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Change the Game: Innovative Teaching and Gaming

Innovation in 21st century education has seen huge advancements in recent years. Prior to 2020, only one-third of American college students had taken an online course, but the proportion of students with some online coursework experience has grown rapidly. With this shift, instructors have had an incredible opportunity to reflect on the meaning of enhancing learning through traditional and digital resources. Some feel the shift towards digital innovation in education is long overdue, and the growth in digital technologies in the classroom is putting one newer educational tool front of mind for many educators: digital games.

The Rising Trend of Digital Gaming in Education

While gamification is not new, using video games as part of curriculum design is an emerging technology trend in education.

This trend is due in part to the effectiveness of active learning, which helps develop autonomy and participation in the learning process. In active learning, educators facilitate knowledge rather than transmit it. This approach encourages students to think creatively and analytically. Employing gaming in the classroom is one way to inject this pedagogical method into course design.

Because of the relative newness of gamified learning, much is still unknown about mechanisms and methods for success. Similarly, the educational context for how to gamify an activity is limited. However, there has been some research to provide insight on a way forward.

The Benefits of Digital Gaming in Education

The potential of digital gaming’s ability to improve student performance and learning outcomes is well documented. One team of educators at Florida State University studied how students interact with the physics video game Physics Playground. The educators performed “stealthy” assessments of students to show the link between playing digital games and the players’ creativity levels. Researchers found that better performers in the game were more creative and better able to create efficiencies in game play. A possible takeaway from this study is that improved game performance could result in increased creativity and planning skills.

Another study, out of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and Georgia Gwinnett College in the United States analyzes the effectiveness of video games in self-directed learning. Through this analysis, the researchers develop and discuss a framework that helps educators determine which games will enhance and build skills for self-directed learning.

In another recent gaming study, two Canadian teams, one out of the University of British Columbia and one out of the University of Regina, made a compelling case for using open-world or sandbox games such as Minecraft to enhance 21st century competencies. In their study of 12 educators from a large urban school board, the researcher teams found that collaboration and communication skills were developed and enhanced through game play. The study notes that positive results depend on how teachers incorporate digital gaming with teaching methods and student learning outcomes. Common approaches in this study include scaffolded, open, and directed/guided play to support critical thinking, creativity, and innovation.

Educational Gaming and Accessibility

One major consideration when looking at digital gaming for remote education is the divide in accessibility of technology for some students. Many students lack fast internet connections, and remote learning for students without internet can be challenging. Accordingly, researchers have also begun looking at digital games that require little or no internet connection.

A study based out of Nepal found that games accessible via a mobile app are effective as learning tools even in a low-resource environment. In particular, the use of BaghLearn was studied to see the effectiveness of integrating gaming with learning algorithm concepts. Researchers concluded that using this mobile app for computer education in higher ed helps expand problem-solving skills.

Final Thoughts

Innovation in education is set to reach new levels in the next few decades. As education continues the shift towards using digital tools for the classroom, educators will shift too. Using digital games in the classroom is just the beginning.

Whether online or in-person, technology and innovation in the classroom will become increasingly important for educating the next generation of learners. Educators who lead this new technological wave are set to see significant improvements in student performance and learning outcomes.

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