An educational spinoff of the popular video game Assassin's Creed: Origins helps students know more about history.
Can students do better in high school thanks to action video games? Yes, if they learn from special adaptations that have been tailor-made for teaching, an Université de Montreal researcher has found.
Education professor Marc-André Éthier has tested 330 students in nine Montreal-area schools using Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed: Origins and its new educational spinoff, the interactive 'Discovery Tour.'
His preliminary findings reveal a significant jump in the teenagers' knowledge of one specific institution of ancient Egypt they saw depicted in the made-in-Montreal software: the famous Royal Library of Alexandria.
In each school, Éthier tested 40 students on what they knew about the library. Half were given 15 minutes at the computer to take the self-guided tour of the library and its environs; the other were taught about the library by a history teacher using a PowerPoint presentation of some of the facts and images from the same tour. Afterwards, the students answered a series of test questions about the library and were graded on how well they answered.
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."
Nothing better than a good teacher
"In the end, however, nothing can replace a good teacher", said Samuel Zuquin, 13, a Grade 8 student at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, a Montreal private school that was the ninth to be tested.
"From a purely educational point of view, there's no question that's it's better learning from a teacher," Zuquin said after taking the test. "It's a faster track to getting what you need to know, because there's nothing for you to navigate on your own."
If he had the Discovery Tour at home, would he use it?
"Frankly, no," the teenager replied. "It's always going to be more fun to play the game itself."