Instructors Observe Engagement and Motivation After Students Played Variant: Limits

The long-anticipated wait for the results of a year-long game-based learning validation study is finally over, and the findings reveal that calculus game Variant: Limits™ had a positive impact on student engagement, motivation and knowledge acquisition. Teachers from Norway, Poland, Portugal, Italy and Greece recently shared their feedback and observations during a webinar, hosted by European Schoolnet.

Here is the webinar replay:

Teachers involved in the pilot study were charged with implementing Triseum’s Variant: Limits into their classrooms, challenging both themselves and their students to experiment with this alternative educational model. Triseum provided professional development, tools and support for the study.

Outcomes proved the game’s ability to engage and motivate students in ways teachers hadn’t seen before. During the webinar, instructors were asked the following questions and provided some insightful take-aways:

How did you connect Variant: Limits to goals of your lesson plans?

  • Students could explore the calculus concepts in pairs, which fostered collaboration.
  • Students created their own presentations after experiencing the game, which formalized their understanding of the content and furthered their learning by teaching others.

How did you use Variant: Limits to engage students?

  • The game has the ability to draw students in through its attention-holding graphic design. Students self-organized into study groups and initiated a dialog about calculus without being asked to do so.
  • Students socialized in new ways (especially quieter students) and built self-confidence.

Were students were more involved in mathematics following the implementation of the game?

  • Yes! Students developed an investigative spirit, critical thinking skills and more enthusiasm for calculus.
  • Students found that Variant: Limits made practice more fun.

What lessons did you learn from using Variant: Limits in your classrooms?

  • The biggest impact was on students whose attention tends to wander and students who don’t typically earn top scores.
  • The student vs. game mentality created a positive challenge and students’ skills evolved into long-term mathematical knowledge.

How has your class changed after Variant: Limits?

  • Students became more active researchers, learned how to exercise their imaginations, and gained more independence and ownership in the learning experience.
  • They now have a solid understanding of how to construct models, test ideas and evaluate results.

Both the executive summary and the complete report, which also followed teachers and students using Triseum’s art history game, ARTé: Mecenas™, are available here. The study was conducted in partnership with Triseum and European Schoolnet and the results were evaluated by the University of Würzberg.

Four Studies That Make the Case for Game-Based Learning

The case for integrating game-based learning into school curriculum is not new.  Over the last 30 years, there has been an immense amount of game based learning research demonstrating  the benefits of educational games. Here are a few studies that have uncovered a variety of advantages associated with using games to improve student performance and achievement.

Digital Games, Design and Learning: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis In 2014, SRI Education, an organization that analyzes different approaches to education, conducted a meta-analysis of studies on the use of educational computer games between 2000-2012. Although studies on educational video games began as early as the 1980’s, the SRI researchers focused on the first decade of the 21st century due to the tremendous advances in gaming technology that occurred.

The SRI meta-analysis found that “digital games significantly enhanced student learning.” The game based learning research report also highlighted evidence that the more sessions that students play educational games, the greater the advantage they gain over their peers who are not provided games as part of their course.

The analysis also investigated the hypothesis that games encouraging multi-player collaboration would be more effective than single-player games. The analysis did not find strong evidence that collaborative games were more effective than single-player games. It found, however, that collaborative competitive games and single-player games that lacked a competitive element were both more effective than single-player competitive games.

While other game based learning research studies have found that “non-game instruction” would enhance the educational effects of the gameplay, the meta-analysis did not find evidence that additional instruction made a significant difference.   

Clark, D., Tanner-Smith, E., & Killingsworth, S. (2014). Digital games, design and learning: A systematic review and meta-analysis [Executive Summary]. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International. Retrieved from -and-learning-executive_summary.pdf.

The National Survey of Digital Game Use Among Teachers A survey of 513 K-8 teachers conducted in 2014, showed that a majority (55 percent) use games at least once a week to teach their curriculum. When asked what the teachers believed was the most valuable effect of games, 55 percent cited that games have ability to motivate struggling, low-performing or special education students. In addition, nearly half (47 percent) of teachers reported that low-performing students benefited the most from using games while only 15 percent reported that high-performing students benefited from the games. Overall, 30% of the teachers said all students benefit equally.

The survey not only showed that teachers are already seizing opportunities to introduce game-based learning to students, but that they wish more opportunities existed. Teachers agree (45 percent) that even commercial games, that are not specifically designed with educational outcomes in mind, can serve an educational purpose. However, 80 percent of the surveyed teachers would like more games that align with their curriculum standards. A good example is Variant: Limits which aligns with standard pre-calculus and calculus curriculum and National standards.

Joan Ganz Cooney Center (2013). Teachers surveyed on using digital games in class: A games and learning research report. New York, NY.

Substantial Integration of Typical Educational Games into Extended Curricula: Researchers at Vanderbilt conducted a study on more than 1,000 students in 13 schools across in seven different U.S. states (Alabama, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington D.C.) that produced compelling evidence that games can be helpful in teaching history. As part of the study, each teacher was asked to teach at least one classroom about Jacksonian democracy without the assistance of games and one classroom with the help of 55 different educational video games.

Post-tests featured four multi-choice questions and seven short essay questions about the content covered in the course. The student responses on multi-choice questions were evaluated based on the percentage correct, while the essays were assessed based on both a 0-10 scale of “evidentiary depth and contextualization” about the Jackson presidency as well as the length of the response. Separately, students took an engagement survey that examined both their interest in the subject and their confidence in their understanding of the content.

The greatest observed difference between students in the control group and those who learned the content through games was in reported interest in the subject. Those who played games exhibited much greater enthusiasm for the curriculum.

At first, the results of the post-test did not appear to show a significant difference between those who played games and those who didn’t. However, the study authors noted that the average performance of the game-playing students was brought down dramatically by one outlier classroom that performed much worse than every other classroom (in both conditions). When that classroom was excluded from the evaluation, the advantage gained by game-playing students over the control group was statistically significant.  

Clark D.B., Tanner-Smith E., Hostetler A., Fradkin A., & Polikov V. (2017). Substantial integration of typical educational games into extended curricula. Journal of the Learning Sciences. 27(2), 265-318.

The Power of Play: The Effects of Portal 2 and Lumosity on Cognitive and Noncognitive Skills: In this study, researchers at Florida State University found evidence that a popular video game (Portal 2) did more to bolster certain cognitive skills than a computer program (Luminosity) designed specifically for cognitive training. The study highlights the fact that, like any other type of learning strategy, there is a right way and a wrong way to do game-based learning.

The study featured 77 college students, all of whom were randomly assigned to play one of the two games for eight hours. All of the participants completed pretest questions that assessed problem-solving, spatial skills and persistence. After playing the game for eight hours, they took post-test evaluations.

The study authors hypothesized that players of both games would show improved performance on two distinct problem-solving measures: rule application and cognitive flexibility. They also hypothesized those who played Portal 2 would improve “all three facets of spatial skill: “figural, vista and environmental,” while those who played Luminosity would “only improve their figural and vista skills.”

The study actually found that neither game produced gains in problem-solving skills. However, it did find that those who played Portal 2 showed measurable improvement in two of the three spatial tests (mental rotation test and a virtual spatial navigation assessment), while those who played Luminosity did not display any significant improvement.

Shute, V. J., Ventura, M., Ke F., (2014). The power of play: The effects of Portal 2 and Lumosity on cognitive and noncognitive skills. Computers & Education. 80, 58-67.

Game based learning research for Variant is available here. Additionally a year long game based learning research project that took place in 5 countries in the European Union yielded great results and can be found here.

Must Read Game-Based Learning Books for Your Summer Reading List, Part I

It’s that time of year again, that time when school is winding down and we post summer reading lists so our students stay engaged while working, relaxing, traveling and doing all of the things that summer brings. But summer reading lists are just for students. Summer is the perfect time for us as educators to catch up on those must-reads too.

The sheer number of game-based learning books and resources is on the rise, which is no surprise given the emergence of academic games. Game-based learning can transform the education process through creative, immersive and collaborative experiences. It is the very definition of innovation and it is gaining momentum.

Whether you are just beginning to explore academic gaming trends, making a case for game-based learning at your institution, or using games in your classroom, here are some must reads:

Game-based learning is inspiring teachers and students alike. If you have questions about game-based learning, where it works or how you can get involved, let’s connect at Stay tuned for my summer reading list part II where I’ll include books and resources centered around game-based learning design.

Missed Triseum’s TEDx Talk? Learn Why Game-Based Learning is an Idea Worth Spreading

“Ideas Worth Spreading” – it is the theme of legendary TED talks heard around the world, and it is what inspired my recent game-based learning talk at the TEDx TAMU event, a local version that brought together innovators to discuss, share, explore and connect.

Chances are we all engaged in games early on in our education experiences. Childhood education relies on games to teach and learn, and why not? Games encourage students to try new things, and continue to try until they grasp concepts, not to mention they introduce the element of fun into the learning process.

That said, something happens after Kindergarten when it is decided that games are no longer an effective means, but rather 25 kids sitting in rows with a teacher at the head of the classroom is a better option. This “sage on the stage” model carries through post-secondary education, but instead of 25 kids, we’ve got hundreds of students sitting in large lecture halls in colleges and universities around the world. Effective? Engaging? Motivating? Fun? While I’m not a doctor or psychologist, I think not. Yet this has been the norm for far too many years to count.

Our world is changing. Technology is introducing new and more modern ways to do things. So why are so many classrooms still reliant on the old ways?

There are the naysayers who will argue games don’t belong in the classroom. I don’t prescribe to that. Games are not out to replace the teacher or the tradition, they are simply another medium, like books, videos and study guides designed to help students master a subject. Yet, games bring deeper context to the student. Research tells us games are effective, and students tell us that they are engaging, motivating and fun.

Games have the power to drive subject matter mastery. An example that I think paints a great picture is a 100 meter dash. Imagine you are running a race, and you stop at the 90 meter mark. You don’t finish the race, and in fact you don’t even place because you don’t finish. Yet you completed 90 percent of the track. Now consider this – 90 percent still gets you an A in the classroom. In the real world, we don’t do things at 90 percent, so why is this an acceptable measurement in education?

Let’s explore the effectiveness of games. An IRB approved research study with Triseum and Texas A&M University in Fall 2016 showed that after approximately two hours of playing our art history game, ARTe: Mecenas, students in the experimental group had a knowledge gain of 24.7 percent from pre-test to post-test. That’s almost a 25 percent improvement, and the only differentiator was the game.

In another informal study conducted by a math teacher in Italy, her students played our calculus game, Variant: Limits, and achieved a 100 percent success rate, compared to the previous year’s class who had an 80 percent success rate. Of this year’s students, no one failed, and they even experienced an average grade growth rate of 10 percent compared to students from a year ago. Effective? I think so.

How about the engagement and motivational factors when it comes to games? We have found that when students are assigned our games as homework, they play an average of 10 times between 2-4 hours each time. You would be hard pressed to find another kind of homework assignment that students are so willing to do and even repeat again and again.

I also had a student tell me that she hated calculus. She was paying a tutor $300 per month to keep her engaged and learning. After playing Variant: Limits, her entire attitude shifted. She couldn’t believe how much fun she was having learning. It changed the entire way she looked at math.

There are so many stories just like this, stories of improved learning outcomes, stories where students just can’t get enough of their homework, and stories where students have truly transformed they way think about their courses and their potential for success.

We all start our educational journeys with games, yet that time seems to be short lived. Games have the power to transform the way we teach and learn throughout our advanced years too. Games add value to the learning process. They are effective, they are engaging, they are motivating and they are fun. Now that’s an idea worth spreading.

To listen to my full TEDx Talk, please visit:

Triseum and Tencent Bring Calculus Video Game to Chinese Gaming Market

College Station, TX and Shenzhen, China – June 4, 2018 – A new partnership between Triseum, a U.S. game-based learning innovator, and Tencent, a leading provider of Internet value-added services in China, is opening doors for Chinese learners and gamers. The two organizations are expanding access to Triseum’s Variant: Limits, an academic calculus game that rivals popular entertainment video games in imagination, interactivity, sophistication and suspense.

In a 2017 Atomico report, China was named the “undisputed gamer capital of the world.” Bringing games to this growing market that not only entertain, but also teach is what inspired Triseum and Tencent to collaborate. The Calculus Adventure, as the game will be called in China, brings the notoriously challenging subject to life through immersive game play, enabling students to explore and retain the content on a deeper level. Variant: Limits is already making strides in the U.S. and Europe where it has contributed to improved learning outcomes and even motivated students to play long after they were required to because it was so much fun.

“The growth of gaming on a global scale continues to impress, with China playing a significant role in this market momentum,” said Triseum CEO Andre Thomas, who also was recently named an EdTech Trendsetter finalist. “Tencent has a significant footing in the Chinese video game market, not to mention the insight and drive to expand serious games. We are excited to work alongside the Tencent team to elevate game-based learning on a world-wide stage.”

Tencent is licensing Variant: Limits from Triseum with the goal to foster engaging and experiential learning environments across China. The game, which won Gold at the International Serious Play Awards, relies on strict learning efficacy backed by research. Combating static learning experiences, it empowers students to practice college-level calculus concepts visually in a 3D environment, straying from traditional memorization to active application.

“Serious games have the power to impact the way we live, learn and play,” said Ming Liu, Vice President of Tencent Games. “Triseum shares our commitment to creativity and innovation through serious games. Its calculus game is inspiring new ways to interact with content while having fun in the process, adding cultural value just like other games inspired by our Neo Culture Creativity concept.”

About Tencent
Tencent uses technology to enrich the lives of Internet users. Our social products Weixin and QQ link our users to a rich digital content catalogue including games, videos, music and books. Our proprietary targeting technology helps advertisers reach out to hundreds of millions of consumers in China. Our infrastructure services including payment, security, cloud and artificial intelligence create differentiated offerings and support our partners’ business growth. Tencent invests heavily in people and innovation, enabling us to evolve with the Internet. Tencent was founded in Shenzhen, China, in 1998. Shares of Tencent (00700.HK) are traded on the Main Board of the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong.

STEM Discovery Week Webinar Initiates Important Faculty Conversation Around Game-Based Learning

STEM Discovery Week has wrapped, and what an inspirational celebration of science, technology, engineering and math it was! The buzz and excitement were fantastic. Specifically, the event gave us an opportunity to build on the game-based learning dialog and the contributions it is making to STEM education.

In case you didn’t have a chance to tune in to “It’s a game changer! How to motivate and engage students with game-based learning,” the replay is available here. I was thrilled to be joined by Panagiota Argyri, author, mathematics teacher and Game-Based Learning Teacher of the Year award winner. Not only were we able to show the impact games are having on the teaching and learning experience, but it also opened up an important conversation with faculty.

I believe one of the biggest take-aways when it comes to game-based learning is its emphasis on interactivity. For the last 100+ years, education has been reliant on the “sage on the stage” mentality where students are forced to absorb information rather than apply it. Games, on the other hand, emphasize the practice of learning by doing.

This concept of active learning was part of Panagiota’s discussion, where she highlighted her experience utilizing Variant: Limits, our calculus game, in the European Schoolnet Game-Based Validation Study. In addition to learning by doing, she noted that the game hit all of the theories she believes impact the learning process, including motivation, cultivation of self confidence, productive and analytical thinking, and increased knowledge.

What was really fascinating to us was the Q&A portion of the webinar where faculty seemed eager to pursue and confirm the game-based learning process. I’d like to share some highlights from our dialog.

How are games used in the teaching process?
We have seen numerous teaching models that incorporate games. At Triseum, we don’t necessarily prescribe a specific approach to teachers, rather the game is another tool for them to use to engage students in the content. Some teachers assign our games as homework, others use them in the classroom. We even have instances where the game has become the center of the class, much like a book, but far more interactive. In all of these scenarios, our games are giving teachers another avenue to connect with their students in whatever way they think is the most productive.

How much time should be spent playing games?
To this question, I respond, how much time should your students spend on homework? The answer is likely different for each and every student. I believe they should play for as long as it takes them to master the subject. For some students, this might be 10 minutes, and for others it might be 2 hours. We have seen instances where students play for far longer than they are assigned because the game was so engaging and fun. To this, I ask the question should we ever limit the time students spend learning and mastering a subject, especially when it is of their own choosing?

How do games affect teacher/student interactions?
I think we can all relate to our students coming in to class wanting to talk about a Facebook post or the latest Game of Thrones episode, but when games are part of the equation, now we are seeing students coming into class wanting to talk about the subject matter itself. For me as a teacher, there is nothing more powerful than a student coming into class excited about the subject, wanting to relive their interactions with it the night before. Students are becoming so much more engaged as a result of games. Keep in mind that most students don’t consider themselves to be gamers, but 97% of students play games for 4+ hours each week. Game-based learning gives them an opportunity to learn via a medium that they are already comfortable with, which in turn keeps them thinking about the content, asking questions and initiating conversations.

How is student feedback measured in a game?
We have tools in place to measure learning. For example, Panagiota mentioned that after playing Variant: Limits, her students had increased their mathematical knowledge and were also prepared to solve math problems that were 2-3 levels higher than their current curriculum. While that is instrumental to our mission, we also spend a great deal of time surveying students to find out if our games are fun and if they are enjoying this method of learning. Panagiota also shared some positive feedback from her students who had engaged with Variant: Limits. Students told her they nearly forgot they were learning and they thought that learning through experience was better than trying to understand theory. One student also remarked that the game helped develop her critical thinking, imagination and deductive skills.

Without a doubt, game-based learning is gaining momentum, and we can’t wait to see where it takes us!