Equity in Digital Games

EdTech, Learner Experience, Learning, Learning Design, Online & Blended, Platforms & Data, PreK-12

Increasingly, educational games are a part of the school day for students across the U.S. From games that help students with math computation to learning how to code, there is a game for just about everything.

In fact, the “number of American teachers using games in classrooms–particularly with younger students–has doubled over the past six years, according to a large survey conducted by Speak Up that measured national ed-tech use. In a 2014 survey, it was reported that 78% of teachers use games in the classroom.

However, not all games are created equal, as many games require that students have access to a device at home or a paid subscription. Many games are also not reflective of the population that is playing them or include characters that they can relate to. Despite the fact that more and more people have devices and access to broadband, this digital divide in access to high-quality educational games for all types of learners from different backgrounds still exists.

Classroom, Inc., a “non-profit dedicated to bringing innovative learning games to students and teachers in high-poverty communities,” has been working to address this digital gaming divide. They believe that hands-on project-based learning enhances students’ skills and prepares them for the workplace, and that when students are given meaningful tasks with realistic consequences, they are proud to own their learning and more likely to succeed in school, college and career.

Classroom, Inc. has created a game that allows students to experience these real-world realities while also addressing Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts (ELA). The game designed for middle schoolers, After the Stormis currently used in over 80 classrooms.

From Classroom, INC. website

Teachers receive training on the game and are able to collect meaningful data that can be used to benchmark student progress in English Language Arts (ELA).  A recent report from Classroom, Inc. shows that students who used After the Storm exceeded expected annual reading growth by 160%. Teacher helped to inform the design and several remain on their teacher advisory board to help with continued iterations.

What Makes This Game Different?

Real-World Tasks. In the game, students assume the role of an editor and are given real-world challenges. As they work to solve problems and interact with co-workers, they must complete relevant assignments and tasks that require reading and writing. Students express that they want to try to figure out how to read what is said because they care about doing a good job as the lead editor in the game. Listen as students describe their experiences playing the game:

Real-time Data. Embedded in the game are individual student assessments and an educator dashboard to check-in how students are progressing.

Resources: A 400-page educator guide, student workbooks and a classroom set of nonfiction books.

Educator Training. Each teacher receives customized coaching and support as they use the game with students in their classroom.

Student Agency. In the game, students get to make decisions and lead. Students choose their characters and get to craft the voice and message that they want to communicate with their team.

Lisa Holton, President of Classroom, Inc., believes that these elements of the game and level of student agency and engagement has been a big part its success. She told us that students feel they can really see themselves facing some of the challenges that the characters in the game face and find that it will be valuable to them in their future careers. She also emphasized that the game is personalized, so each student moves through the different challenges as they progress in their readiness, again busting the typical “one-size fits all” digital game approach.

Equity in educational materials is an issue we need to address head-on–not only in the delivery of and who has access to materials, but also in the design.

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Emily Liebtag

Emily Liebtag

Emily Liebtag is a Project Manager at Getting Smart. Follow her on Twitter: @EmilyLiebtag.

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