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A while ago, a young friend told me that her math teacher had assigned math games as homework. I asked, "Were they fun math games?" It turned out to be a program called First In Math and as the testimonials would indicate, some educators are seeing success with this program. While I could not personally see any of the math exercises to verify if they were actually games or just drill and practice, I did notice that for educators, the program's terminology was "Deep Practice" whereas for students, the exercises were called "games."
David Michael and I wrote extensively about the educational game market landscape in our book, Serious Games: Games That Educate, Train, and Inform. Since then, there has been more exposure to the idea of using games in education. Has anything else changed since then?
In the recently released report, "Games For a Digital Age: K-12 market map and investment analysis," by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, the researchers found that while acceptance of games by teachers had increased, the same problems described in our book remained.
The #1 reason why game-based learning has proven difficult to implement in classrooms has been the lack of flexibility to work within the time limits of a regular class, which is normally around 40 minutes a day. While the normal drill and practice could work within these time limits, a more immersive experience such as that of a simulation or virtual world would be much harder to manage. Furthermore, teachers have limits on how many days they can spend on a topic in order to finish coverage of core curriculum during the school year.
This is unfortunate because several studies have indicated that the engagement from these longer learning games are more effective than normal lectures on subjects. The game, River City, showed a 370% increase in learning from D students and 14% increase in learning from B students.
Not much has changed for educational game developers, either. Targeting schools as potential buyers is still less profitable than targeting home schoolers, parents, and grandparents. There really isn't a lot of funding in school budgets for games and even if there were, figuring out the differing sales processes is time-consuming. Larger school districts may even require a pilot testing period of a few years before anything can be definitively decided.
It may take a while before there is widespread usage of game-based learning in schools. But with parents more accepting of game-based learning, perhaps kids will find the love of learning and gaming at home.
[This article first appeared on the blog, Game Design Aspect of the Month]
Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.