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The Value of Game-Based Assessments

Tracey Lin is a Presidio Graduate School MBA/MPA degree candidate.

By Guest Blogger Tracey Lin

A 21st-Century Way Forward 

Countries around the world are trying to bridge the gap between what modern day economies and societies expect of their citizens and what their school systems are delivering. Education leaders and teachers recognize the need to update our education systems to better reflect modern-day theories of effective learning. Especially in high-stakes-exam-oriented cultures such as the U.S. or China, where standardized assessments are commonly used for academic or career advancements, studies show that teens (age 13-17) report to have even higher stress levels than adults. By normalizing the use of summative assessments as a screening tool, we are not cultivating future leaders, we are creating followers and exceptional test-takers. But now, there is an alternative method available to teachers that makes use of formative assessments and optimizes our students' learning experience through fun. 

Game-Based Assessments: A Georgia Case Study 

Georgia recognized that traditional tests are not always developmentally appropriate for young learners, particularly those in elementary school. These assessments only capture an absolute measurement at one moment of time. As a result, Georgia passed legislation requiring districts to adopt formative assessments for K-5 students. The Georgia education department collaborated with the Georgia Center for Assessment at the University of Georgia and FableVision Studios to make Keenville, a formative game-based assessment initiative for 1st and 2nd graders in the state. 

game_based_assessment.pngThe assessment provides educators with an alternative to traditional evaluation methods by providing a "test" that students will enjoy. Teachers receive real-time feedback as students move through the assessment. Across 76 districts, roughly half of schools participated in the Keenville pilot of 10 games that were designed to assess the state's official standards in math and English/language arts (ELA). According to Scot Osterweil, research director at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "There is mounting evidence that games, when done well, actually improve students' cognitive abilities in both literacy and numeracy." The Keenville pilot research also suggests that game-based assessments provide the opportunity to:

  • Integrate learning into the assessment; 
  • Motivate and encourage student perseverance; 
  • Support teachers with data on students' different learning styles; and
  • Promote learning that is fun. 

Furthermore, Lisa Hardman, an assessment specialist and the Keenville project lead, shares that she has received positive feedback from teachers who are now able to determine how well students internalize the concepts before any type of unit summative assessment. This allows educators to adjust their lessons plans accordingly. Students have also enjoyed playing games as part of their classroom learning. Hardman reveals that a feedback loop with educators and community-based research was instrumental to the success of the pilot adoption. The state aims to develop 31 games by next year for phase two of the program.

Games in Your Classroom: Benefits & Challenges

Research shows that bringing game-based assessments into classrooms can improve students' learning abilities while providing educators with real-time feedback to adjust lesson plans accordingly. At the end of the day, games are fun! They bring out our inner child in a process that improves learning and behavioral changes. Positive learning behaviors such as persistence, motivation, and curiosity can all be further developed through game-based activities and assessments. Games also have the ability to create customized simulations that  engage students. This is especially important for teachers to incorporate into the classroom where their learning performance reflects how they might show up in the world. Game activities can help students transfer their understanding of subject matter to real-life scenearios. A study conducted in Turkey revealed that teachers felt that by using a game-based approach they bridged the gap between coursework and social life. Furthermore, their students experienced joy (not a common feeling in learning these days) in playing an active role in the game-based simulations. 

That said, further research on local community and school needs should be conducted prior to any scaled adoption. For instance, a validity test is important to understand if the assessment measures what it was designed to. It is also important to address how to manage the risks of a possible decline in classroom interactions (as a result of more screen time), an increase in computer addiction (we are all worried about having digital amnesia), and diminished social and interactional skills among young learners. But all in all, using game-based assessments could mitigate the stress and pressure, especially for young students, that high-stakes-exam-oriented cultures bring. They also have the potential to help teachers better evaluate the progress of learning and appropriately assess students' learning performances based on how they might apply those skills in the real world. 

Connect with Heather and the Center for Global Education on Twitter. 

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