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Classroom Technology

Q&A: Designing Game-Based Assessments That Engage Students

By Robin L. Flanigan — March 10, 2014 2 min read
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Game-based assessments are making it easier for teachers to more quickly evaluate students in a dizzying number of ways. Arthur C. Graesser, a University of Memphis professor of experimental and cognitive psychology and the 2011 winner of the American Psychological Association’s award for distinguished contributions of applications of psychology to education and training, spoke with Technology Counts Contributing Writer Robin L. Flanigan in a telephone interview about the current and future role of game-based assessments in the classroom.


On a psychological level, how is it different for students to have game-based, rather than traditional, assessments?

Graesser: You’re not going to get a valid assessment if students are bored and tuning out. Having an assessment that matches their style of living would be the hope. If they’re used to playing games, the contrast between that and looking at academic material can be huge. It really intensifies the growing schism between formal and informal learning environments.

What’s next for game-based assessments?

Graesser: I’m involved in a group that’s commercializing a game with Pearson Education. In the course of a 10-hour game on research methods and scientific reasoning, it collects 6,700 measures. One of the major avante-garde waves of the future is figuring out how you map all these measures onto psychometrically valid constructs. For example, how discriminating are students in making subtle distinctions? So as they progress through the game, you can get a peek at how well they’re doing in each skill at any time.

Can there be such a thing as too much information for teachers?

Graesser: Oh, yes. Yes. And maybe there should be an open learning environment where students get to take a peek at their own profiles and don’t necessarily share them with the teacher, to help build self-efficacy before the teacher tests them in a more conventional way. All of this needs to be explored.

How can teachers be sure they’re choosing the right games to evaluate students?

Graesser: In the commercial market, there are a lot of games that look visually sensuous and captivating but don’t have deep tentacles to the learning sciences and rigorous assessments. That’s one of the challenges with informal learning environments, because if games look as if there’s anything academic in them, kids think they’re being tricked into learning something. You have to be very subtle in smuggling in serious content.

One thing to look for, and this is the real world we live in, is whether the assessments are aligned with the common core, Educational Testing Service, and other organizations that have a solid scientific foundation.

What else should teachers know?

Graesser: One purpose of the assessments is for the teachers, but there’s a different set of goals to think about, and that’s for students to become motivated enough to want to do their personal best. Just the feedback can be motivating in itself. That’s what makes assessments fun, rather than a drag.

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