Right on target: using video games to enhance learning

A ‘significantly positive’ effect

The results were encouraging. Before their exposure to the material, the students didn’t know much about the library, answering only one out of every four questions correctly. After exposure, however, their knowledge doubled and even tripled, rising from about 22 per cent before exposure to 41 per cent (for those at the computer) and 55 per cent (for those taught in class). Éthier’s conclusion? The research and detail that goes into a video game like Ubisoft’s can be absorbed by students and help them get better marks.

“The effect isn’t negative or neutral – it’s significantly positive,” said Éthier, a specialist in teaching techniques who collaborated with Ubisoft on the logistics of the study but designed it independently. “Even a student – or a self-taught adult, for that matter – who does the virtual tour at home on the computer can learn, without any help. Schools might want to give it a try and teachers could share this material among themselves, because it’s clear it’s useful.”

Ubisoft, a French company which developed the popular Assassin’s Creed franchise at its Montreal division, will market the Discovery Tour as a standalone software package starting Feb. 20, at a retail price of $20 (it will be free for those who buy or already own the Origins game). Working with Éthier confirmed what the company suspected: that the module could be useful in schools. “To be frank, there was no business plan behind this,” said creative director Jean Guesdon.

“We just thought the module shouldn’t be limited to gamers, that it could have a wider purpose. Over the years, teachers have told us that our games have a lot of great content that they could use in class, minus the combat aspect. Now they can.”

High-school history teacher Jean-Pascal Tremblay, whom Éthier hired to give the in-class instruction in the nine schools he tested, added that it’s always a challenge to motivate high-school students to learn, and the more tools teachers have, the better.

“There are ways to integrate games into our lessons, take the cinematic sequences of the games and use them to hold the students’s interest in the material,” said Tremblay, who teaches at Le Prélude high school in Mascouche, a suburb north of Montreal.

“The more surprises we can give them, the more motivated they’ll be.”