Amid the flurry of debate over high-stakes testing, one factor about tests’ purpose keeps getting lost: telling teachers how their students are doing. Many critics of federally or state-mandated testing regimens assert that teachers assess their students not just in five-hour stretches, but constantly.
Enter the video game test. Researchers and tech companies are increasingly collaborating to take already existing games and use them to assess students’ skills or build new ones to capture data for teachers to use.
The image of the pencil-and-paper test is already fading, as the Common Core standards and the move to digital are pushing more and more assessments to the computer. That means more internet connectivity and more computers and iPads in classrooms for teachers to potentially use for their own teaching purposes.
Video games offer opportunities to understand students’ abilities in realms that typical in-school testing approaches struggle to accurately measure. For example, the idea of grit has gained importance as a crucial skill students should develop, but it’s easy to say you’re teaching students grit and harder to prove it. Video games and the digital play environment can offer an opportunity to assess students' “grittiness” and help them improve through challenging play.
Read on for examples of a few tests breaking new ground on testing students’ academic abilities.
The name of this game, released last Friday by the ed tech research hub GlassLab, is actually a cover, as it is a modification of Plants vs. Zombies, a popular commercial game that pits a homeowner and their army of plants against brain-eating zombies. But research has found that students’ problem-solving abilities could be accurately measured by the tactics they use in Plants vs. Zombies. GlassLab created a dashboard for teachers to accompany the renamed game, providing key data points about their students’ performance.
Don’t let the interface of this game, from Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, fool you. It’s not really about making posters for the Fall Fun Fair. But what it’s actually testing might elude you on the first try: how well you seek out and accept criticism.
After creating a poster for the fair stand of their choice, students get an opportunity to receive either positive or negative feedback from a group of animals (also of their choosing). Then, they have a chance to redesign their poster based on that feedback. The researchers who created the game found that students who sought out negative feedback learned more and spent more time thinking about it. Teachers can use the game to help coach students on choices that will improve their learning.
While many of the educational video games focus on the ever-elusive non-cognitive skills, this one, also from GlassLab, focuses on teaching students ratios. Ratios and proportional reasoning are particularly tricky for students to understand, but are essential to reaching higher levels of learning later on.
“If you don’t figure it out early on, it really limits you as you move through the years,” said Michelle Riconscente, the director of learning and assessment for GlassLab. In the game, the player takes on the role of ranchers feeding animals with bizarre dietary needs, which requires students to figure out the ratio of one food item to another. In studies, the game significantly improved students’ ratio-solving abilities.
Designed by GameDesk, Dojo incorporates gameplay and cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to assess and help students improve how they control their emotions and physical response. The game requires players to complete different challenges in a dojo, from a sauna to the halls between rooms.
In order to succeed, students must remain calm, as measured by physical responses like heart rate. For example, if their heart rate increases, their ability to run quickly down a hallway away from an opponent decreases. Only if it remains steady, can they escape. The game tests students’ stress response and helps them learn to regulate it.
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