Digital Game Found to Boost Students’ Ability to Argue

By Benjamin Herold — February 26, 2015 1 min read
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A digital learning game in which students take part in “debate battles” with robots on a Martian settlement appears to help improve students’ argumentation ability—a key skill associated with the Common Core State Standards.

That finding comes from the Princeton, N.J.-based ETS, a partner in the research- and game-development nonprofit GlassLab, the entity behind ‘Mars Generation One: Argubot Academy.’

“Generally, it was found that kids who play the game can increase their competency significantly in identifying argument components, organizing arguments, and evaluating the arguments of others,” according to study results released this week by GlassLab.

The study of Mars Generation One’s impact on learning took place in Fall 2014. Twelve middle school teachers and 589 students in grades 5-8 took part in a 5-day cycle of gameplay that combined two lesson plans with five gaming sessions.

To succeed in the game, players must uncover evidence that can support their own claims while also critiquing their opponents’ arguments.

Learning gains were measured on the basis of a pre- and post-test of students’ argumentation skills, a survey in which students self-reported their own motivation levels, and one of ETS’s proprietary argumentation assessments.

Students’ average scores increased from 40 percent on the pre-test to 49 percent on the post-test. Nearly two-thirds of students improved their performance on the assessment after playing Mars Generation One.

Based on a series of projections involving analysis of how the various assessment instruments relate to each other, the ETS estimated that the learning gains resulting from game play amount to as much as one year’s worth of growth.

Perhaps just as importantly for the overall field of learning games, the ETS study concluded that the game itself constitutes a valid assessment of student learning. In other words, success during gameplay was found to be statistically highly correlated to success on traditional assessments of students’ argumentation skills.

Screenshot of Mars Generation One: Argubot Academy, a digital game found to help boost students’ argumentation skills, courtesy of GlassLab.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.