University of Michigan study: How video games affect classroom teaching

18 Dec

Jordan Shapiro reported in the PJ Tech article, Study Shows Video Games’ Impact On Face-to-face Teaching:

In the past, I have covered many studies that look at the efficacy of game based learning. But a recent study from A-GAMES, a collaboration between New York University and the University of Michigan, is significant because it looks at the way games impact the learning experience and the relationship between teacher and student. It does this by considering how digital games support ‘formative assessment’ — a term educators and researchers use to describe “the techniques used by teachers to monitor, measure, and support student progress and learning during instruction.” It may sound fancy but “formative assessment” really just refers to the ongoing attention that all good teachers have always provided their students, monitoring student learning and offering ongoing and specific feedback.

A-GAMES stands for Analyzing Games for Assessment in Math, ELA/Social Studies, and Science. The project is one among many games and learning research projects funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The study, entitled “Empowering Educators: Supporting Student Progress in the Classroom with Digital Games,” was undertaken by Jan Plass at NYU and Barry Fishman at University of Michigan. Surveying 488 K-12 teachers from across the U.S., they found that “more than half of teachers (57 percent) use digital games weekly or more often in teaching, with 18 percent using games for teaching on a daily basis. A higher percentage of elementary school teachers (66 percent for grade K-2 teachers and 79 percent for grade 3-5 teachers) use games weekly or more often for teaching, compared with middle school (47 percent) and high school (40 percent) teachers.”

These numbers are more or less consistent with previous studies. particularly the Level-up Learning study that the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop issued this past fall. That study focused on teachers and how their thinking about digital games in the classroom impacts actual implementation. This A-GAMES study, alternatively, is looking in more detail at the way games impact the teacher’s ability to provide personalized attention, assessment, and feedback to individual students.

The NYU/University of Michigan study found that on a weekly basis, 34 percent of teachers use games to conduct formative assessment. What are they assessing? Facts and knowledge; concepts and big ideas; mastery of specific skills. And they are doing formative assessment with games in the same way they do it with other classroom activities: observing students in class; asking probing questions; looking over their shoulders. All of this suggests that “using digital games may enable teachers to conduct formative assessment more frequently and effectively.” Game based learning seems to be aiding and supporting existing strategies rather than radically transforming the practice of teaching…

The University of Michigan reports the key findings:                                                                                             Key Findings

If digital games are to play a key role in classroom instruction, they must support core instructional activities. Formative assessment — techniques used by teachers to monitor, measure, and support student progress and learning during instruction — is a core practice of successful classrooms. The A-GAMES project (Analyzing Games for Assessment in Math, ELA/ Social Studies, and Science) studied how teachers actually use digital games in their teaching to support formative assessment.

In Fall 2013, 488 K-12 teachers across the United States were surveyed about their digital game use and formative assessment practices to gain insight into their relationship to one another. The survey explored three areas:

Our results reveal that the way teachers use digital games for formative assessment is related to their overall formative assessment practices. Using digital games as part of instruction may enable teachers to conduct formative assessment more frequently and more effectively.                                       

This study is interesting because it looks at how video games allow personalized interaction in the classroom.

Elena Malykhina of Scientific American wrote in Fact or Fiction?: Video Games Are the Future of Education:

If educational video games are well executed, they can provide a strong framework for inquiry and project-based learning, says Alan Gershenfeld, co-founder and president of E-Line Media, a publisher of computer and video games and a Founding Industry Fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Games and Impact. “Games are also uniquely suited to fostering the skills necessary for navigating a complex, interconnected, rapidly changing 21st century,” he adds.

Digital literacy and understanding how systems (computer and otherwise) work will become increasingly important in a world where many of today’s students will pursue jobs that do not currently exist, says Gershenfeld, who wrote about video games’ potential to transform education in the February Scientific American. Tomorrow’s workers will also likely change jobs many times throughout their careers and “will almost certainly have jobs that require some level of mastery of digital media and technology,” he adds….

Perhaps the biggest impact of video games will be on students who have not responded as well to traditional teaching methods. Nearly half of the teachers surveyed say it is the low-performing students who generally benefit from the use of games, and more than half believe games have the ability to motivate struggling and special education students.

See, Teachers Surveyed on Using Digital Games in Class

As with any instructional technique, there are pros and cons.

Justin Marquis Ph.D. writes in the Classroom Aid article, Debates about Gamification and   Game-Based Learning(#GBL) in Education:

The Negatives

Those who have both feet firmly in the anti-gamification camp most often argue that there are no empirical studies that demonstrate real learning from games or that the skills learned in game play do not translate to the real world. That said, however, there are real negatives that can be associated with the introduction of gamification into education:

  • Cost – A fully game-based curriculum, or even one that relies heavily on games, represents a substantial increase in cost over standard book/paper/pencil education. For starters, there is the cost of the equipment, the cost of the software, and the additional expense of training teachers in the most effective pedagogical use of the medium.
  • Distraction from other objectives – The idea that playing games pulls learners from other more valuable skills must also be addressed. The underlying premise here is that games are fairly limited in their content and the context that they present for learning. This is true….
  • Social isolation – One of the biggest ongoing criticisms of games, and technology in general, is that it promotes anti-social behavior and isolates individuals. While some of this may have been true prior to the explosion of Web 2.0 technologies, it certainly is not any longer.  The focus of most new games is in social play. While players may not be interacting face-to-face they are interacting nonetheless. In fact, these technologically mediated interactions mirror much of the real-world communication that drives our personal lives and business. The process and social norms taught by these interactions represent very real and useful skills that translate perfectly outside of games.
  • Shortened attention span – This is the criticism of all modern media, and probably was a criticism of books when Guttenberg first started mass producing them. New technologies necessitate new ways of viewing the world and the nature of knowledge. Computer games are no different. The often rapid pace of action and the immediate feedback can make people expect the same kinds of fast-paced, instantaneous response of all things….

The Positives

While the limitations above are daunting and require significant shifting of educational and societal priorities in order to be overcome, they are worth addressing, particularly if weighed against the positive effects of gamification.

  • Technological literacy – Game play promotes literacy at many different levels, from technological to socio-emotional. At the very minimum, game play supports the development of skills necessary to run a computer, but it really goes far beyond that, as the installation, upkeep, and networking required for much game play also promotes high-level literacy skills in students (Marquis, 2009).
  • Multitasking mentality – The reality of our world is that we all multitask to a certain extent, splitting our attention between multiple screen, devices, and stimuli constantly. Games enhance this ability by forcing players to balance multiple kinds of inputs simultaneously in order to be successful. Try the fun multitasking game at the end of this post to see how well you can focus on multiple inputs.
  • Teamwork – While the isolationist tendencies of gamers have long been a popular stereotype, many current games are built on a social networking paradigm that not only allows for teamwork and collaborative play, but often requires it to be successful. This is one of the key skills required for working in a hyper-connected global economy.
  • Long-range planning – While the critique of games is that they shorten players’ ability to concentrate for extended periods of time, the opposite is actually true. Game designer and researcher Jane McGonigal refers to the hyper-intense and prolonged focus that gamers can experience in well-designed games and sees importance in the concept of “blissful productivity,” where players become so absorbed in the game that they lose track of time while working hard to achieve goals….
  • Individualized instruction – Because GBL focuses on each student playing and learning for themselves, individualized instruction is a natural part of the equation. This means two things; each student can work towards mastery, and each student can work at their own pace.

Many successful educators try to appeal to their students’ interest in order to engage them. With so many children and adults currently playing video games, games represent a natural way for teachers to reach a larger audience and have fun at the same time….                                                         

There should not be a one size fits all education system. For some children, video games are an appropriate education strategy.

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