Game-Based Learning + Formative Assessment =
A Perfect Pair
There is increasing agreement—even among skeptics—that games can both improve and assess learning, particularly with information teachers can use to drive instruction. For example, GlassLab’s new learning game, SimCityEDU, relies on “an enormous assessment engine that . . . teacher[s] can use to assess their students’ individual knowledge and understanding.” And the Gates Foundation is supporting a study that “aims to document the various ways teachers use educational games for assessment purposes . . .”
There is clearly potential, but teachers’ use of learning games to assess student-learning outcomes is not yet widespread. The Games and Learning Publishing Council’s recent teacher survey results showed that teachers are more likely to use games to teach content rather than to assess or understand what students are learning. Teachers are likely not using games to assess students for a variety of reasons, despite their increasing use of games in the classroom—perhaps because many games do not target key learning objectives, or are not designed to assess students, and/or don’t provide the kind of information teachers want in a timely way.
Our new middle school literacy program, After the Storm, was designed to not only engage students and provide opportunities to apply literacy skills in real-world settings, but to assess students on key Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English Language Arts (ELA), and to provide real-time formative data to facilitate classroom-based assessment and personalized instruction. ATS focuses on important learning goals, includes built-in embedded assessments, and provides data to teachers and students in ways that help them diagnose, understand, modify, and improve their instruction/learning.
After the Storm is interactive, simulating a real-life work experience. Each unit focuses on a main problem that students solve by gathering information, analyzing the situation, and making decisions. Students navigate through a day in the life of a working professional at an online magazine and deal with the aftermath of a recent storm that has affected their workplace and community.
For example, students’ first goal is to get information out to as many people as possible on the day after the storm, including people who have no electricity. Students decide how best to respond to these challenges based on informational texts such as press releases, official reports, emails, conversations, and persuasive texts such as editorials. To solve these problems, students must analyze the text-based evidence and apply critical thinking skills. Students receive feedback and learn the real-world consequences of their decisions through realistic feedback from their colleagues. While playing the game, students are seamlessly assessed on the standards and routed to support or more challenging tasks, depending on their performance.
Four teachers and 100 6th graders in two NYC public middle schools piloted After the Storm in the fall of 2013. The full version of After the Storm launched more broadly in the summer of 2014, in seven NYC schools, with 16 teachers and close to 500 6th through 9th graders.
These results are based mainly on teacher and student surveys (255 students and 16 teachers) completed after our 2014 summer After the Storm launch. (Some student performance data from our smaller fall pilot are also referenced.) While a little more than 50% of teachers surveyed by Games and Learning said that they had access to high-quality CCSS-aligned digital and supplemental resources, teachers using After the Storm reported a much higher alignment.
An impressive 85% of After the Storm summer teachers reported that it addressed important CCSS.
In fact, over two-thirds (69%) said it assessed those standards better than other curricula they’d used.
This positive finding is likely due to the fact that After the Storm was developed to assess these important outcomes from the start. The game uses the data from these formative assessments to seamlessly route students to additional support or challenge activities. Students on the support path also get assistance from Super Ed, our in-game instructional coach, who helps them improve their performance. Teachers and students alike found Super Ed helpful—92% of teachers reported he was helpful to students, and 83% of students said they understood Super Ed’s instructional guidance.
The personalized learning paths also worked largely as designed in the fall pilot. Those students who performed well enough to move on to more challenging activities found those activities difficult, as designed; students who were routed to support activities and help found them, in general, easier.
Finally, After the Storm teachers made good use of game data provided via our dashboard for formative assessment.
- 81% of summer teachers used the dashboard—and all found it very easy, easy, or moderately easy to use.
- 84% of dashboard users used it extensively—at least once a day and most several times a day, an extremely positive finding for busy summer teachers.
- Teachers used the dashboard for a variety of purposes, including managing students and classes, and viewing progress through the game—but a substantial two-thirds (67%) used it daily or several times a day to see how students were performing on the CCSS. The Games and Learning survey revealed that only 29% of teacher respondents more broadly use digital games to conduct formative assessments of standards-based curriculum or skills or to ”monitor students’ learning during the game” and fewer than half (43%) use the built-in assessments that came with their digital games. In contrast, most After the Storm teachers made excellent use of the dashboard as a formative assessment resource.
As learning games increasingly address and assess important learning goals and provide that information to teachers and students in user-friendly ways, more educators will see the benefits of using data from these games to guide their classroom instruction.
Games and Learning, Joan Ganz Cooney Center @ Sesame Workshop (2014, July 23), Survey: Teachers, Games and Assessing Students http://www.gamesandlearning.org/2014/07/23/survey-teachers-games-and-assessing-students/
Education Week Research Center (2014), From Adoption to Practice—Teacher Perspectives on the Common Core: Findings from a National Survey of Teachers.
Levine, M. (2014, July 23), Playful Learning and Rigorous Assessment: Can We Level-Up the Common Core? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-levine/playful-learning-and-rigo_b_5611719.html
Classroom, Inc. internal report (2014), Summer 2014: After the Storm Experiences.