Creators of digital learning games could soon have some powerful new tools at their disposal.
GlassLab, a nonprofit made up of an all-star team of learning scientists, assessment designers, and game developers housed at Electronic Arts and Co-Lab (Zynga), tells Education Week that it is moving to provide free assessment and analytics technology to third-party digital learning game developers, including an initial cohort of five groups beginning this Fall.
The goal is to help those developers more efficiently capture the torrents of data generated from student game play, process that information for signs that students are mastering academic standards, and display the results to students, teachers, and others via easy-to-use dashboards.
"Originally our focus was just on creating commercial-quality, high-impact learning games," said GlassLab Executive Director Jessica Lindl in an interview. "We're not moving away from that, but it's also a huge value proposition to open up these technology services so other game developers can provide insight into what kids are learning using our assessment engine and learning analytics models."
GlassLab emerged as a collaboration of the Institute of Play, the Entertainment Software Association, Electronic Arts, Educational Testing Service, Pearson, Analytics and Adaptive Learning, and others.
In November 2013, the group launched the first of its own digital learning games: SimCityEdu, a classroom version of the popular urban-planning game originally released in 1989.
Lindl said GlassLab determined that two-thirds of its investment in SimCityEdu went into the technology and services around the game, compared to just one-third for design and development.
It's a common problem in the learning-game field, Lindl said.
So GlassLab, whose mission involves helping spread high-quality learning games, "decided to open up our technology services to third-party game developers so they didn't have to do all that work," she said.
Over 100 groups—including research organizations, small startups, established commercial players, and more—submitted applications to be part of the initial cohort of developers with whom GlassLab will partner, according to Lindl. Most said they feel under growing pressure to demonstrate that their games help children learn, not just keep them engaged, she said.
Among other things, the groups will receive computer code that integrates into their existing games to help collect data and access to an "assessment engine" that processes that data against key academic standards.
Lindl said that GlassLab assessment experts from Pearson and ETS will also work directly with the third-party developers to figure out how the data generated by their games connect to academic standards.
The model for the new partnerships will be a recently completed pilot effort involving GlassLab and Washington-based iCivics, a nonprofit that develops web-based learning games such as Argument Wars, meant to help students learn the skills of evidence-based persuasive argumentation (which happens to be a key piece of the new Common Core State Standards.)
Because GlassLab has its own argumentation game (Mars Generation One: Argubot Academy, currently in beta-testing and expected to be publicly released this August), researchers were able to do sophisticated reliability and validity testing, Lindl said.
In addition to expanding and sharing its back-end services, GlassLab is also planning to launch a new consumer-facing website intended to help students, teachers and parents access learning games.
"Teachers are using a wide variety of tools to engage learners," Lindl said. "We really want to help raise the quality so there is more diversity and choice."
An earlier version of this story incorrectly described where GlassLab is based. The group is now an independent non-profit housed at Electronic Arts and Co Lab.