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

Game-Based Learning

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

By Tony Wan     Oct 20, 2014

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

"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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