Bill MacKenty

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Games and assessment: a closer look

Posted in Games in education on 02 - February 2006 at 05:39 PM (18 years ago). 216 views.

Assessment is critical. It’s one thing to ask a few questions, or just trust that “they’re learning” but it’s another to really measure enduring understandings.  With the rise of No Child Left Behind, and state standardized testing, this becomes even more important.

Of course, it’s slightly more complicated than this. If we want basic understandings, we use basic assessments. If we are aiming for deeper understandings, we use more complex instruments.

Again, we return to our learning objectives.

Are we looking for simple understandings? Use a simple quiz, true/false, multiple choice, etc…

Are we looking for complex understandings? How about machinima, or an interactive website? Perhaps a documentary project? Maybe a presentation to some younger students? An art project? Perhaps they could put on a small play, dressing up as different pieces of cargo which travel around the world (if we stick with our example)? 

The thing of it is, simple assessments are easier to measure. But technology, as a rule - confers complex understandings…thus requiring more sophisticated assessment tools.

1) When you use games in education, you must use good assessment.
2) Assessments should be “displayable” - if you do a play, or some live project, “webify” it and share it.
3) Make sure assessments answer your original questions!

Example: My learning goal is to teach a class of 7th grade students the role of sea commerce in the mid to late 1700’s. We’ll use a documentary-style machinima…this involves taking 40 or 50 screen-shots from our game (we’ll use Sid Meier’s Pirates) and then record ourselves speaking about different events in the game.  We can then upload this to a website, share it on a CD, etc…We’ll ask students to answer 10 different questions related to our learning objectives.

QUESTION 4: What are some teaching techniques?

If we just put a kid in front of a computer game, wait an hour, and expect something magical to happen, we will be sorely disappointed.  There


be some learning, but it will be unstructured, and difficult to assess.

However, if we build an instructional framework around the game, we are able to guide the learning activity.  I’ve found this is true for learning activities involving TV’s, movies, and even field trips…the better the guiding (or structure), the more the children can organize their thinking around something (I’ll talk about to much instructional design in just a moment).

Here are some strategies:

1) Put a list of questions and a pencil next to each student. Questions are linked to gameplay and your learning objectives.
2) Begin the lesson with a brief question period. Ask more questions than you answer. Encourage students to develop questions related to the content material. Write the questions on the board. At the end of the lesson, spend at least 10 full minutes answering the questions.
3) Working in teams of 2, have students solve a puzzle related to the content (a fill in the blank puzzle would work).
4) Use a rubric for an oral presentation related to the content material.
5) Ask students to spectacularly fail. Ask them why they failed. be very specific.
6) Make a guide for a new player - top 6 great strategies, or top 10 helpful hints.
7) Ask students to make a FAQ about the content material.

The key point with all these strategies is to develop an


.  If you are a teacher, and you know what you are doing, you should be able to fan the flames of active interest. I’m sad to say it would not be very difficult to kill the fun in a game by picking it apart to the point where children were not able to enjoy the game as a whole.  We are just asking them to think about it.

A brief word about to much structure. One of the really cool things about games is they are fun.  We need to balance this fun energy with our responsibilities as professional educators.