Overviewteaching Games For Understanding

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Teaching Games For Understanding Basketball

Novotney, A. (2015, April). Gaming to learn. Monitor on Psychology, 46(4). http://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/04/gaming

Many of today's K–12 students are spending their class time — and a lot of it — exploring science and diagramming sentences with Tim and his robot friend, Moby, through the website BrainPOP. The website allows kids to watch movies, complete quizzes and play games covering hundreds of topics within math, science, social studies, English, technology, art, music and health. The website tracks each student's learning accomplishments, and teachers have access to resources such as lesson plans, webinars, video tutorials, graphic organizers, and best practices — aligned to and searchable by state standards including Common Core.

BrainPOP is just one of hundreds of educational game websites in a billion-dollar industry that is growing in popularity. Nearly 60 percent of teachers now use digital games at least weekly in teaching, with 18 percent using them daily, according to a nationwide survey of 488 K–12 teachers conducted by researchers at New York University and the University of Michigan. In addition, more than a third of teachers use games at least weekly to assess student progress or understanding of class instruction.

The survey findings were released late last year amid increasing state and federal government interest in classroom use of digital games. In Washington state, for example, lawmakers are considering legislation that would create a pilot program offering interactive learning games in schools. Last fall, the White House and U.S. Department of Education hosted a game jam to promote the development of learning games.

But despite the growing popularity of such games, research has yet to determine whether they really help children learn, says University of California, Santa Barbara, educational psychologist Richard Mayer, PhD.

'When you look at the research reviews and meta-analyses that have been done, the evidence is not all that convincing yet that digital games are going to revolutionize education,' says Mayer, author of the 2014 book 'Computer Games for Learning: An Evidence-Based Approach.'

Reviewing the research

Over the past 20 years, scientists have conducted nine major reviews of research on the effectiveness of educational computer and video games. Overall, they've found that the research on games is highly diverse, disorganized and unfocused, with a significant number of methodologically flawed studies, Mayer says.

A review conducted in 2012, for example, examined the effects of video games on K–12 academic learning. Of the 363 studies whose descriptions related to video games and academic achievement, only 39 were scientifically rigorous enough to be included in the review (Review of Educational Research, 2012). In the analysis of the 39 included studies, University of Connecticut researchers — led by professor of education Michael Young, PhD — found some evidence for positive effects of video games on learning languages and history, and in physical education, but little support for such effects on learning science and math.

'When you look at the research evidence, you have to take a very cautious approach,' Mayer says. 'We still need a lot of very careful experimental research that looks at learning outcomes.'

That means taking the time to study three important questions, he says. These include:

  • Do certain features make a computer game more effective in promoting learning?
  • Do people learn useful cognitive skills from playing an off-the-shelf game?
  • Do people learn academic content better from playing a computer game than from conventional instruction?

'The visionaries come up with strong claims about the power of games, but then it's up to behavioral scientists and cognitive scientists and psychologists to assess those claims,' Mayer says.

Douglas Clark, PhD, professor of the learning sciences and science education at Vanderbilt University, agrees that more research is needed on exactly which aspects and design elements of digital games work best at improving student learning.

'In recent years, there's been this emphasis on whether games are better than traditional instruction, but that's not really a helpful distinction because it's not an either-or concept,' says Clark. 'The research shows that games as a medium can be effective, but not always. Design is really what matters. Nobody assumes that all lectures, labs or books are good simply because of their medium.'

Last year, Clark led a meta-analysis examining 68 studies on digital games and learning for K–12 and undergraduate students published by the research company SRI International. The analysis included comparisons of game conditions versus nongame conditions — known as media comparisons — as well as assessments of augmenting standard educational games with new features, such as competition, to see if they improve learning from the game. The findings suggest that digital games enhanced student learning relative to conventional instruction. The value-added comparisons, however, clearly demonstrated the importance of design when evaluating digital games for learning, Clark says.

'We really need to look more at these value-added comparisons, and conduct studies that look at the cognitive processes these games invoke,' he says.

Promising pilots

Even without a strong evidence base to back up games' academic effectiveness, the allure of using games for learning is hard to pass up, says University of California, Los Angeles, psychology professor Eva Baker, PhD, who directs the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing. These games are designed to engage students more than traditional classroom instruction and offer more interaction, immediate feedback and user control.

As the research evolves, ensuring good assessment practices is critical for ensuring effective learning in games.

'We really need a set of criteria to help people sort through all of this, because the number of games purporting to help students learn is only going to grow,' Baker says.

Researchers have started to fill that knowledge gap. In 2013, researchers at New York University and the City University of New York found that math video games can enhance middle-schoolers' motivation to learn (Journal of Educational Psychology, 2013).

Teaching Games For Understanding Pdf

In the study, 58 middle-school students played the video game FactorReactor, which is designed to build math skills through problem-solving. The researchers found that when students played the game with one another — as compared with playing alone — they adopted a mastery mindset that is highly conducive to learning. Moreover, students' interest and enjoyment in playing the game increased when they played with another student.

'We found support for claims that well-designed games can motivate students to learn less popular subjects, such as math, and that game-based learning can actually get students interested in the subject matter,' says Jan Plass, PhD, a professor in NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development and one of the study's lead authors.

However, he adds, the results may be limited to the educational content of the game or its design.

'Future research will need to examine design features that optimize learning across curricula,' he says.

Psychologists are also studying Operation ARA (Acquiring Research Acumen), a learning game for high school and college students that teaches research methodology via a narrative about aliens invading Earth with 'bad science.' In the game, students are tutored by avatars on research examples taken from psychology, biology and chemistry, and then asked to identify flaws in that research.

A series of studies were conducted by psychologist Art Graesser, PhD, of the Institute for Intelligent Systems at the University of Memphis, and his colleagues, who developed the game. They reported improvements in scientific reasoning and critical thinking skills among students at three different types of higher education institutions — an open admissions community college, a state university and a highly selective private college (Thinking Skills and Creativity, 2012).

'Every component of the game was backed by one or more principles of learning,' says Graesser. 'That's different from a lot of commercial games that often try to optimize motivation but not learning. We really tried to do both.'

Amy Novotney is a journalist in Chicago.

Further reading

Teaching games for understanding basketball
  • Blumberg, F. (Ed.). (2014). Learning by playing: Video gaming in education. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Mayer, R. E. (2014). Computer games for learning: An evidence-based approach. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • The A-GAMES project: http://gamesandlearning.umich.edu/a-games/key-findings/survey-report/
  • Young, M. F., Slota, S., Cutter, A. B., Jalette, G., Mullin, G., Lai, B., . . . Yukhymenko, M. (2012). Our princess is in another castle: A review of trends in serious gaming. Review of Educational Research, 82(1), 61–89.
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