Games, Graphs and Glory: How Teachers Bring Digital Play to the Classroom

Games, Graphs and Glory: How Teachers Bring Digital Play to the Classroom

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"Life is more fun when you play games," Roald Dahl once wrote. And teachers who play are more likely to bring the joy into their classrooms, according to a new Joan Ganz Cooney Center report. Based on findings from 694 K-8 teachers across the U.S., the study "found that 78% of teachers who play digital games also use them in instruction, whereas only 55% of teachers who do not play games use them with their students."

Educational gaming is not a new industry. But the explosion in the forms of devices and media (apps, games) available beg a fresh round of exploration into their role in classrooms. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center, a New York City-based nonprofit, has provided digestible research on implementation and effectiveness to support a growing game-based learning (GBL) community composed of educators, game developers and researchers. (This report is a detailed follow-up to general data released earlier this summer on how teachers use games.)

The good news: 74% of the surveyed teachers use games for instructional purposes. And, challenging gender assumptions, the report found that more female (75%) teachers use games, compared to their male counterparts (69%).

Source: Joan Ganz Cooney Center

Math games still reign supreme when it comes to perceived effectiveness, with 71% of teachers reporting that games are effective. But when it comes to science, that number dips to 42%. And only 37% find games helpful in improving students' social skills.

Included in the 67-page report are a flurry of details, illustrated by colorful charts, into the whats, whys and hows of classroom gaming. Insights include the devices used to access the games (72% use desktops and laptops; only 9% use mobile devices), how teachers measure what students learn (43% use built-in assessments), and the most popular titles (yes, Oregon Trail is still up there.)

Eighty percent of teachers cite curriculum alignment as a barrier to integrating games in the classroom, a problem that may be related to the discovery process. "Breaking down the massive 'educational/learning game' genre into a manageable number of sub-genres ought to make the search and discovery process less overwhelming and more illuminating for teachers," recommends the report.

There's also a glaring lack of formal professional learning opportunities, as many teachers rely on online forums and video tutorials to learn how to implement games in their practice.

Reminiscent of role-playing games, the report also offers four profiles of game-using teachers, based on their experience, comfort level with games, community support and perceived barriers. These "character classes," as one might describe using popular gamer terminology, "reveal how DGBT [digital game-based teaching] dispositions and support are distributed across the broader K-8 game-using teacher population."

Where do you belong among the nervous dabblers, avid players, barrier busters and savvy naturals?

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