Dr. Bill Daggett, Raymond J. McNulty, Brian M. Shulman
September 9, 2015
Online and digital delivery of K-12 learning, including digital game-based learning (DGBL), is exponentially growing in usage and in functionality. Teachers, who bring hands-on knowledge and expertise to the table, typically welcome a sense of involvement in strategic decision making from administrators. Educational leaders, however, need to be drivers, not passengers, on this journey and guide the evolution of digitally enhanced learning so they can shape and direct its emergence and usage. Both teachers and educational leaders can then use DGBL to focus on their ultimate goal of student growth and achievement. Students can and should be drivers in the process, too. Professional educators need to “own” DGBL so they can make their own larger organizational agendas part of DGBL's emergence, implementation, and usage.
We, as educators, need to shape DGBL to optimize its potential
to help students learn, not merely let it shape us.
Dr. Bill Daggett, Chairman/Founder, ICLE
However — more specifically — how should we shape DGBL?
Three nationally recognized leadership organizations: the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE)/Successful Practices Network (SPN), LTS Education Systems/Stride Academy(LTS), and Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) have recently formed a partnership to identify best practices in implementing DGBL in the classroom. For the purposes of this briefing,findings to date will be aggregated into the following five key points for educational leaders to consider as they seek ways to embrace the power and potential of DGBL.
1. Efficiency/effectiveness. Consider such variables as implementation time/cost vs. value to students, not just in DGBL’s ability to advance academic achievement, but also in its potential to:
Installing an online learning system to address the academic curriculum can be a useful delivery tool. It can also, however, be an expensive and disruptive proposition for schools and an overwhelming change and (at least initially) challenge for teachers. DGBL is a less expensive and less “intrusive” (and more manageable) entry point into digital learning, yet it can still address the academic content and skills to help raise student achievement. Quality DGBL should provide foundational skill sequencing and instantaneous, targeted feedback to students on academic mastery. It should also be “agnostically” accessible by students — on computers or tablets.
Change in our schools needs to be evolutionary, not revolutionary. DGBL enables schools to be evolutionary in a cost-effective way.
2. Grades vs. rewards and recognition. DGBL provides learning mechanisms that separate “getting marks” from a personalized and internalized sense of accomplishment (e.g., earning high scores, medals, and badges) and for honest effort) to reinforce the notion that “just trying matters”; it’s not all about getting an “A.” Confidence building is an important ingredient — and outcome — of DGBL-fostered learning. Getting a chance to win against an opponent, one’s own “top score” record, or just the game itself builds confidence and encourages further engagement. Overwhelmingly supportive research-based evidence attests to the motivational value of DGBL.
The true incentive [of students for learning] should be a feeling of accomplishment,
confidence, and capability. That can be difficult to manage
when learning is defined as a test score.
– Ray McNulty, It’s Not Us Against Them (2009, ICLE)
3. “Cognitive/logistical complexity” and overload. Expecting too much/too soon doesn’t equate to more or better learning; students (and adults) don’t like to feel overwhelmed when mastering something new. Learning and growth happen more readily and naturally (and less stressfully) when digested in small “chunks” at the learner’s own pace. Simpler and less involved DGBL with limits on performance tasks and variables is well suited to learning in the classroom — perhaps more so than extended and complex digital games that can spread over hours and even days. Keep it simple and easy to use and don’t overreach, especially initially. Leave World of Warcraft for potential enjoyment at home.
Additionally, consider the challenges of implanting any initiative — digital or otherwise. Students and especially teachers need to implement and utilize DGBL with minimal anxiety, stress, and disruption to existing classroom practices, processes, and priorities. Both groups — young and old — may experience initial techno-phobias. Teachers may initially feel overburdened with yet one more requirement and “new thing” to do. Individual students and staff members may need more coaching, leeway, or time to embrace DGBL. Those natural and predictable human factors are one more variable to anticipate, consider, and accommodate before, during, and after implementation. Encouragement, patience, reassurance, and “keeping things simple” at first will likely be helpful.
There are solutions that won't disrupt much at all — and will actually integrate rather seamlessly
in complete alignment with a district’s or a teacher's existing curriculum — and that is
key to successful implementation. Innovations such as our new StrideXchange
will provide a DGBL platform that even allows teachers to
leverage their own instructional resources.
– Brian Shulman, Founder, LTS
Schools and districts have already discovered that after ample time and experience have familiarized their students and staff with simpler, user-friendly DGBL it is possible to “graduate” to more complex forms of DGBL. This may include students creating their own learning games as is being fostered in the promising new partnership that LTS and SNHU have initiated. (Refer to the Summary for more information.)
4. Purposeful, but student focused. The love of play is shared by all ages but fun is often experienced and defined differently by students than by adults. Make sure that DGBL is kid-friendly and also age-appropriate: play has traditionally happened everywhere and throughout life — except as a regular element in the classrooms. Traditional types of learning games used at school (e.g., Jeopardy, spelling bees, 20 Questions, crossword puzzles, etc.) may not be as much fun for younger and older students as adults might want to believe. Leverage the human trait of seeking fun, but seek DGBL resources that kids and teenagers will enjoy. Have students “test drive” options.
5. Brain research. Playing IS learning, in part because human brains are “plug and play”: without first making right or wrong judgments, they immediately react to stimuli and actively respond accordingly. For example:
Cognition also adjusts to suit the context and needs of individual learners; some students learn best when playing with or in competition with others. Other students learn better by playing alone (e.g., against the program or trying to beat their own previous high scores or current goal).
Brain research explains the impact of engagement on brain function, including studies on brain health by neuropsychologists such as Dr. Paul Nussbaum, Adjunct Associate Professor of Neurological Surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and an advisor to ICLE, who has concluded that:
. . . mental stimulation . . . [enhances] neurogenesis (new brain cell development) for [brains] exposed to enriched environments that include novel and complex stimuli [and] . . . environments that
provide novel and complex stimuli are those most likely to be deemed “enriched” with
the greatest likelihood of promoting “brain reserve.” Brain reserve refers
to the development of increased cellular connections (synapse) . . .
– Paul David Nussbaum, Ph.D., Building a Brain Health Environment in the School
Build Brain Healthy Environment
In short, effective DGBL is highly nutritious “brain food.”
DGBL is one of the most promising aspects of the growing and undeniably effective shift toward implementing and leveraging digital technology tools in today’s schools and classrooms. Educational leaders need to be part of (and shape) its use.
In early 2015 LTS announced an important partnership with SNHU, the first ever Stridebuilder Game Design and Development Program, an opportunity to guide, advise, and support today’s and tomorrow’s educators in the effective uses of DGBL-enhanced instructional methods and learning. (Refer to the press release http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/02/prweb12527638.htm.) This promising initiative will reinforce the notion of how starting off slow and simple can allow educators to, in due course, take DGBL to a whole new level of student-developed games aligned to curriculum and learning goals, yet taking place in a project-based learning scenario.
Peter Leahy is chief engineer aboard the container ship APL China. When he's not there, Peter is pursuing his online MS in Data Analytics - and his lifelong passion for conservation.
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