Games with the Purpose (Gwap) of Physics Education and Physics Education Research (Per)

If you would like to participate in discussions about this topic, please visit the specific forum.

(Group Leader: Marilù Chiofalo and Sabrina Maniscalco)

Games can be envisaged as especially effective tools to innovate, also via participatory processes, educational and even research, working, and decision-making systems. A number of considerations highlight the power of this approach [McGonigal2011: J. McGonigal, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World (J. Cape, London, 2011)]. Indeed, a game is first of all composed of a goal, a set of rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation. The goal provides players with a purpose; the rules are in fact a set of constraints but also opportunities, which can be engineered to unleash imagination as well as creative, visual, and strategic thinking; the feedback system reinforces the motivations and guides the players to successfully complete the goal; and voluntary participation guarantees the players the freedom to leave or keep up with the game while still remaining safe, all essential traits for making the experience as enjoyable as possible and thus enhancing motivation and creativity. According to Bernard Suits [B. Suits, The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia (Broadview Encore Ed., 2005).] “playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles”. Games can be more challenging and at the same time more rewarding than reality, since the players constantly need to cross their skills limits and activate competences in the etymological meaning of competition, i.e. aiming at something together, thereby resulting also in developing the ability of community building. Games activate emotions functional to enhance focus on what one is good at, without fearing failures, and often correspond to epic adventures: these allow wide-open access to the most complex situations, in fact a real palestra where to practice effective strategies for problem solving. Last and not least, they imply a reward mechanism based on non-perishable and non-material goods, a vast amount of resources community development, feeding back into amplified motivations: in fact, one of the most wanted traits of successful learning processes and, not by accident, of sustainable economy in the economy etymon of resources management.

This vision has inspired the use of serious games – or games with a purpose – also to conduct research in many areas of science within the so-called citizens science approach, starting with the seminal initiative Foldit for chemistry and biology and then also in a number of areas of physics.

Here, we propose to foster this approach in developing tools and strategies for physics education and learning processes, focused on the school system up to K12 degree. We plan to keep as well a perspective in popularization and informal education for adults. As a general goal, we wish to investigate the potential of the approach, how to fully exploit its opportunities and the manner with which its possible limitations can be transformed into innovations for learning and teaching processes. In particular, within the framework of this GTG, we envision to cover the following objectives:


  • Design guidelines on the basic traits that GWAPs should possess to be used for teaching physics.
  • Develop Physics Education Research (PER) tools specifically aimed at addressing the use of Games With A Purpose (GWAP) as a strategy in teaching and learning processes, and for assessing efficiency and effectiveness for successive improvements via iterative feedback.
  • Design guidelines for the introduction of physics education via GWAPs in connectionwith curricula.
  • Develop specific tools to increase awareness and promote suited educational routes tophysics via GWAP among citizens in non-formal educational contexts, and to providefeedback to PER researchers in useful form.
  • Investigate the impact of this approach on students engaged in using the PER-GWAPstrategy in physics courses, about their ideas of the nature of science and of its role insociety, as a valuable feedback for tools refinement.
  • Build up an extended external community mainstreamed on this GIREP’s activity,connecting to most diverse groups interested in PER and/or exposed to GWAPs.
  • Inspire curiosity and attract citizens to the beauty of physics.

We believe that GIREP might benefit from the activity of this GTG, in that (i) a so far less explored pedagogical research context for potentially effective physics education would be focused on, with possible synergical intersections with the activities of other GTGs, and (ii) significantly broaden the GIREP visibility among the massive communities of (in presence and online) enthusiastic games’ players and of game developers and designers, which would be otherwise very hard to engage and passionate about GIREP’s mission.

GIREP members who are interested in participating in this GTG should contact the co-organizers: Marilù Chiofalo (University of Pisa, Italy) and/or Sabrina Maniscalco (University of Helsinki, Finland).