What Makes a Successful Game Based Learning Environment

The following is an excerpt from our new white paper Introduction to Game Based Learning. Download it today!

Few blended learning studies exist to date, but those that do highlight some best practices. Legends of Learning’s own GBL study, “Substantial Integration of Typical Educational Games into Extended Curriculum,” identifies several elements essential to overcoming challenges found in blended learning environments. They include the following three:

1. Student choice from a set of teacher-curated games
2. Competency-based game mechanics
3. Strong teacher instruction

A Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation RAND study, Interim Research on Personalized Learning, notes an additional four attributes common to successful blended learning environments. Jamee Kim and Wongyu Lee name two more characteristics in their study conducted at Korea University. The six cumulative characteristics are:

1. Learner profiles
2. Personal learning paths
3. Peer interaction
4. Competency-based progression
5. Flexible learning environments
6. High levels of teacher support for the digital material

The qualities further detail the three identified by Legends of Learning and Vanderbilt University in their collaborative study. The six also recall James Paul Gee’s 16 tenets, suggesting they build upon the best practices of the past while encountering the present and looking forward to the future.

Turning Curriculum into Interactive Game Content

However, true success with GBL cannot be limited to engagement alone. Games must help educators deliver lessons for them to have long-term value and impact. That means they must connect to the curriculum in some way, as well as support other learning goals related to the subject matter, lesson plan, or grade level.

Robert J. Marzano, who conducted a five-year study of game based learning, makes the argument in his findings. He says, “If games do not focus on important academic content, they will have little or no effect on student achievement and waste valuable classroom time.”

European researchers Venera-Mihaela Cojocariua and Ioana Boghiana also believe that games need to have a clear and understood role in the classroom. They state, “In order to exploit the advantages of using game-based learning in class, there is a clear need for standardization and regulation on the use of games in teaching-learning-evaluating.”

Legends of Learning and Vanderbilt University similarly tie GBL success to the rigors of learning. Their study shows that GBL efforts integrated with the classroom curriculum cause quantitative and qualitative improvements in content mastery as well as engagement.

Balancing engagement with content mastery remains a challenge. If students aren’t interested in the teacher-approved games, they won’t play them. Gee and other researchers note that games must be interesting and fun, while delivering educational content, for them to produce results.

In a productive GBL environment, learning and engagement operate hand-in-hand. One cannot succeed without the other.

As a result, educators will need to carefully evaluate games to make sure they both engage students and support the curriculum.

Get the entire white paper Introduction to Game Based Learning here!

James Paul Gee’s 16 Principles for Good Game Based Learning

Image by Steve Wheeler.

James Paul Gee is often considered the godfather of Game Based Learning (GBL) thanks to his significant academic research on effective learning methods via video games. He wrote a paper called Good Video Games and Good Learning more than a decade ago that outlines 16 components critical to strong GBL. The essay can be found in his seminal book of the same title, now in its second edition.

Here are the 16 principles of good video-game based GBL outlined in his text.

1) Identity: Players build a sense of identity throughout the video game, either through direct input or an on-screen character they inherit.

2) Interaction: Communication occurs between the player and the game.

3) Production: Gamers help produce the story through some form of interaction, such as solving a puzzle or completing a level.

4) Risk Taking: Failing in a game holds few consequences in comparison to real life, empowering players to take risks.

5) Customized: Games usually offer a level of customization so that users can play — and succeed — at their competency level.

6) Agency: Players have control over the gaming environment.

7) Well-Ordered Problems: The gaming environment contains problems that naturally lead into one another, allowing a player’s mastery to grow and evolve.

8) Challenge and Consideration: Games offer a problem that challenges students’ assumed expertise.

9) Just in Time or On Demand: Players receive information as they need it, not before, which teaches them patience and perseverance and improves critical-thinking abilities

10) Situated Meanings: Students learn new vocabulary words by experiencing them within game situations.

11) Pleasantly Frustrating: The game should frustrate the student enough to challenge them but be easy enough that they believe and can overcome the problem(s) faced.

12) System Thinking: Games make players think in a bigger picture, not just individual actions taken, helping them see how the pieces fit or can be fitted together.

13) Explore, Think Laterally, Rethink Goals: Games force players to expand their situational knowledge and consider courses of action other than linear ones.

14) Smart Tools and Distributed Knowledge: In-game tools help students understand the world. Through using them, they gain confidence to share their knowledge with others.

15) Cross-Functional Teams: In multiplayer environments, players have different skills, forcing them to rely on each other—a needed soft skill for students.

16) Performance before Competence: Competency occurs through taking action in the game, reversing the typical model in which students are required to learn before being allowed to act.

What do you think of James Paul Gee’s 16 Principles of Good Video Games and Good Learning? How might you incorporate them into your teaching style and curriculum?

 

What Makes an EdGame?

Many educators hold notions about what constitutes an edgame. Some think it’s a game loosely based on the curriculum. Others believe edgames are quizzes, something to be downloaded from the iTunes store.

 

 

Still others suppose that edgames are commercial ones like Sid Meir’s Civilization, Minecraft, or Pokemon Go that are then tied to education goals. In other cases, the game may be a specific simulation, for example, the 1979 Revolution: Black Friday or The Body VR. Both serious games, one puts the player in the midst of the Iranian Revolution. The other takes a player on an Oculus tour of the human biological system.

 

The Experts Weigh In

 

“All of the above” is the correct answer. An edgame can be a variety of things.

In his excellent book “Gamify Your Classroom,” Matthew Farber defines Jane McGonical’s definition of an edgame. She believes that a game must have around four key factors:

  • A Goal
  • Rules
  • A Feedback System
  • Voluntary Participation

Clearly, this definition would disqualify many of the electronic games currently used by educators. Matt Farber proceeds to have a conversation about the McGonical definition of games largely revolves around voluntary participation. He asks, “Does forcing kids to use a game for educational purposes destroy the intent of a game in essence violating the entire entertainment value of a game by turning it into work?”

 

James Paul Gee Responds

Farber’s search for an edgame definition unsurprisingly includes an interview with the godfather of game-based learning (GBL), James Paul Gee, someone we’ve discussed previously. We recently wrote up Professor James Paul Gee’s 16 Principles for Good Game-Based Learning.

But even though Professor Gee provides a lot of structure and regular commentary about what makes a good edgame, he dismisses many of the nuances needed to define one. For Gee, a game’s adherence to every aspect of defined games or every principle of game-based learning is irrelevant. What matters is that the game inspires learning.

Gee told Farber, “The issue is how do we get engagement by an affiliation, not whether we call it ‘play’ or a ‘game’ […] What we want to say is, ‘What’s the interactivity? What’s the engagement? What are the values?’”

EdGames Defined

games

In essence, good edgames or game-based learning platforms inspire children to learn. They involve students and capture their interest. As a result, they deliver exceptional educational value.

Most educators want supplementary curriculum tools that engage and help students master their studies. So whether a game is short or long, comical or serious, made for education or originally developed for commercial use is immaterial. To be an edgame for educators, it simply must meet the barometers of engagement and basic learning.

What do you think makes an edgame?

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