1 Universidad Nacional de La Plata, Facultad de Informática (ARGENTINA)
2 Universidad Nacional de la Plata, Instituto de Investigación en Informática LIDI., Facultad de Informática (ARGENTINA)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN17 Proceedings
Publication year: 2017
Pages: 4626-4634
ISBN: 978-84-697-3777-4
ISSN: 2340-1117
doi: 10.21125/edulearn.2017.2019
Conference name: 9th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 3-5 July, 2017
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Serious Games have been the focus of different researches in last years, as a consequence of their possibilities for educational scenarios. These games are used for purposes other than mere entertainment [1], but they are still motivating and attractive to users. More recent researches have also emphasizes the potential of serious games for learning, skill acquisition, and attitude and behavior changes, considering that they allow learners to experience situations that are impossible in the real world and provide engaging activities which are stimulating, generate strong emotions, require complex information processing and provide challenges [2].

On the other hand, programming teaching is a growing area that is spreading beyond computers sciences careers. Computational Thinking (CT) is related to a problem solving process that involves a number of characteristics and skills such as applying abstraction and algorithms design. CT is important in computer applications, but it can also be used to support problem solving across all disciplines. Today a growing corpus of experiences whose goals include CT skills development can be seen.

This paper presents AstroCode, a serious game which is oriented to introduce players to CT skills as algorithms design using variables and control structures.

AstroCode presents a history of a spaceman exploring different planets. The spaceman receives a mysterious sign and he has to travel to another Galaxy to investigate the sign. On the way to its destination, a malfunction in the ship obligates him to make a forced landing on an unknown planet. Before impacting the planet, the astronaut is ejected from his ship in a rescue capsule. Now he must go through different scenarios of this planet, collecting pieces of the ship, and recover them to fulfill its mission. The astronaut has a series of robots that will help him rescue the pieces (this means “solve the scenario”). The game proposes that for each scenario, one robot has to be selected according to his capabilities to solve it. The selection of the robot presents a first challenge for the player, who must have the skills to evaluate what instructions each robot understands (its language) and if it serves for the scenario to be solved. In order to recover the pieces he must give the sequence of instructions to the selected robot, that is, build an algorithm to move and overcome the problems that arise. Scenarios have a gradual level of complexity and the player will become increasingly involved with algorithms more difficult to solve.
On the other hand, an editor has been developed that can be used by teachers to generate the scenarios of the game and give the complexity that is required for the work with its students.

This article presents the description of the game developed, the editor and the test sessions held at the time with different students of the National University of La Plata. The first results show student´s engagement and motivation using these types of games in educational scenario, as well as the difficulties they present in the use of control structures and how Astrocode helps students to apply them.

[1] Michael, D., & Chen, S. (2005). Serious games: Games that educate, train, and inform. Thomson Course Technology.
[2] Boyle, E., Connoly, T. M., y Hainey, T. (2011). The role of psychology in understanding the impactofcomputergames. EntertainmentComputing,2,69-74
Serious Game, Computational thinking skills, 3D Games.