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The relatively little amount of time that some college students spend reading their textbooks outside of lectures presents a significant threat to their academic success. One possible solution to this problem is the use of digital games as an alternative to outside-of-class textbook reading, but a review of previous research did not reveal much information on their efficacy when compared to traditional textbooks. Using Astin's theory of student engagement as a framework, the purpose of this quantitative causal-comparative study was to determine whether a significant difference in engagement, as indicated by mental effort and time on task, existed for college students who used a digital game-based textbook versus students who used a traditional print-based textbook. The 54 undergraduate college students in this convenience sample were randomly assigned to one of the two textbook types and completed an activity session at an individual workstation. Time on task was measured with a stopwatch and mental effort with the Mental Effort Scale. The results showed a statistically significant difference in engagement between participants in the digital game-based and traditional print-based textbook groups, Hotelling's T2(2, 52) = 25.11, p < .001, D 2=1.86. In the post hoc analyses, the digital game-based group had significantly higher time on task scores than the traditional print-based textbook group (t = 34.61, p < .001). The mental effort difference was not significant, although the mean mental effort score was higher for the digital game-based group. These results provide evidence of a digital game-based textbook's utility, and may inform college educators in their efforts to support a more diverse group of learners.
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