Why Context Matters in Games for Learning

sad llama with tee shirt that says I wasn't good at math

Information requires context in order to be meaningful.

From this idea follow a couple of points worth discussing: (1) that games can provide something crucial to the learning experience and (2), that the choice of context in learning games matters enormously.

The other day, I saw one of those shareable quotes on Facebook – a particularly whiny one – to this effect: Another day and I still haven’t used that algebra they made me learn in high school. Apparently you can also pay money to have this sentiment printed on a tee shirt for you. I remember hearing a lot of the same sort of whining in school, with students wondering why they needed to learn algebra (among other things), and it seems like some people, long after graduating, are still nurturing a lingering resentment for what seemed like a waste of time when they were 16.

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Kriegsspiel: the Glory and the Pain of Teamwork

Kriegsspiel is a war game with a pedigree. Developed by the Prussian military in the 19th century to train officers, it offers a gameplay experience unlike anything I’ve had so far.

William and I played kriegsspiel at LA’s Strategicon over the long weekend. The game lasted about eight hours — and they flew by.

kriegsspiel game civil war
Battle lines being drawn as the Confederates prepare to take Tappahannock

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Are We Overlooking Paper Games?

As an educator, I’ve sometimes had the feeling that technology in school was an end in itself rather than a means to better learning experiences. Perhaps you’ve been there, too.

Technology absolutely has its place in learning. A big place, even, especially when it comes to digital games. But I’ve had two occasions this week to think about the place of games that don’t require modern technology, and to consider that they might be undervalued in the exploding field of educational gaming.

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How Game-Savvy are our Students?

Our students are playing video games.

A lot of video games, in fact.

According to a Pew study of 2008 data, 97% of American 12-17 year-olds play digital games on a computer, console, or mobile device. That’s 99% of boys, and 94% of girls.

pew games study finding: 97% of teens play digital gamesThe Pew study involved over a thousand kids aged 12 to 17. While the 97% statistic may not come as a surprise, the study abounds in interesting, less-expected findings and I recommend reading the whole report. That said, a few points stood out in particular. If you’re considering using digital games in your program, you’ll want to get to know this data. Continue reading

Choose Better Games: 3 Questions to Ask Before You Play

You’re thinking about using a game in your program.

You’ve probably already evaluated that game based on its coverage of the material students need to learn. That is, after all, why we want games in our classrooms – because they engage students with material that otherwise might not seem so accessible.

Cartoon of Ajax and Achilles playing a board game
Age-old questions.

But don’t stop there – games are more than gamified learning content. To get the most out of using games in your program, push your evaluation further with these three questions, designed to probe a game’s potential for giving players a deeper, more engaging learning experience.

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Convincing Data: What Makes Learning Games Work Better? [Infographic]

Do you need to make a case for using learning games in your classroom or school? Data is your friend. Though studies on the benefits of learning with games are still scarce, the Gates-Foundation-funded GlassLab (“Glass” is for Games and Learning Assessment) managed to put together a terrific meta-analysis of 69 studies measuring the effects of digital games on learning, involving a total of 6,868 unique participants. And it’s available to the public! This infographic sums up the principal findings:

GlassLab Meta-Analysis games and learning effects study infographic

Not only does the meta-analysis ask whether or not games have an effect on learning outcomes (they do), but it also looks at some of the factors that make games better or worse at helping you teach. I highly recommend reading the study summary on their website – it’s well-written, and the methodology is clearly explained, along with many subtleties the infographic doesn’t convey.

Beyond Jeopardy: 3 Adaptable Games that Make Students Think

The Two Problems with Jeopardy

I have played many a Jeopardy-style quiz game in class. And with good reason: quiz games adapt to many topics, and they stir up students’ competitive spirit, making for an easy kind of engagement.

1. But if I’m honest about it, I have to admit that with this kind of game, it is most often the strongest students who invest and engage the most. Many games result in winners and losers, but one of the benefits of using games in class is that they can give middling or even poor students a chance to be victorious – something quiz games rarely do.

Llama looking at question mark

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