New Design Lab Will Help Educators Use Video Games to Get Real-Time Feedback on Student Progress

Filed in: Games, Schools

Filed by Sarah Jackson


Photo courtesy of Institute of Play.

7.10.12 | A new video game design lab will develop game-based tools to measure student learning on state standards and 21st-century workforce skills such as systems thinking, perseverance and creative problem solving.

The Games, Learning, and Assessment Lab (GLASS Lab), run by the nonprofit group Institute of Play, launched with $10.3 million in grants from the MacArthur Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. GLASS Lab is also supported by Electronic Arts (EA) and the Entertainment Software Association, and will be based at EA’s headquarters in Redwood City, Calif. The lab was introduced last month during the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Designers plan to explore how video games can be effective environments for learning and how these environments can help give teachers and parents important feedback on how well students are progressing toward learning goals – like those established in the Common Core State Standards.

The lab plans to modify popular video game titles as well as create new games. It will make these products available to middle and high school students, school districts, and families at little or no cost.

“We need projects that will work with students and speak to them in their native language - digital media,” Robert Torres, senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said in a release (pdf). “Through game-based learning, students will be challenged, and teachers and parents can get real-time feedback on student progress.”

Experts say that unlike traditional measurement tools, video games are by nature designed to measure progress since learning happens, and is captured, in the gaming experience itself.

“Video games are data rich environments designed to provide ongoing feedback to players,” said Katie Salen, the Institute of Play’s executive director. “Tapping into this richness has the potential to radically alter the way we approach both teaching and learning.”

And Salen doesn’t just speak theoretically. She and her team at the Institute of Play have put this kind of theory into action at New York City’s Quest to Learn school and the recently opened ChicagoQuest.

At these schools, educators have worked on radically reimagining what a school can look like with features of game design – learning to collaborate, for example, or solving complex problems – at the center. 

In this model, students are given challenges as part of the curriculum that they have to work together to solve over time. Lessons become “quests.” And instead of regular old math and English class, students work together on interdisciplinary courses with such titles as Codeworlds and Sports for the Mind.

“That’s the way games work,” Salen said in a recent interview. “They provide interesting problem spaces that are impossible to solve right away and you actually have to build skills and knowledge in order to figure them out.”

For more on games-based learning, watch John Seeley Brown and Constance Steinkuehler Squire’s conversation at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

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