Relative Advantage of Using Digital Games for Content Area Learning

In an effort to increase student engagement and performance, our high school initiated a game based learning program in our 7th-12th grade basic skills class in language arts and math a few years ago.  What, if any, are the advantages of game-based learning?

According to a Yale study of 500 second graders, “short video games designed to activate specific neurocognitive processing systems can serve as brain warm-up calisthenics to improve cognitive performance immediately following the video game” (Banville 2016). If in fact this proves true for students of all ages, then implementing video game warm ups into any lesson could assist students in getting ready for the task ahead.  Just as an athlete stretches and completes a few warm up laps before running a race, students must mentally prepare themselves before embarking upon a difficult lesson.  Could playing a few video games assist in this warm up? “The team found that by using short, 5-minute games before the full lesson, students did not only better on the training games over time but also did better on lessons that followed, but had nothing to do with the subject matter of the game.” (Banville 2016).  According to Dr. Bruce Wexler, professor emeritus of psychiatry at Yale, the games increased focus, self control, and memory (Banville 2016) among the participants.

Focus, self control, and memory are three cognitive skills vital to learning. However, what does the research show about educational programs based solely on playing games? In the Wiki Space Gami-fied, video games are evaluated for their value in teaching problem solving skills based on real world problems or events. Students engage in thinking games revolving around subjects such as world hunger and genocide in order to foster critical thinking skills.

While thinking about game-based learning specific to my content area of world geography, the games Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? immediately came to mind.  Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is based on a 1990s PBS television show for kids. According to the product description on Amazon, “Carmen Sandiego is up to her thieving high-jinks again. While children travel the globe to track her down they learn about geography, history and world cultures.” This high-interest game could definitely increase student engagement.  

Oregon Trail is another game for the PC.  Oregon Trail’s gamemakers entice kids to “travel the trails and make history come alive! Kids will build real-life decision-making and problem-solving skills as they choose their wagon party and supplies, read maps, plan their route and guide their team through the wilderness. Develop solutions to help your friends and family survive the dangers of the long journey including raging rivers, buffalo stampedes, sickness, and starvation. Discover a learning adventure that’s greater than fiction—about real people with real dreams facing and overcoming real challenges. Build decision-making and problem-solving skills as you experience the challenge of traveling the trail! My own children played these games growing up and seemed to enjoy the challenge of the game while acquiring some basic geography and history skills.

In his blog Free Technology for Teachers, Richard Byrne writes a post entitled Ten Interactive Geography Games and Maps. While some of these games are simple map location type games, others such as Placefy “present players with an image of a city square, buildings, and other famous landmarks. Players then have to choose the correct answer from four answer choices. Playing the game is simple, but the images as questions make it a challenging game” (Byrne 2010). Similarly, Geoguessr is a web-based geographic discovery game designed by Anton Wallén, a Swedish IT consultant, released on 9 May 2013. Geoguessr takes advantage of Google Earth’s street view locations and requires players to guess their location in the world using only the clues visible. Geoguessr can be played as a one or two player game. After students make their guesses based on the clues, a map opens with the exact location, the location of the student’s guess, and the  distance from the correct location all placed on the map.  These visual images are a relative advantage when teaching basic mapping skills.

An article on the TeachThought website, 6 Basic Benefits of Game-Based Learning (2013), lists six benefits of game-based learning:

  • Increases A Child’s Memory Capacity
  • Computer & Simulation Fluency
  • Helps With Fast Strategic Thinking & Problem-Solving
  • Develops Hand-Eye Coordination
  • Beneficial Specifically For Children With Attention Disorders
  • Skill-Building (e.g. map reading)

Clearly game-based learning can offer a relative advantage over traditional classroom instruction. Students may be more engaged in the lesson and cognitive skills can be honed. Game-based learning can also improve critical thinking and problem solving skills, both integral to 21st century education.

Resources:

6 Basic Benefits Of Game-Based Learning. (2013, March 15). Retrieved from http://www.teachthought.com/the-future-of-learning/technology/6-basic-benefits-of-game-based-learning/

Banville, L. (2016, October 1). Brain Trainers May Kick Start Learning in Students. Retrieved from http://www.gamesandlearning.org/2016/10/01/brain-trainers-may-kick-start-learning-in-students/

Byrne, R. (2010, February 22). Ten Interactive Geography Games and Maps. Retrieved from http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2010/02/ten-interactive-geography-games-and.html

gamifi-ED – home. (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2016, from http://gamifi-ed.wikispaces.com/

 

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Acceptable Use Policies

If you teach, work, or attend any type of educational institution in the US, then you probably use some form of technology every day. In Scholastic’s Using Technology article, it is stated, “There are many benefits to using the Internet in elementary and intermediate education, but it is important for you to harness this powerful tool so that it is effective and safe for student use.” (“Why Have a Technology Policy,” n.d.) With the integration of technology into educational systems, it has become necessary for schools to write and implement an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP).

An Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) is a formal document outlining appropriate use and maintenance of school owned technology devices, personal computers, mobile devices, and the use of the Internet for school purposes. Common Sense Media explains, “Similar to a Terms of Service document, an AUP should define publicly what is deemed acceptable behavior from users of hardware and information systems such as the Internet and any applicable networks.” (1-to-1 Essentials,” n.d.) These policies can be found in parent/student handbooks, faculty handbooks, and on school or district websites.  Students, teachers, and staff are required to sign the document each year stating that they will abide by the school’s policies regarding technology. Many school districts have safety nets such as anti virus software and web filters, but these precautions can still have gaps.  Educational institutions have the responsibility to protect the personal safety and privacy of educators and students. That is why an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) is so important.

Acceptable Use Policies can vary in content but most policies contain similar rules and guidelines. Some school’s AUPs may be only a few pages long, while other’s may encompass over 20 pages.  Regardless of the length, a thorough AUP should include:

  • The institution’s mission and philosophy statement
  • A definition of technology as it applies to the educational institution
  • The school’s level of responsibility in protecting personal devices (both hardware and software)
  • Both acceptable and unacceptable use of technology
  • Specific Internet usage guidelines
  • Rules on the use of social media
  • Guidelines on digital citizenship
  • Rules regarding cyberbullying
  • Rules regarding passwords and sharing of computer codes
  • Rules regarding copyright laws
  • Expectations of behavior regarding network accounts
  • Guidelines regarding the downloading and installation of software on school-owned devices
  • Consequences for not following the AUP

In addition, the educational institution should clearly define plagiarism and the consequences for representing any other work or idea as one’s own.  Not properly citing sources is a form of plagiarism.

Some examples of Acceptable Use Policies:

Calvary Christian Academy, Philadelphia, PA (p.21)

This is the AUP for the school where I teach. It is limited to one page in the handbook and while it contains most of the components of a good AUP, it is rather general in nature.  Our IT department is extremely protective and cautious when it comes to technology use at our school. Student access to the internet is limited and BYOD is only considered under special circumstances.  I expect our AUP to evolve over the next few years as technology use becomes a more regular and intentional part of our curriculum.

Neshaminy School District, Langhorne, PA

This is the AUP for the school district I attended for elementary school through high school.  It is a very detailed 23 page document.  Internet use is clearly discussed including a section defining key terms and specific laws and responsibilities are explained in detail. It is one of the most content specific AUPs that I found.

Lower Moreland School District, Huntington Valley, PA

For a rather large school district in my area, this is a rather brief AUP. Most components of a typical AUP are included, but no detail or explanation is included.  I did note below that they have a separate BYOD policy.

Holy Ghost Preparatory School, Bensalem, PA (p.52-54)

This AUP is from a local Catholic prep school. It is included in their student handbook. It is fairly brief but clearly covers all components of a typical AUP.  Consequences for misuse are clearly defined.

Delaware County Christian School, Delaware County, PA

This AUP is from a school similar is size and scope to my own.  The AUP clearly defines the school’s values when it comes to technology use.  I did find it interesting that they do not support student owned devices at this time. They make it clear that their policies on technology are still a work in progress.

Finally, with more and more schools implementing bring your own device (BYOD) initiatives, some districts have added a BYOD document.  One example would be Lower Moreland School District in Pennsylvania.

LMSD BYOD Policy

Resources:

1-to-1 Essentials – Acceptable Use Policies | Common Sense Media. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/1to1/aups

Education World: Getting Started on the Internet: Acceptable Use Policies. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/curr093.shtml

Why Have a Technology Policy in Your School or Library? | Librarians | Scholastic.com. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.scholastic.com/librarians/tech/techpolicy.htm