3 Approaches to Student Engagement in Educational Gaming

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One of the major challenges facing the digital transformation of K-12 education is updating instruction based on time-tested educational pedagogy that first emerged in print-only format for delivery on modern digital devices.

Balancing the need for greater digital student engagement while adhering to decades of data-proven learning theory creates a dynamic that no single approach to educational gaming can fully accommodate. Different educational gaming experiences delivered in multiple mediums (apps, PC/Mac, website-based) require widely varied approaches to student engagement.

Many of the K-12 game-based learning experiences from McGraw-Hill Education follow three general approaches to student engagement. You can find these same approaches in the standard array of educational games being produced by many K-12 educational technology companies.

1. Integrated learning games: More traditional game-like learning experiences where learning often occurs as a byproduct of engagement. New skills and learning objectives may be present as the narrative rather than as the dominant student objective. Account customization is limited and there is little opportunity or need for representation of the 'self' (i.e. profiles, customization) within the experience. The Word Wonderland and Grammar Wonderland apps for grades K-5 utilize this approach to reinforce specific literacy and reading skills for younger students.

2. Hybrid gamified learning systems: Elements of gaming permeate the complete learning experience in style and theme, but instructional activities may be distinctly different than game-like interactions. Points-based motivation systems the learning components to reward/motivation opportunities. Personalized profiles and accounts establish learning advancement as a form of virtual currency within the gaming environment. SRA FLEX Literacy uses a daily student gaming experience combined with print and project-based learning.

3. Virtual experience learning: Gaming elements are continuous and present in both learning activities and rewards/transitions. Point/reward systems are present in most activities. Rewards and gaming elements may be deeply worked into the content or thematic narrative of the learning experience. Avatars may be used and student-to-student and student-to-teacher social interaction may occur within games through chats, message boards, or public knowledge areas. Planet Turtle fully integrates the gaming and learning experience and includes a full array of integrated user personalization and communication options. The CODiE award-winning McGraw-Hill Education Practice Series provides a game-themed virtual learning environment for college subjects including Marketing and Spanish language.

There are numerous other ways to increase student engagement in educational gaming environments. Mainstream gaming elements such as motion-sensitivity and player-to-player global networking are now also starting to work their way into the education market.

Additional resources on gaming in education:

  • Games for a Digital Age: K-12 Market Map and Investment Analysis, by John Richards, Leslie Stebbins, and Kurt Moellering.
  • Teaching with the World Peace Game, a TEDTalk by John Hunter
  • Category: Educational Video Games (list) on Wikipedia.org

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