Digital Game Based Learning for Undergraduate Calculus Education: Immersion, calculation, and conceptual understanding

Yu-Hao Lee, Norah Dunbar, Keri Kornelson, Scott Wilson, Ryan Ralston, Milos Savic, Sepideh Stewart, Emily Lennox, William Thompson and Javier Elizondo

NOTE: This paper was selected by the program committee as a Meaningful Play 2014 Top Paper. It has been submitted to the Meaningful Play 2014 Special Issue of the International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations (IJGCMS). Due to the copyright requirements of the journal, only the abstract is available in the conference proceedings.


Digital games have the potential to help develop higher-education mathematical skills and promote deep conceptual understanding. Using a digital game for undergraduate calculus that we developed, this study has two goals: The first goal is to investigate the effectiveness of using a digital game to teach undergraduate-level calculus in terms of improving task immersion, sense of control, calculation skills, and conceptual understanding. The second goal is to examine student behavior during gameplay to investigate how digital game affordances can facilitate conceptual understanding of calculus. 132 undergraduate students were recruited to participate in a controlled lab experiment. Students were randomly assigned to either a game-playing condition, a practice quiz condition, or a no-treatment control condition. We collected two types of data, self-reported survey data and behavioral-tracking data recorded by the server during gameplay. The results showed that students who played the game reported highest task immersion but not sense of control. Students in the game condition also performed significantly better in conceptual understanding and equally well in calculation skills as students who solved a practice quiz and the control group. Gameplay behavioral-tracking data was used to examine the effects of feedback and visual manipulation on conceptual understanding. The study has implications for undergraduate mathematics education and digital game based learning design.