Degree Name

Doctor of Education


School of Education - Faculty of Social Sciences


Research suggests that young people are motivated to play popular video games that involve learning (Eglesz, Fekete, Kiss & Izsó 2005). Educational video games with sound pedagogical principles have been shown to motivate and enhance learning more than traditional education methods (e.g. Blunt 2007; Michael & Chen 2005). However, research generally has not provided an understanding of the design principles incorporated into effective games, taking into account the variables of age, educational goals, specific learning outcomes and subject matter.

This research aims to identify how an instructional video game based on best practice design principles supports students to achieve the Stage Two (Year Three and Four) geography outcomes specified by the New South Wales Board of Studies Human Society and Its Environment (HSIE) syllabus. Importantly, this research also investigates how the use of a video game motivates learning and supports critical thinking as a method of instruction.

Constructivism, social constructivism and critical pedagogy are the theoretical frameworks that guide this research study and inform the video game design, research design, and data collection and analysis techniques. These theories recognise that knowledge is critically and collectively built over time, and in a social, economic and historical context.

The research involved four phases. In the first phase a video game was designed based on a review of literature and supported by the theoretical framework. In the second phase the methods of data collection and analysis were developed. In the third phase the video game and data collection and analysis techniques were tested in a pilot study, to determine game functionality and ensure the data collection captured the information required to answer to the research. Finally, in the fourth phase the research design was implemented in the classroom: the game was introduced and used weekly for four weeks in a Stage Two primary geography class at an Illawarra school. The purpose of the last phase was to answer the research questions.

This study drew on existing research to: first, develop a comprehensive understanding of best practice video game design principles based on the work of research in the field to support students’ learning of Stage Two HSIE syllabus outcomes, critical thinking and motivation to learn. Second, design a video game based on these design principles that have a strong theoretical basis and build on the work of research in the field. Third, provide a tool that teachers may use that aims to help students learn stated syllabus outcomes, motivate learning and increase critical thinking of students. Fourth, test both the design principles and video game, providing a contribution to the literature on educational video game design. Fifth, provide a video game for further testing in other classrooms and/or adaptation for testing in other disciplines or age groups, to ascertain general and discipline or age specific principles.

Findings showed that GeoCity, the video game designed for this research, supported Stage Two students to achieve the geography outcomes specified by the NSW syllabus. They also showed that GeoCity supported motivation to learn and critical thinking. This was underpinned by the combination of best practice design principles identified in the review of literature.

The principles of respecting cognitive load and teacher involvement were found to chiefly underpin support for syllabus outcomes, complimented by the other principles. For both motivation to learn and critical thinking, teacher involvement and access to related resources, and a lack of technical problems, were found to be a requirement of participation and accessing the support provided by the game. Both also required a clear context, including a complex, immersive and realistic environment and situated meaning. To support motivation to learn, it was found that the game had to be perceived to be useful, achievable and challenging and respect cognitive load. Finally, support for critical thinking was predicated on the greatest number of principles. In addition to those already mentioned, collaboration, in which content can be reflected upon in discussion with others, appeared foundational. So too did opportunities for self-paced student inquiry, learning by doing and problem solving; and regular feedback, particularly actions having consequences.