Serious Games in Teaching Computer Programming
: Usage and Evaluation

  • Abdelbaset Abdellatif

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Several problems occur in higher education computing schools, such as the high attrition and failure rates and the difficulties in teaching computer programming modules. Numerous solutions were proposed to minimise and/or overcome these problems. Yet, the problems weren’t solved. The focus was on the programming module as it was the module that contributed the most towards attrition and had the lowest pass rates among other modules.

The use of serious games or game-based learning for teaching computer programming has been used frequently to help overcome the difficulties. But there were no standards or guidelines to be followed to apply this method of teaching and most importantly the lack of appropriate evaluation frameworks limited the benefits of the serious games.

This research investigates the computing faculties problems in developed countries and in developing countries that have had less attention in the literature. The research provides data that has been collected from case study universities in the UK and Jordan. The results showed that the attrition rate is increasing in the universities in the developing countries. Further, the failure rate for the computer programming module is high in the universities in case studies of developed and developing countries. A total of 26 interviews were conducted with university teachers of programming modules in the UK and Jordan to highlight the main reasons behind the problems. The results showed that students struggle more with problem solving rather than coding. Also, the results showed that serious games haven’t been used for teaching computer programming before apart from few attempts. The interviewed teachers showed willingness to use serious games in teaching computer programming. The results of the interviews marked loops and arrays as the hardest topics in the first programming module.

Since the introductory computer programming module was highlighted as the main cause of
the attrition. The use of serious games was proposed to enhance students’ understanding of programming concepts and enrich their experiences. The research aims to improve the use of serious games for teaching computer programming by exploring several success factors that are crucial for implementing the use of serious games effectively. Thus, a framework was developed and implemented through experiments using a serious game with year 1 students in case study universities in the UK and Jordan. Jordan was selected as a case study to check for the feasibility and the possibility of using serious games in teaching in developing countries. The UK was selected as a case study of developed countries for results comparison. The framework involved tests and questionnaires. A total of 82 students participated in the UK experiment and 123 students in Jordan experiment. No results were drawn from the UK experiment because most of the students dropped the experiment. The results of the experiment in Jordan showed that the best approach for using serious games for teaching computer programming is through tutorials.

Further, this research emphasises different quality characteristics that have been used in evaluating serious games and proposes a framework to evaluate several dimensions of serious games by choosing and combining appropriate quality characteristics. Pre-evaluation was applied using the developed evaluation framework to a serious game through questionnaires with 16 university and 17 school students in the UK. The results showed that the understandability characteristic achieved the lowest rating. Thus, changes and amendments were added to the serious game, which was a series of tutorials for new users. Post-evaluation was applied using the same evaluation framework to the edited version of the serious game with 24 school students. The results showed an improvement for all the measured quality characteristics. The maximum increase occurred for the understandably characteristic. When the results were compared with the results of the pre-evaluation with school students. A significant improvement was found for 6 out of the 15 tested factors.
Date of AwardJul 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorPaul McMullan (Supervisor) & Barry McCollum (Supervisor)


  • serious games
  • e-learning
  • gamification
  • simulation

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