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Experience and Explanation: Using Videogames to Prepare Students for Formal Instruction in Statistics

ABSTRACT

Well-designed digital games can deliver powerful experiences that are difficult to provide through traditional instruction, while traditional instruction can deliver formal explanations that are not a natural fit for gameplay. Combined, they can accomplish more than either can alone. An experiment tested this claim using the topic of statistics, where people’s everyday experiences often conflict with normative statistical theories and a videogame might provide an alternate set of experiences for students to draw upon. The research used a game called Stats Invaders!, a variant of the classic videogame Space Invaders. In Stats Invaders!, the locations of descending alien invaders follow probability distributions, and players need to infer the shape of the distributions to play well. The experiment tested whether the game developed participants’ intuitions about the structure of random events and thereby prepared them for future learning from a subsequent written passage on probability distributions. Community-college students who played the game and then read the passage learned more than participants who only read the passage.