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Research studies

Impact of Electronic Games on Children Attendance of Virtual Classes in Time of Coronavirus

Prepared by the researcher   – Dr. Meryem ROSTOM – Hassan II University, Casablanca

Source – Democratic Arab Center

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Abstract   

As the 2019 novel coronavirus has ravaged the world, large scale social distancing measures and home confinement have been imposed. With the suspension of school classes mandated by the Moroccan government as an effort to stem the spread of the infection, there has been an emergency plan to move from traditional education to distance learning programs using online educational applications and videoconferencing platforms. However, it is hypothesized that home confinement and exams cancellation make children deeply engaged in video game- playing at the expense of home schooling especially with the absence of parents’ supervision during the day. The study is based on qualitative data collected through telephone interviewing with parents of 16 Moroccan middle school students. Observation was also used as a complementary data collection method. Findings show a significant effect of video games on virtual class attendance and sleep patterns. Implications are discussed and recommendations are made for future research.

Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic, a global health crisis that constitutes the greatest challenge the world has faced since the Second World War, was confirmed to have spread to Morocco on 2 March 2020. The Moroccan health authorities announced the first case involving a Moroccan expatriate who arrived from Italy on 27 February. As of May 25, 2020, there have been 7,532 confirmed cases, of which 4,774 have recovered and 200 have died. In fact, after the announcement of the first cases, Morocco has started to implement strict preventive measures against the proliferation of this pandemic. In addition to cancelling large public gatherings, closing borders and airspace, quarantining citizens and imposing the curfew, the government decided to close all schools and training institutions starting from March 16 until further notice in order to limit the spread of the virus, then later confirmed to prolong the closure until September 2020. With very little notice, teaching had had to be undertaken remotely to insure that school learning is undisrupted. Massive efforts have been made at all levels to create online resources, use digital platforms and online portals and deliver them through TV broadcasts, with the use of specific TV channels for different levels. As for exams, they were later announced to be cancelled for primary and secondary education. Only Baccalaureate exams have been scheduled for July. As a result of this dramatic and abrupt transition to online learning, teachers are faced with the challenges of maintaining high-quality education by innovating new pedagogical approaches, while students are expected to adjust to learning through online platforms. As video and electronic games have grown in popularity, they have become an increasingly time-consuming leisure activity, and since it is more particularly popular with teenagers, we assume that some of this time could likely be at the expense of schoolwork. Therefore, the research issue addressed in this research paper is whether time spent on playing video games is associated with students’ online class absenteeism during the coronavirus pandemic.

Motivation and Engagement

Motivation is indeed critical to any learning situation as it stimulates comprehension and is generally associated with high educational achievement. However, prolonged school closure and home confinement have had great impact on children’s physical and mental health (Brazendale, K et al., 2017). Students’ lifestyle has changed; they have been deprived from outdoor and/or sports activities; their wake-up and bedtimes patterns have no longer been maintained. The delay and uncertainty over the school year and over the unknown future have fueled anxiety, stress and feelings of boredom and loneliness; students have become moody, lazy, less active and demotivated. Resuming school online did not truly replace proper classes. Having to use technology on a daily basis for their schoolwork, students are continually exposed to online temptations. Though the duration of the online video conferencing class was mostly minimized to avoid the prolonged contact of the students with the screen, this proved to be unmanageable since many assignments are to be accessed and completed online before being sent. Accordingly, many students tend to abandon their schoolwork or miss their real-time online class in favor of social media and gaming through which they interact with classmates and same-aged friends. As opposed to virtual classes (Hang out meet- Slack- Skype Zoom…), the system of formal classical education functions on the basis of fixed regular timetables, grading, homework assignments, tracking students’ progress and behavior, parent-teacher meetings and attendance tracking. When these functions are missing, students feel no longer engaged. Interaction, feedback and monitoring have ultimately proved to be a great challenge. Moreover, as the Moroccan ministry of education recommended the cancellation of official grading during the online education process, students felt as if they were already released to summer vacation.

Video Games

The potential of the impact of video gaming on children’s lives remains intensely debated in the scholarly literature and among the general public. It is an increasingly dominant form of entertainment brought about by advances in information and computer technologies. For teenage students, it has become an integral part of their lives outside school hours (Brockmyer, et al, 2009; Ferguson & Kilburn, 2010). Online gaming has seen record numbers of players during the pandemic. While quarantined at home, most children have turned to video games as a kind of distraction and gratification. In the context of the pandemic and imposed in-house confinement, video games enable children to escape the four walls of the home and interact with their friends. A number of investigations have  discussed  the  use  of  electronic games  as  a  means  to  cope  with  extreme  emotions  such  loneliness  (Sum et.al, 2008), stress and anxiety (Schott  &  Hodgetts,  2006; Greenwood & Long, 2009). It can also be an escape into the fantasy world of a fictional gaming situation and regain the feeling and pleasure of being totally in control of it (Grodal, 2000). As the outcome of a particular video or electronic gaming experience can never be anticipated beforehand, children experience curiosity and suspense wondering about their fate in the next level. New communication technologies and astounding features and vocals have added to gamers’ amusement and fun. However, other studies have shown a significant negative relationship between video games and academic schoolwork and/ or scholarly achievement.

The Study

The study was conducted on 16 junior male teenage students aged 11 and half to 13 years old from a private school in the city of Casablanca. Only males were selected for the study since research supports the idea that video gaming is more popular among boys than among girls (Padilla-Walker et.al, 2010; Winn & Heeter, 2009).

Table 1. Mean Age of the students

Number of Participants Minimum Age Maximum Age Mean Age
16 11,5 13 12,25

The school was in fact reflective of Morocco’s upper socio-economic class. Therefore, as the situation necessitates a shift towards online education, the essential facilities needed are internet coverage and availability of computer sets, smart phones or other handheld devices to connect with their teachers. As the pupils enrolled in that school are from high income families, we hypothesize that all the necessary facilities are available to them.

To achieve the objectives of the study, an exploratory design was utilized to describe patterns common to a little studied group and then formulate hypotheses to eventually test for the larger population. It thus adopts a qualitative approach as the research topic necessitates the use of an in-depth and flexible research methodology underlying reasoning and rationality especially that the behaviors of the population to be studied are critical to examine and understand. To collect our empirical data, we decided to adopt a combination of methods. Both phone interviewing and observation were used. Using a mixed-mode of data collection has the advantage of providing a broader approach to the research questions, establishing relationships among variables, drawing stronger results and offering a better understanding of the phenomenon under study (Davis et al, 2011; Rusby & Dishion, 1990; Skinner et al., 2000). The observation method was useful in determining who interacted with the teacher and who did not, how often or how long that interaction was, as well as noting attendance and absenteeism. Through observation, the researcher could also confirm or refute certain issues provided by the informants concerning their children. As the observation was relatively naturalistic, i.e. without any intervention or control from the researcher, the situation being studied occurred naturally. In fact, because students were not aware that they were observed, they did not modify their behavior, which helped establish the validity of the research findings and extend them to the general population with similar sampling criteria.

As the subjects are in fact in the same classroom as the researcher’s son, the students’ parents were reached via the WhatsApp group of the class created at the beginning of the school year to share and communicate information relevant to the class and to the school. After providing explanations on the aim of the research, parents were kindly asked whether they accept to take part in the study by means of a telephone survey. In the context of the current social distancing to prevent the spread of the disease, a telephone survey approach was thought to be a very practical way to collect the needed information. In addition, phone surveys help promote precision and accuracy in eliciting responses from the respondents (Groves et. al, 1988; Rubin & Rubin, 1995). After consent from the participants, the majority of phone interviews were recorded which later facilitated the analysis and processing of the collected data. Parents’ participation was completely voluntarily and they were also assured that their answers would remain safe and secure as they would be treated anonymously. The survey was constituted of two sections. In the first section, we were concerned about the sample demographics; we investigated fathers and mothers’ carriers, parental status, marital status and job situation amid the current health crisis. In other words, parents were asked whether their job has been impacted by the pandemic (layoff, annual leave or unpaid leave instruction, furlough, salary cut or others), and whether they work from home during the confinement or need to commute to their workplace to be physically present for their job. The second section included questions about their children’s sleep hours, schoolwork patterns, and the number of hours of video game playing. The researcher chose not to ask parents about their children rate of virtual class attendance, since the researcher herself could easily investigate this information. Indeed, by looking at my son’s screen during the virtual zoom call, I was able to check the number of participants displayed in the gallery view feature.

Information on parents’ demographics, though used as control variables, are likely to provide valuable data about the sample and might help provide additional explanations concerning teenage students’ excessive electronic game-playing, online class absenteeism, as well as irregular or unhealthy sleep habits.

Findings and Discussion

The quasi-worldwide confinement due to the coronavirus outbreak is a unique situation that has not taken place in recent history. Therefore, with the unprecedented suspension of classes for the remaining months of the school year, teenage students may tend to believe they were already released to vacation. Nonetheless, parents have received a message from teachers of the class in question, complaining about students’ chronic absenteeism and low engagement in online classes. In fact, while trying to check for these two aspects of learning, the researcher was able to notice that many students do not log in to all their virtual classes, most cut their cameras if they join the meeting, including the researcher’s son, while others tend to mute their micros from the beginning of the class to the end. In fact, teachers schedule their classes and send out invitations to both students and parents. This enables parents to supervise their children and provide guidance. While sitting by my child during almost all the weekly scheduled online classes, I could easily gather information about the rate of attendance and commitment of his classmates and identify who joined the class and who did not. As it is explained earlier, all the students in the sample are expected to have consistent and equitable educational opportunities since no disparities in terms of access to distance learning tools and/ or resources have been observed. The majority of students had personal rooms at home and most have computer sets and a television in their own room. They also benefit from good internet connectivity; most of them have fiber optic connection as a home internet service. Contrary to other types of internet connection, the fiber optic is commonly known for its speed, security, reliability and lowered interference. In addition, they have individual laptops and/ or tablets, modern mobile phones, portable internet devices and printers. In short, as these children are from more advantaged families, they are not likely to be disadvantaged by online teaching.

Along with the above schoolwork-related facilities, these children do also possess the latest and most innovative and attractive game consoles. Most have the famous home video game console from Sony (PlayStation 4, commonly abbreviated as PS4) or the Nintendo Switch, the newest hybrid video game console developed by Nintendo or both. Some still have their former consoles such as the Wii, Wii U, PS3 or Xbox one.

While socialization happens during interactions with the environment and with others principally through play or games, social networking and gaming tend to be very immersive as an entertainment (Lenhart et al. 2011). Adolescence is indeed a period during which one explores and develops his or her identity (Arnett, 1995) and tries to adapt to and internalize the norms, values and behaviors in a given society or social group (Lutfey & Mortimer, 2006; Handel et.al, 2007). Today, children’s socialization with same-aged friends occurs merely through social networking and digital game playing especially after school hours and during vacation. What is of big concern therefore is the amount of time that adolescents spend socializing on the internet. Because of the current conditions, which dictate that children and adolescents stay indoors for whole days and be limited only to indoor activities, the likelihood of playing video games as well as the duration of video game play is undoubtedly higher. As hypothesized, indeed, the students in our sample are found to play for long hours a day. When asked: “On average, how many hours does your son / do your sons play video games during this home confinement period?”, most parents indicated that their children typically play between four to five hours a day. After calculating, we have found a mean average of about 5.15 hours of play a day with a minimum of half an hour and a maximum of nine hours. We were, therefore, able to differentiate between casual play and unhealthy obsession. (Figure 1/ Table 2)

        Figure 1: Students’ average time spent on video game play per day

                    Table 2: Students’ mean video game playtime

Number of Participants Minimum played time Maximum played time Mean
16 0.5 9 5,15

An important characteristic of video games is the regular variation of the game, which makes children play for hours on. Moreover, when a game is rated higher and perceived as being more interesting by the gaming community, more gamers purchase it and spend more time playing it. Most of the interviewed parents gave the example of Fortnite, a very popular digital game that had an unprecedented appeal. Released in 2017, Fortnite is in fact an online battle game where the players fight against each other in a hostile land and try to be the last one surviving. It is therefore a surviving game where players hide, run, escape, build shelters and manipulate weapons to defeat the 99 other online players (Parker, 2018). As players are eliminated, the field of play gets smaller and players are put closer together. This competitive fast-paced aspect of the game along with its action element, immersive nature and colorful animations and graphics fascinates children to the extent of obsession. Some children find it difficult to stop playing and stay in front of their screens for hours especially if they are achieving a high level in the game. This inability to play in moderation constitutes the biggest concern for parents. An interviewed mother explained that asking teenagers to leave mid-game would be very frustrating to them; another father affirmed that ordering his two sons to do so generally causes tension. It is worth noting that, with the exception of one boy who lives with his grandparents after his mother’s death, all other children in the sample are raised by their joint biological parents. This variable does actually exclude the possibility that a non-biological parent might feel less responsibility and / or concern for the child’s health or education.

Table 3. Number of Biological Parents

  N Blank Yes %Yes No %No     100%
Biological Parents 16 0 15 0,96 1 0,04     1,00

Vacation was found to be a positive predictor of adolescents’ video game play and other daily media consumption (Barnett et.al, 1991). There may be several explanations for this; summer vacations and other school holidays are likely to inspire more game among children and enable them to spend much leisure time together. Since students are home during the crisis of COVID-19 and know they will not return to school for the rest of the academic year, they contribute little input into educational activities and assignments.  With regard to parents work situation during the coronavirus pandemic, they did not lose their jobs; most parents continue to work  full-time outside their homes because of the nature of their fields of work (health, sanitation, banking, food service and others), and few work from home; three mothers were homemakers. Therefore, it was found that due to less or no parental oversight during the day, students, in our sample, spent hours playing video games at the expense of attending their classes online. Parents’ absence during the day increased the likelihood that children choose to play, fail to complete their assignments and miss their online classes. Absence of adult supervision and control resulted in teenage students’ being more distracted. Paradoxically, children of parents who work from home were found to spend less time on video gaming than their other classmates. We assume that, when at home, parents implement rules with discipline and rigor, and help their children be more focused. Though homeworking during the health Covid- 19 pandemic has generated many challenges for some employees who need to juggle work with their children’s home-schooling, it nonetheless proved beneficial for some parents from the sample. In addition to protecting oneself and others from the virus, being at home with one’s children, a mother explained: “enables parents to create an environment where children, especially adolescents, are expected to fulfill their duties”. In other words, when parents are home, students in our sample were found to respect the established rules regarding gaming and be more engaged in their home schooling. They were particularly found to play less than their classmates whose parents commute to their workplace on a daily basis, and attend all the schedules online classes. This was consistent with other research that documented a strong link between parental involvement and children’s academic behavior and attendance (Jeynes, 2007; Hill & Tyson 2009; Wang & Sheikh-Khalil, 2014).

Table 4. Test Result- Effect of Parents’ work situation during the COVID 19 pandemic on children VG playing time

Likewise, a growing body of literature has investigated the effects of video gaming on sleep patterns. Researchers have found that frequent video gaming, especially at night, has been associated with delayed bedtimes, a shorter sleep duration, increased sleep-onset latency, and more daytime tiredness (Adam et al., 2007; King et.al., 2013; Van den Bulck, 2004; Zimmerman, 2008). Because video gaming is often a night-time entertainment activity, teenage students are generally found to start playing in the late afternoon after they finish their online classes, if ever they showed up to the video conferencing classroom meeting. Playing during the first hours of the evening and at night brings to a relevant sacrifice of time of sleep. Therefore, each additional hour of nighttime video gaming delays bedtime, which, in turn, affects children’s wake-up time. With insufficient sleep, teenage students find it difficult to get up in the morning to attend their online classes. The observation approach used by the researcher helped examine students’ engagement and feedback as well. While secretly sitting next to my child during his Zoom or Hang out Meet class, I observed the behavior of his classmates, and took notes on everyone’s participation, if any, and noted down the behavior displayed during the 40-minute class (laughters, comments, camera and audio mode…etc.). A very important finding concerned signs of tiredness (yawning, the cheek resting on the palm of the hand…); these were more apparent during morning classes. This confirmed that bedtime delays due to gaming affects students energy and well-being in the following day. As classes start at 9 or even 10 a.m. and finish at four p.m. at the latest, a higher rate of absenteeism was noticed in the early morning compared to early afternoon. In sum, the findings from the current study suggest two conclusions. First gaming volume was found to be negatively related to bedtime, rise time and fatigue, which all affect online class attendance and work engagement. Second, children’s home schooling commitments are not taken as seriously as in-person classes.

Conclusion

The fight against the COVID-19 outbreak has been unique. In spite of being primarily a health crisis, it has impacted all industries. Education, for example, has changed dramatically. National efforts have been made to make use of technology in support of remote learning on an unprecedented scale. Meanwhile, since students are confined home for an extended period of time, they were found to spend more time on video games than during normal school days. Video games, which during the best of times, have been blamed for their negative influence on teenagers, are found, in the present study, to induce some to abandon their online classes. Repeated and continuous exposure to video games during the current at-home order apparently caused teenage students to become so addicted that it interfered with their attendance at virtual classes. The results clearly indicated decreases in virtual class attendance due to video game playing that is generally congruent with late sleep. This issue has led to a widespread concern among parents, teachers and policy makers. As children cannot be held accountable for this sudden, dramatic and unprecedented change in education, it is suggested to schedule an earlier academic start, program a beginning of the year diagnostics to figure out students’ levels and problems and assign remedial courses for those in need.  To conclude, we think that the continuous development of new information technologies will lead to an increasing variety of new leisure activities. To the extent that these technologies engender attractive and entertaining activities especially within contexts where extreme needs and emotions are ample, they are likely to affect time children and teenagers spend in schoolwork and other recreational activities.

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