games into the classroom. Beginning with an acknowledgement of the wider factors outside the teacher’s control (harkening to an awareness of equity and socio-cultural influences), the author touched upon the choice of game, aligning with the curriculum and content, and designing and evaluating the game. The latter section was of particular note as its discussion centred on keeping students in a state of “flow” (p. 26). Current research confirms the value of such discussion as it has been maintained that DGBL moderately enhances flow experiences (Chaing, Liang, and Lin, 2017, p. 223; McGonigal, 2011) where learning is immersive (Van Eck, 2006, p. 26). Problems arise in COTS when fail to accurately address content (Van Eck, 2006, p. 26). Van Eck (2006) is aware of these potential gaps or errors and therefore encourages students to perform activities as the character that are “authentic to the goals of the game world” (p. 26) and addresses these inadequacies in game content. Developing budgets for characters (p. 26) and other tangible suggestions to aid students remaining in flow offered by Van Eck equips educators with sound tactics to employ COTS games in the classroom. This poignant advice builds confidence of those new to DGBL and makes a strong case for employing this practice.




Although not necessarily directed at the same audiences, when juxtaposed, the articles revealed commentary and analysis of similar themes within the field of GBL. The role of the teacher and the importance of pedagogical grounding, standout as predominant issues raised within the articles.

All texts concur that the role of the teacher is pivotal within GBL. Beavis et al. (2014) sets up this argument by identifying a flawed common perspective that some games are considered “inherently appealing knowledge packages that will generate learning across all student cohorts” (p. 569) thereby limiting the role of the educator. Beavis et al. (2014) effectively disputes this noting that it “marginalises… the ways in which teachers impact upon what games achieve in school” (p. 570). Arnab et al.’s (2012) discussion focuses more on the increased responsibility within the role of a teacher’s explaining that it has changed from being that of a mere information provider to being required to often switch between the roles of “instructional designers, strong team players, critical self analysts, confident risk takers, and path finding innovators pedagogically open to new ways of approaching curriculum” (p. 165). Van Eck’s (2006) explanation of the teacher’s role outlines the design choices and implementation strategies that are ultimately left to teachers. While Beavis et al. (2014) places emphasis on the pre-instruction phases, Arnab et al (2012) and Van Eck’s (2006) discussion largely centers upon the co-instructional phase.


The authors undoubtedly agree on the importance of educators’ understanding that effective GBL is built on sound pedagogical principles. Arnab et al.’s (2012) discussion of game design and deployment (previously alluded to in the article analysis) was foundational as they solidified their readers’ understanding that games could be created using a general framework with learning outcomes in mind and later classified by their pedagogical underpinning to guide educators’ potential implementation (p. 161). Van Eck’s (2006) article does much to reify these understandings further as he methodically outlines the process of implementing DGBL using COTS and sound pedagogy. Echoing this line of thinking, Beavis et al. (2012) note “attention needs to be paid to the pedagogical strategies and views of learning that teachers draw upon to work with games” (p. 577). The collective readings of this review do much to give faith to GBL in terms of pedagogical grounding.



 It is easy to get seduced by the attractive features of GBL.  Beavis et al.’s (2012) article grounds readers to pertinent issues within the pre-instruction phase of the experience. Their focus on context and the elements missing from the mindset of educators looking to adopt GBL, make this piece an important starting point for adopters of all educational contexts.

Written using a causal tone, Van Eck’s (2006) article provides tangible (and still pertinent) advice for those looking to implement GBL in their classroom which make his article worth reading. Despite being targeted at those in higher education, the piece would also be applicable in the K-12 context.

Arnab et al.’s (2012) multifaceted examination of GBL was for the most part, on point in regard to making those interested in adopting GBL aware of some of the considerations that would have to be made. While more tangible implementation suggestions would have been an asset, this article does provide workable frameworks that are beneficial to anyone in a formal education setting.





Arnab, S., Berta, R., Earp, J., De Freitas, S., Popescu, M., Romero, M., … & Usart, M. (2012). Framing the adoption of serious games in formal education. Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 10(2), 159-171.

Beavis, C., Rowan, L., Dezuanni, M., McGillivray, C., O’Mara, J., Prestridge, S., … Zagami, J. (2014). Teachers’ beliefs about the possibilities and limitations of digital games in classrooms. E-Learning and Digital Media, 11(6), 569–581. doi:10.2304/elea.2014.11.6.569

Beavis, C. & Charles, C. (2007) Would the ‘Real’ Girl Gamer Please Stand Up? Gender, LAN Cafes and the Reformulation of the ‘Girl’ Gamer, Gender and Education, 19(6), 691-705.

Bennett, S., Maton, K., & Kervin, L. (2008). The “Digital Natives” Debate: A Critical Review of the Evidence. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(5), 775–786. Retrieved from

Bourgonjon, J., De Grove, F., De Smet, C., Van Looy, J., Soetaert, R., & Valcke, M. (2013). Acceptance of game-based learning by secondary school teachers. Computers & Education, 67, 21–35.

Chang, C.-C., Liang, C., Chou, P.-N., & Lin, G.-Y. (2017). Is game-based learning better in flow experience and various types of cognitive load than non-game-based learning? Perspective from multimedia and media richness. Computers in Human Behavior, 71, 218–227.

Gee, J. (2007). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Guo, R. X., Dobson, T., & Petrina, S. (2008). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants: An Analysis of Age and ICT

Competency in Teacher Education. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 38(3), 235–254. Retrieved from

Helsper, E.J. and Eynon, R. (2010). Digital natives: where is the evidence?. British Educational ResearchJournal, 36:3, 503- 520. doi: 10.1080/01411920902989227

Jan, M. (2013). A Literature Review of Game-Based Learning. Retrieved from

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World [Kindle Edition]. Vintage Digital

Montola, M. (2012). Social Constructionism and Ludology Implications for the Study of Games. Simulation & Gaming, 43(3), 300­320.

Novak, K., & Nackerud, R. (2011). Choosing a Serious Game for the Classroom: An Adoption Model for Educators. In M. Ma, A. Oikonomou, & L. C. Jain (Eds.), Serious Games and Edutainment Applications (pp. 291–308). Springer London. Retrieved from

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants part 1. On the horizon, 9(5), 1­6.

Salen, K., Torres, R., & Wolozin, L. (). The Game School Planning Document: Draft1.0. Retrieved from

Squire, K. (2011). Video games and learning: Teaching and participatory culture in the digital age. New York: Teachers College Press.


Van Eck, R. (2006). Digital game-based learning: It’s not just the digital natives who are restless. EDUCAUSE Review, (20), 16-18.


Leave a Reply