Word Towers: Assessing Domain Knowledge with Non-Traditional Genres

Tyler Baron
Ashish Amresh, Arizona State University

Dr. Amresh was not affiliated with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University at the time this paper was published.


This paper presents the design, development and the results of a pilot study for Word Towers (WT), an educational game that combines gameplay mechanics from board-style word building and arcade style tower defense games. To our knowledge, this is the first ever attempt to merge these game genres into a functional educational game. Our efforts open the possibility for other learning games to be reworked into new genres, increasing novelty and player engagement. Expanding the range of genres also allows for learning games to reach a wider audience. The goal of the WT is to provide a natural method for measuring domain expertise and knowledge by hiding the complexity within the level progression. In the prototype developed for showcasing our design, the domain is chosen to be the English language and the entire English dictionary is available to the player. While a design goal is to have WT eventually measure several different constructs of the English language, spelling was the only construct used for this pilot study. Each level is designed to not last longer than two minutes to promote reinforcement of the learned concepts by repetitive gameplay. Methods for integrating pedagogical principals with the game mechanics of the word games and tower defense genres are discussed. Results of a study on nonnative English speaking students by measuring their performance via level progression and comparing these to native English speaking students are presented. Participants in the pilot study also provide feedback on their enjoyment of the game. These responses were mostly positive and showed initial promise that learning games can be moved successfully into new genres and still result in an enjoyable playing experience. Finally we measure learning gains in WT and prove that the gains are not compromised by the shifting of genres.