Games in the classroom–is it a fad or is it here to stay?

A recent report from Project Tomorrow, a global education nonprofit organization dedicated to the empowerment of student voices in education, found that that in 2015, 48 percent of teachers used games as a part of instruction–up from 23 percent of teachers in 2010. Increasingly, educators are using computer games and mobile applications to teach new concepts, reinforce materials, and re-engage students.

Should You Buy Into the Hype?

While using games and mobile apps in the classroom has been shown to re-engage disinterested students and improve learning outcomes, some in the education sphere view the increasing digitalization of the classroom as more of a distraction than improvement.

“Games in the classroom are sometimes trivialized,” said Paul Howard-Jones, an expert in neuroscience and education at the University of Bristol in England. “They’re just about making learning fun. But I think that trivializes their serious potential. We’re really missing a trick if we don’t take it seriously. Learning can feel like you’re riding a roller coaster.”

Re-engaging Lost Learners

Games and apps not only make learning more fun, but they also allow learning to become more personalized. Instead of an entire class working on one lesson, students struggling with a concept can use an app individually or in a small group to reinforce that concept. Teachers are able to cater lesson plans to different speeds and learning styles–something that was more difficult before the integration of technology into the classroom.

“Many students who neglect school and get in trouble all the time aren’t like that because they are dumb or dislike learning–they just don’t see the purpose of learning the subjects that are taught in class,” according to Yu-kai Chou, gamification expert and author of “Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards.”

With companies releasing education-focused versions of popular games, teachers are able to refocus disinterested students and work with the students on their level, with material that they are interested in. Earlier this year, Microsoft released the early access version of Minecraft: Education Edition. The game allows up to 30 students to strengthen their collaboration and problem solving skills by building and playing in a new world together–block by block. By integrating games students play outside of school into the classroom, students become more engaged and naturally interested in the topic at hand.

Improving Retention

With the increasing sophistication of educational apps, students are able to learn and retain more from digital learning. A 2014 report from SRI Education, a nonprofit, independent research center, found that students who were repeatedly exposed to digital, education-focused games outperformed students not exposed to games.

In years past, computer games were used for fun, but not substantive learning. The technology used for actual learning was little more than videos that students watched. However, today’s technology is interactive and engaging. From apps that allow students to explore the human body to using World of Warcraft to teach English Language Arts, apps and games are engaging students in new ways and promoting critical problem solving skills and collaboration.

“Games have the amazing ability to keep people engaged for a long time, build relationships and trust between people, and develop their creative potentials,” Chou explained.

Rewarding Skill Mastery

Gamification and digital learning also allow teachers to reward skill mastery, rather than just punish poor performance. Instead of giving a student a C on a test, teachers can have students repeat levels in a game until they have mastered the skill. This allows struggling students to avoid poor grades and instead focus on skill mastery. Additionally, in many of the classroom game programs, teachers can see how often a student has repeated a level or a game and can reward students for their perseverance and dedication.

Increased Student Data

Games in the classroom also provide teachers and parents with a wealth of data. From monitoring how many attempts a student needs to complete a level to seeing how a student is performing compared to classmates in real time, data gleaned from games and apps can help teachers and parents understand what help or additional instruction a student may need.

“According to a recent parent poll the equality campaign did, nine out of 10 parents said that they rely on data to understand how their child is progressing in school,” said Bernice Butler, senior associate of policy and advocacy, Data Quality Campaign.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs