Executive Skills & Strategy

Digital Gaming in Classrooms Seen Gaining Popularity

By Katie Ash — May 02, 2012 3 min read
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Half of K-8 teachers say digital games have become a regular and beneficial part of today’s classroom, according to a survey by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, a nonprofit research organization that studies children’s learning through digital media.

The survey, which consisted of responses from a random sample of 505 teachers of those grades across the country in March of this year, found that 50 percent of the teachers reported using digital games in classroom instruction for at least two days a week.

Eighteen percent reported using games daily. Elementary school teachers tended to use digital games more often than middle school teachers did, with 57 percent of K-5 teachers reporting using games compared with 38 percent of middle school teachers.

“We were really surprised by the number of teachers who were using digital games on a very frequent basis,” said Jessica Millstone, a research consultant for the New York City-based Joan Ganz Cooney Center and an adjunct professor at Bank Street College, also in New York.

In the survey, a game was defined as any interactive digital activity, including simulations, in which students participated using any of a variety of devices, such as desktop computers, laptops, tablets, game consoles, and mobile devices.

Kurt Squire, the director of educational research at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, a public-private research collaboration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, cautioned against reading too much into the data.

“This number probably includes simple trivia-style games, which aren’t necessarily the kind of learning environments learning scientists might advocate,” he said. “It is encouraging for the nascent field and industry of games for learning to see this marketplace expanding. ... The real question, though, is are they good games that promote good learning principles?”

Increased Engagement

Many teachers who took part in the survey reported a variety of benefits from using digital games.

The vast majority of respondents—70 percent—said that games increased students’ motivation and engagement with the curriculum. Roughly 60 percent said games made it easier to personalize instruction, teach a range of learners effectively, collect meaningful data, and better assess students’ knowledge.

Almost all the teachers surveyed who said they used games reported that they used ones specifically designed for education, and the games most often corresponded with literacy (50 percent) and math (35 percent). Only 18 percent of the teachers reported adapting commercial games for educational use.

The biggest barriers to game use in classrooms cited by respondents were cost (50 percent), and inadequate access to technology (46 percent). An emphasis on standardized tests was another barrier, cited by 38 percent of respondents.

In addition to the survey, three video case studies of teachers using games accompany the data.

The survey was conducted in collaboration with BrainPOP, a for-profit business in New York City that creates educational digital resources and games for students, and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center.

The study is part of research being conducted by the newly formed Games and Learning Publishing Council, an initiative at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit publisher of Education Week, also receives Gates Foundation support. Virginia B. Edwards, the president of EPE and editor-in-chief of Education Week, is a member of the Games and Learning Publishing Council.)

The council seeks to map the evolving market in game-based learning, creating a framework to guide capital into productive new investments in that sector. In addition, the council will provide periodic reports about trends in game-based learning and case studies detailing best practices and successful products and models in that market.

A version of this article appeared in the May 09, 2012 edition of Education Week as Growing Use of Digital Games in K-8 Fueled by Teachers, Survey Finds


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