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Monday, 26 November, 2001, 14:44 GMT
Learning games do not boost results
Younger pupils benefited more from computers
Computer learning games for science do not improve teenagers' school test results, suggests research.

With Christmas approaching, educational computer games will be among the presents that parents could be considering.

But science test scores from the United States show that 13-year-olds who played computer learning games in school performed less well than those who did not.

The national test results showed that science standards had slipped - and the US education secretary warned that the disappointing science results were a threat to future economic prosperity.

But analysis of the results, published last week, also examined other factors in how pupils were taught - including access to computers.

And while the use of computers in data handling and simulations were seen to make a positive impact - there was little sign that pupils who played educational games made any greater progress.

The average test score for 8th grade pupils who played computer learning games was 151 - while the average for those who did not was 152.

For students who used computers in "drill and practice" exercises scores were also lower - with an average of 147, compared with 152 for those who did not.

Internet users

But there were signs that for younger pupils using a computer produced better science results.

Average scores for nine year old students were higher among those who used computers for learning games, simulations and data analysis than for those who did not.

There was also evidence that increased computer use was linked to improved test scores.

A study of results for 17 year old students found that for a series of scientific skills - such as collecting and analysing data - increased computer use produced higher average scores.

But the only area in which increased computer use produced lower test scores was where science students were using the internet to exchange information.

The research also examined other influences, including finding that teachers who had themselves majored in science were more likely to have classes which scored higher results.

But interpreting the impact of educational computer games needs to take into account the wide variability in their quality, says Mike Sharples, Professor of Educational Technology at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom.

There are many different types of educational games available - and these can range from the very good to "automated childminders", he says, suggesting that potential benefits should not be discounted because of poorer examples of games.

See also:

21 Nov 01 | Education
Science failure threatens economy
27 Sep 00 | Education
Bush attacks 'education recession'
07 Nov 01 | Education
Computer use in schools rises
13 Sep 00 | Education
'Fool's gold' of school computers
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