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The Slow Gamification of K-12 Classrooms

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Children are becoming acutely acquainted with mobile technology long before their K-12 classroom years. When they arrive at their first organized school experiences, they are often already savvy on basic computers and mobile devices. If their parents used this technology correctly, these kids have had at least some exposure to phonics and math through learning websites, downloads and other applications.

Research suggests that once these young learners enter a classroom, however, learning through tech "games" disappears. Families may still choose to buy the apps and use them at home but schools are slow to bring gamification of education into their classrooms.

A report by the market research group Ambient Insight found that edtech in the forms of learning games is not making its way into classrooms. Instead of educators making learning game purchases, marketers target parents because they are the ones who buy them. The North American edtech market is expected to grow over 15 percent in the next half-decade but company leaders have candidly said that they will focus marketing efforts on parents, not schools. To paraphrase, targeting schools is simply a waste of time.

So why are games developed for young learners having such a difficult time entering classrooms?

The reasons are simple enough. Money is a factor and it impacts more than the purchase of the games or applications themselves. K-12 schools are still in the process of creating mobile technology policies and finding the money in their budgets to fund these initiatives. There are also issues of slow internet speeds and low bandwidths that prevent too many students from flooding the network at once. If teachers do not have the right technology in their classrooms, they cannot purchase the games to enhance lessons.

Regulations are another issue when it comes to the quick implementation of learning technology, including games. There seems to be a distrust of games, and in some cases of technology in general, and their place in the classroom setting. By the time teachers can prove the worth of the games they want to use, another game is available with more bells and whistles. For-profit companies that develop these learning games have no hoops to jump through with parents but the same cannot be said of schools.

Does all of this really matter, though? Are kids still learning what they need to know without inundation of education games? While the general consensus seems to be that screen time "rots" the brains of little ones, researchers have actually found benefits for young minds. In her paper "Children's Motivations for Video Game Play in the Context of Normal Development," Cheryl Olson found that games, even non-educational ones, improve decision-making and encourage self-expression in children. If there is an educational feature, children absorb the knowledge while finely tuning motor and strategic skills.

It stands to reason then that children with access to gaming technology at home are at an advantage. If there was no educational gaming at home AND no educational gaming at school, it would be a different story. Instead, parents that can afford the vehicles for the technology and the games themselves are able to better prepare children for the classroom and academic success - furthering a socio-economic achievement gap. Through educational technology that is readily available to consumers, the advantaged become more so and the disadvantaged fall farther behind.

For all students to benefit from edtech initiatives, schools need to find the funding for better technology suites and cut through red tape more quickly. Otherwise the educational opportunities presented through gaming will never be fully realized and the students will suffer.

Have you found ways to incorporate edtech, particularly when it comes to gaming, into your classroom?

Dr. Matthew Lynch is the author of the recently released book, The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching. To order it via Amazon, please click on the following link.

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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends and Technologies in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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