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Social Problems and Challenges

A major problem in the development of game based learning has been the conflict between games for entertainment and games in education. A great example of this interaction is the story of SimCalc.


SimCalc is program developed and robustly tested by multiple universities (Kaput & Schorr, 2008). The goal of SimCalc is not only to increase calculus understanding through a kinesthetic and game-based approach but to change how teachers and students approach calculus. SimCalc advocates calculus as “the math of change and the math of nature,” rather than an educational infrastructure that often portrays different types of math as iterative- with calculus at the pinnacle of k-12 education. Though SimCalc has had some success, SimCalc is not just a computer program that utilizes game based learning. Simcalc is Academia’s standard-bearer in an effort to change math education, an effort that has required a large investment by the NSF and public institutions. Part of the reason that SimCalc aims to do so much is that it cannot afford to do any less- this is the problem that has been important in game based learning.

Games require a lot of infrastructure- especially those aimed at the education sector. These games require manuals for teachers in how to use the games, incorporate the games into the classroom, these games often need support textbooks, liaisons with school districts to help incorporate games into current teaching expectations, and in addition, these games need ongoing technical support for bugs. This infrastructure does not exist in Academia nor is there cooperation between public and private game designers to create this infrastructure. This has two effects.


First, there is little room for incremental or experimental efforts in educational games. There are a few companies that buy game designs from universities and sell them to schools while retaining the game’s integrity- however most efforts coming from universities still die between development and implementation because of lack of support.


Second, because there is little room for small efforts, those who want to make educationally aimed games have to prepare for a large investment- and as this monetary need mounts- so do the expectations of how the money should be used. This is why SimCalc cannot afford to be anything other than revolutionary.


The effect of this problem in game based learning is the development of silos of game based design. Until recently (something we have addressed in earlier blogs and is discussed in several game based learning TED talks) game based learning was something used most often by public institutions like the military- without interaction between private and public, and without interaction with other powerful political domains who would benefit from cooperation. This has led to projects from Academia that fail on arrival, and games from industry that Prensky (2005) notes, are at the “bottom of the barrel.”



Kaput, J., & Schorr, R. (2008). The Case of SimCalc, Algebra, and Calculus.Research on Technology and the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics: Cases and perspectives, 211.


Prensky, M. (2005). ” Engage Me or Enrage Me”: What Today’s Learners Demand. Educause review40(5), 60.

Roschelle, J., & Kaput, J. (1996). SimCalc MathWorlds: Composable components for calculus learning. Communications of the ACM39(8), 97-99.

About Heather M. Ross, PhD, DNP

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