A new study conducted by faculty at NYU and the University of Michigan has uncovered some interesting results in regard to using digital games to provide formative assessment to students during the learning process. Jordan Shapiro, an expert in gaming and learning, shares this news in Forbes.
posted by: Ryan Schaaf
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.
“Formative assessment is thought of as one of the most important classroom practices to support student learning,” said Barry Fishman, professor of learning technologies at the University of Michigan School of Information and School of Education. “And our study indicates that teachers who use games for formative assessment conduct assessment more frequently and report fewer barriers.”
One of the useful things about this new study is that it does not focus on radical disruptions to the culture of education. Nor does it focus on cost savings or efficiency–not even on student achievement. Instead, it focuses on the efficacy with which digital games enable teachers to do their jobs. Therefore, it may help to dispel some of the negative myths about game-based learning that have become obstacles to widespread implementation.
Believe it or not, the perception of video games in the classroom is not always positive. Many teachers that I’ve spoken to express a fear that games are going to replace human teachers with automated video game avatars. I’m not sure where that notion comes from. I talk to a lot of game developers and pro-tech educators and so far I’ve never met one who wants to replace teachers with robots. Most want to create tools that are help teachers to do their job with more ease and greater impact.
Still, many folks worry that there are nefarious legislators and big bank types who see technology as a way to reduce labor costs through automation. I acknowledge that such a fear is not totally absurd. I’ve read Diane Ravitch’s work and I understand why she worries about the ongoing privatization of the public school system. I see how what begins as a an effort to create a marketplace where parents have more choices could spiral into a mess of potential dangers. In fact, I’ve even argued myself that we need to stop thinking of education as a business or an industry, and stop thinking of teachers like factory workers or resources. There’s nothing hidden here. It is easy to see how our unwavering faith in the corporate mindset has created a tragic level of socioeconomic stratification.
But it is also important not to swing all the way to the polarized opposite perspective. Although lowering labor costs seems to be an inherent part of the Walmart way (which is certainly not in the best interest of our children), we should also acknowledge that financial considerations have always been part of the school conversation, even at the very beginning of the great U.S. public education experiment. It wasn’t all idealism at the start. Don’t imagine that everyone used to act in the best interest of equity, social justice, and democracy but somehow we wandered off the straight and narrow path. That’s just plain false.
While promoting her book Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession, Dana Goldstein brought renewed attention to Catherine Beecher, an early feminist educator who was not only an outspoken advocate for girls’ education but also played a pivotal role in the women’s movement by leading women into professional classroom employment.
In the 19th Century, Beecher argued that one of the reasons women would make good teachers is because they provided cheap labor. In an interview with Rebecca Traister, Goldstein explained that Beecher “needed to make this pragmatic appeal to cheapness because one of the main barriers for early education reformers was trying to make education compulsory, so that parentshad to send their kids to school. And resistance to raising taxes was the major barrier to this movement.” The economics have always been one of the biggest obstacles to equity in education.
So please don’t spout nostalgia from a meek-shall-inherit-the-earth anti-profit moral soapbox. Someone profits on pencils and blackboards and desk-chairs and lockers and magic-markers. Sure, we should watch the hucksters carefully. Be wary. They’re not to be trusted. But also, we don’t want to miss out on good innovations because we’re afraid we might get scammed. If we’re afraid to take risks and iterate, an education for reflective critical thinkers is already long lost.
Certainly I worry about the tragic impact edtech and game-based learning could have on our children were we to mistakenly prioritize the capacity to create high impact at a low cost. This criteria absolutely should not hold more weight then other factors which guarantee an education for human dignity. Were affordable scalability the only promise of game-based learning, I’d be the first to object. But that’s not the case.
Instead, game-based learning uses interactive simulation to blend content with context in such a way that students learn not only facts, but also how to use those facts in relationship with other individuals and with the world around them. What’s more, games make it easy to harness the power of play and creativity, creating a pedagogy grounded in discovery learning (hands-on exploration) instead of just direct learning (lecture, demonstration).
Now, thanks to this study, we have some evidence that game-based learning can also enable better formative assessment. Which means that it even helps facilitate the kinds of live interactions that have traditionally formed the foundation of good teaching. Remember, it is not a choice between video games and live teaching; it is a happy marriage of both.