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Homemade PowerPoint Games

A homemade PowerPoint game begins with a narrative that provides details on the context and the objectives for winning the game (Parker, 2004).  The game can be completely contained within the MSPowerPoint file or it can have a game board and pieces that are printed out from slides in the file.  Multiple choice questions are presented to the players, utilizing the action button feature in MS PowerPoint, to allow students to click on correct and incorrect choices.  As with any good game, the level of difficulty should increase as the player advances, so the questions should become more difficult.  The students can also add features common to video games such as checkpoints (i.e., point in the game where an incorrect answer does not send you back to the beginning).

The philosophical justification for using homemade PowerPoint games as a learning tool is three-fold (Barbour, Thomas, Rauscher & Rieber, 2008).  First, the idea of learning by doing is consistent with constructionist philosophy.  Constructionism is an extension of constructivism first proposed by Seymour Papert, who believed that students learn best by building artifacts (Papert, 1991).  Second, the actual construction of a game requires creating a theme, writing a game narrative, and providing objectives for the game.  All of these elements must be written in a very concise format to allow each item to fit on a single MS PowerPoint slide. This forces students to synthesize the material to only the essential details. This kind of writing is similar to a style of writing known as a microtheme, where statements and ideas are consistently revised and shortened in order to fit on an index card (Collins, 2000).  The ability to write well in this format has been shown to lead to better student performance on assessments (Ambron, 1987; Collins, 2000).  Third, students have to write questions that provide an appropriate level of challenge to their games.  Research has shown that students who were able to write good questions on a topic develop a deeper understanding of the material (Wong, 1985).  The process of writing the question, determining the correct answer, and then coming up with viable alternatives (i.e., incorrect answers that are plausible responses) force the students to again analyze and synthesize the content.  As students practice constructing questions they should be able to write more higher-order questions over time, which also leads to better understanding of the material (Rickards & DiVesta, 1974).  In a review of 26 studies where question generation was used as a reading comprehension strategy, Rosenshine, Meister, and Chapman (1996) found these strategies increased student comprehension.

The protocol for using homemade PowerPoint games consisted of four or five consecutive days in the lab.  On the first day the students were introduced to the game concept and were allowed to play games that were made by other classes or downloaded from a repository of homemade PowerPoint games (which can be found at  Over the next few days students were tasked with developing narratives and questions.  As the week came to a close, students debugged their games and, time permitting, played games created by other students.  An assessment was given shortly thereafter.

Researchers have examined whether or not creating homemade PowerPoint games has any effects on test performance.  Prior research has shown no statistical differences in performance between students who created homemade PowerPoint games and a control group (Barbour, Kinsella & Rieber, 2007; Clesson, Adams, & Barbour, 2007; Parker, 2004).  The first iteration of my study took place in an Environmental Chemistry course, and was the largest study conducted at that time (Siko, Barbour, & Toker, 2011).  We had similar results (i.e., no statistical difference) as the aforementioned studies.  We were able to have students create games for two unit tests, and therefore we were able to test whether or not there was a difference in performance based on how many times the students created games (i.e., twice, once, or not at all) on the second unit test.  Again, we found no statistical difference in performance.

Another line of research with homemade PowerPoint games involved the analysis of the student-generated questions to see if students were writing higher-order questions, as this is one of the justifications for the use of the games.  In a follow-up to the Barbour et al. (2007) study, student-generated questions were analyzed to see where they aligned on Bloom’s taxonomy (Barbour, Kromei, McLaren, Toker, Mani & Wilson, 2009).  In their analysis of almost 1,900 student-generated questions, the vast majority of the questions (i.e., 94%) were categorized as “Knowledge” level – the lowest level on the taxonomy.  In addition, none of the questions were higher than the “Application” level, which is the third level on the hierarchy.  This indicated that the students did not construct a single higher-order question.  As one of the philosophical justification for utilizing homemade PowerPoint games included a better understanding (i.e., performance) through constructing higher-order questions, it was not surprising that previous research has resulted in no differences in student performance based on this analysis.

I have also conducted a similar study based on the games from the Siko et al. (2011) study (Siko, 2011). While students who created games on multiple occasions did write more higher-order questions than those who only created games on the second unit, the difference was not statistically significant.

I began to question whether the use of games as a review was actually constructionism, since the actual learning activities for both groups was practically identical.  In the second iteration of the study, I made changes to how the project was implemented.  Instead of using the games as a review tool, the games were part of a unit project.  The project had more focused instruction on question writing, and there were more opportunities for students to receive feedback on the narratives and questions.  The results of the study finally yielded a statistical difference in performance, where the students who created games outperformed the students who did not.  One potential reason for the statistically significant finding is that in a more structured setting, where the game design project is actually part of the curriculum, the benefits of constructionist learning may be seen.  In addition, the protocol used in previous studies allowed little time for feedback and revisions.  Studies involving question writing (Rickards & DiVesta, 1974; Rosenshine, Meister, and Chapman, 1996) mentioned practice and feedback mechanisms for improvement.

Ambron, J. (1987) Writing to improve learning in biology. Journal of College Science Teaching, 16(4), 263-266.

Barbour, M. K., Kromei, H., McLaren, A., Toker, S., Mani, N., & Wilson, V. (2009). Testing an assumption of the potential of homemade PowerPoint games. Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (1381-1387). Norfolk, VA: AACE.

Barbour, M. K., Thomas, G. B., Rauscher, D. & Rieber, L. P. (accepted – June 2008). Homemade PowerPoint games: Preparing the next generation of teachers to use creative design activities in the classroom. In A Hirumi (Ed.), Digital video games for PreK-12 education: Engaging learners through interactive entertainment. Washington, DC: International Society for Technology in Education.

Barbour, M. K., Kinsella, J., & Rieber, L. P. (2007). PowerPoint games in a secondary laptop environment. Proceedings of the World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare and Higher Education (2328-2332). Norfolk, VA: AACE.

Clesson, K., Adams, M., & Barbour, M. K. (2007, October). Game design as an educational pedagogy.Paper presented at the annual National Association of Laboratory Schools Symposium, Johnson City, TN.

Collins, M.A.J. (2000). Do microthemes improve student learning of biology. Paper presented at the annual National Science Teachers Association National Convention, Orlando, FL.

Kafai, Y.B., & Ching, C. (2001). Affordances of collaborative software design planning for elementary student’s science talk. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 10(03), 323-363.

Kafai, Y. B., Ching, C. C., & Marshall, S. (1997). Children as Designers of Educational Multimedia Software. Computers & Education29(2-3), 117-26.

Papert, S. (1991). Situating constructionism. In I. Harel & S. Papert (Eds.), Constructionism (pp. 1-11). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Parker, J. S. (2004). Evaluating the impact of project based learning by using student created PowerPoint games in the seventh grade language arts classroom. Instructional Technology Monographs 1 (1). Retrieved October 20, 2009, from

Rice, J.W. (2006, April). New media resistance: Barriers to implementation of computer video games in the classroom. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting 2006, San Francisco, CA.

Rieber, L. P., Barbour, M. K., Thomas, G. B. & Rauscher, D. (2008). Learning by designing games: Homemade PowerPoint games. In C. T. Miller (Ed.), Games: Their purpose and potential in education(pp. 23-42). New York: Springer Publishing.

Rickards, J. P. & DiVesta, F. J. (1974). Type and frequency of questions in processing textual material.Journal of Educational Psychology, 66(3), 354-362.

Rosenshine, B., Meister, C., & Chapman, S. (1996). Teaching students to generate questions: A review of the intervention studies. Review of Educational Research. 66(2), 181-221.

Siko, J. P. (2011). Using PowerPoint as a game design tool in science education. In Proceedings of the annual conference of the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Network for Innovation in Education.

Siko, J.P., Barbour, M.K., & Toker, S. (2011).  Beyond Jeopardy and lectures:  Using Microsoft PowerPoint as a game design tool to teach science.  Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

Squire, K. (2006, November).  From content to context: Videogames as designed experience.Educational Researcher, 35(8), 19-29.

Wong, B. Y. (1985). Self-questioning instructional research: A review. Review of Educational Research, 55(2), 227–268.

Jason Siko,
Jul 22, 2013, 8:25 AM
Jason Siko,
Jul 21, 2013, 3:51 PM
Jason Siko,
Jul 22, 2013, 8:25 AM
Jason Siko,
Jul 22, 2013, 8:25 AM