It’s Not Just Students Who Crave More Education Technology, But Teachers Too

By Amber Muenzenberger

There is growing support for education technology (edtech), and surprisingly, it’s not just coming from digital native students. Teachers, too, are realizing the benefits of educational technologies both in and out of the classroom.  Teachers are beginning to echo the need for educational technologies and are asking for more. 

Edtech is changing the way teachers and students interact with course content. However, it’s important to note that the relationship between teachers and students remains as critical as ever. Access to edtech can increase collaboration and communication, as well as engagement and exploration in the teaching and learning process. 

It was recently reported that 62 percent of faculty highly support having more edtech, while 30 percent report medium support. The top two reasons educators are pushing for more edtech include a desire to experiment with new teaching methods or tools (68 percent agree) and already having succeeded with edtech previously (66 percent agree).

In the Effects of Technology on Classrooms and Students report, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, teachers reported increased student motivation and self esteem as a primary result of using technology in the classroom. The report noted that that “most common–and in fact, nearly universal–teacher-reported effect on students was an increase in motivation, including student satisfaction with the immediate feedback provided by the computer and the sense of accomplishment and power gained in working with technology.”

Less surprising in all of this is the fact that students want more edtech in the learning experience too. Most students today have grown up with technology at their fingertips. It’s how they get things done–socially, academically and professionally. According to EDUCAUSE, 79 percent of undergraduate students surveyed prefer courses that incorporate online components for some, half or most of their courses, an increase of five percentage points since last year.

Among the classroom technologies that students want most, lecture capture came in a number one. Also on the edtech list, educational games and simulations were highly desired, with more than 50% of student respondents wishing instructors used them more.

While there are plenty of pros and cons up for debate when it comes to more technology in the classroom, “technology in education can open doors to new experiences, new discoveries, and new ways of learning and collaborating.” Education technology has become an integral part of the teaching and learning process now and for the future.

Data Analytics, Academic Gaming and the Student Experience

By André Thomas, CEO of Triseum

It’s rare to look at a higher education coverage these days and not find references to the importance of data analytics. Across the student lifecycle from marketing and enrollment, to the learning experience, to alumni relations, data seems to be behind it all.

According to a blog post on ACE, “over the last decade, data analytics has evolved from a buzzword to a multibillion-dollar business, and it has begun to permeate higher education.” What’s more, eCampus News talks about the data-enabled institution among the issues that will shape 2019 for higher-ed IT leaders, and the 2018 NMC Horizon Report published by EDUCAUSE named analytics technologies an important development in higher education.

This same Horizon Report goes on to say that a “growing focus on measuring learning is an accelerating trend in educational settings.” Faculty want to know when and how their students are engaging with the course and its content, not to mention how this engagement is impacting outcomes. And so here we are, back to data.

As an educator and game designer, I can’t help but think about the ways that data analytics in academic video games, such as Variant: Limits or ARTé: Mecenas, can be used to measure learning, even more so than a book. Like traditional textbooks, these video games are another medium to help students learn a subject. But unlike books, immersive video games have the power to analyze student progress and mastery along the way, giving faculty important insights.

Intelligent game analytics enable faculty to monitor student engagement and advancement made toward learning objectives. Teachers can see where students are thriving, if they might get hung up on certain concepts, whether or not the majority of students are gravitating toward a particular incorrect answer, and how students are navigating through the content. Teachers can also use this data to intervene with individual students if they see patterns that require additional attention or clarification.

Data analytics in higher education isn’t just a thing, it’s a big thing. It’s becoming the basis for which institutions connect with and support students, and it’s a critical piece of the learning experience.

Games in Every Classroom

Books have long been an accepted part of every classroom. I have visited schools all around the world and see the same picture everywhere. Books are a common staple in the educational experience for students and teachers alike.

I don’t just see textbooks in classrooms, but rather all different types of books. For example Tom Sawyer, a work of fiction, has now become a standard in many classrooms in Europe and the U.S. From art books and reference books, to law reviews, business case studies, policy books and of course biographies, to history books and non-fiction books, they have become trusted resources.

When I went to school, our teachers would augment books with television and movies as a tool to drive engagement and make course content more relevant and exciting to us. At the same time they were trying to help us as students achieve a higher level of content mastery.

Teachers all over the world have but one goal–to empower students to succeed. Everywhere I look I see teachers trying to enhance the classroom experience for their students so that they can become more engaged and better retain the information they are learning. I regularly hear comments made about what teachers should do or what tools they should use, yet most of these recommendations come from people who aren’t teachers and have never been in a classroom.

As teachers can attest, you can’t just try something and hope it works. Imagine the conversation with the parents: “Sorry your child flunked math this year, we tried this new xyz… and it just didn’t work for our students. We will try something different next year and see if it works better.”

Instead of trying to prescribe something to teachers and tell them what to do, we should work with them to understand what they are already doing, how they are doing it, and what they really need. For example, teachers don’t just have one book for any given subject. There are different books for the same curriculum, giving teachers a choice in how they approach the subject in a way that they think will be most impactful for students.

Games for the classroom should be no different; we should make a variety of games available to teachers and students so they have a choice. Where once we relied on TV and movies to offer another avenue of content delivery, today games can meet that need.

What would a world look like where every classroom and every teacher from pre-K to university would have games available to use as part of the teaching and learning process? In my opinion that would mark a monumental step towards utilizing a proven medium to enhance and improve the education experience and outcomes for teachers and students.

However having said that, mass acceptance of games requires several considerations. First, there is testing. While I have never seen a study that demonstrates the efficacy of the book, testing game scenarios with teachers is important. When testing and validating games, we need to keep in mind that, just like books, games can be used in a variety of ways. Testing every possible scenario might be difficult, but working directly with teachers who are using games can help other educators gauge effectiveness of the games and spur ideas to present content in a different and engaging way.

Another consideration is support and maintenance. Something as simple as an update to an operating system can cause a game to no longer function. Fixing the problem shouldn’t be left to teachers or students, not to mention it likely requires funding. Who will help a student or teacher on a Sunday at 2am when they are trying to use the game and have a simple support question? What about the analytics data, bandwidth and/or cloud storage so students can play anywhere? What about supporting materials like lesson plans, textbook mapping and classroom exercises? How about efficacy studies?

Lastly, funding is critical. A well-designed game-based curriculum requires someone to oversee it, as well as additional technology and that requires a mechanism to fund it. Too often I hear that learning games should be free, and while I find great merit in that philosophy, I have yet to see an effective system that allows those who develop, maintain and support learning games to be compensated for their work and expenses by giving their games away. I believe they deserve to be fairly compensated for their work.

While great strides are being made on the game-based learning front, it will take collaboration on the part of teachers, parents, designers, developers, publishers and policy makers to come up with a system that addresses development, testing, support, maintenance and funding for new innovative education technology. Only then can we hope to put games in every classroom.

Video Games Teach Us More than Just their Content

“A book or movie can show us what it is like to be in a character’s shoes, but it is the video game that can put us into those shoes.” – Robert B. Marks, Ph.D., Whittier College

Generally speaking, active learning fosters far greater curriculum engagement than say listening to a ‘sage on the stage’ or memorizing stats from a textbook. Fortunately, modern technologies, specifically video games, are making this kind of immersive, hands on learning a greater reality. Game-based learning is enabling students to walk in the shoes of both real life and imaginary characters, empowering them to interact with content in an entirely new way.

But it doesn’t end there. Because video games inspire active learning, students are able to gain skills beyond the knowledge of the content itself.

Video games teach the art of persistence. Students are encouraged to try again until they succeed. There is less of a stigma around failure as it becomes fun to practice and attempt new strategies to see what works. For example,  in our calculus game, Variant: Limits, students can visually see how manipulating equations impacts graphs, charts and their course of action, and therefore they are encouraged to use a trial and error approach.

Video games can help shape students’ decision making and critical thinking skills. It is exploration and experimentation at its best. Students begin to think outside the box, act on their curiosities, and look at different ways to get the correct answer. Once they start to understand what works, they apply that knowledge to help the story unfold.

Video games inspire social interaction and are a great tool to promote teamwork. According to instructor Anita Streich, “ARTé: Mecenas taught my students the importance of collaboration, a great example of active learning. Students were willingly working in pairs and in groups. They were having a dialogue with each other not only about the game’s content, but also its strategy.”

Being immersed in a video game, walking in the character’s shoes, and having a stake in the character’s outcome keeps students invested. Whether they know it or not, they are not just learning the content, but they are acquiring accompanying life skills–the kinds of skills that will serve them over the long term over every aspect of their life. I ask, could a talking head or textbook do that?

Three Reasons Why Video Games Work in Education

Slaying dragons. Rescuing princesses. Scoring goals. Winning races. Building masterpieces. Battling enemies. These are today’s video games. They have become so mainstream in our culture that not only is the U.S. video game industry one of the nation’s fastest growing economic sectors, video games in general have become a legitimate global force.

Today’s video games are sophisticated and suspenseful. They provide lifelike graphics and scenarios that empower users to assume imaginative identities and immerse themselves into fantasy worlds. They captivate players’ attention and inspire them to keep playing time and time again. And let’s face it, they are fun. This begs the question, can this obsession serve a purpose beyond entertainment?

As student digital literacy rates continues to climb, it seems only natural that the power of games be used to advance the education experience, creating an entirely new kind of obsession by engaging and motivating students in innovative ways. Known as game-based learning, this phenomena has already started transforming teaching and learning as we know it.

Video games are relatable.

The average gamer has been playing video games for 13 years, not to mention online gamers spend 6.5 hours a week on average playing with others. Video games are second nature for a lot of students who have grown up with this form of entertainment at their fingertips. To them, technology is instinctual and playing video games is intuitive.

Academic video games allow students to interact with content in relevant ways. They bring the subject matter to life and transform static course experiences into highly interactive ones, mirroring the innovation and modern events that are part of students’ everyday lives.

Video games encourage students to try and try again.

The word failure can have a negative connotation in an academic setting. Yet, video games can turn failures into dynamic learning opportunities. When students fall short and don’t advance to the next level, they are taught the art of resilience. They learn lessons through failure and begin to understand the importance of persistence. Failure is merely a roadblock.

Academic video games encourage practice and repetition, challenging students to think creatively in their pursuits. They must consider a variety of options and even not-so-obvious strategies. They discover the consequences of their choices and answers. For example, in our art history game, ARTé: Mecenas, students must balance relationships with powerful city-states, merchant factions and the Catholic Church or risk excommunication, exile and bankruptcy.

Learning games present a world where it is ok to fail if ultimately it helps learners re-evaluate their approach, understand the content, and advance toward the learning objective. Through exploration and experimentation, deep and formative learning experiences occur, and it even becomes fun for learners to try and try again.

Video games promote content mastery.

Video games inspire players to go for the epic win. In an academic setting, the epic win translates to subject mastery. Unlike books where a student can continue reading even if he or she hasn’t grasped the concepts, an academic video game holds learners accountable. They can’t advance to the next challenge or level until they prove sufficient understanding and mastery.

Mastery is key to measuring what a student has learned. Yet typical grading scales award students with the highest grades even if they haven’t reached 100 percent mastery. In our 3D adventure calculus game, Variant: Limits, a student can’t proceed to the next level if he or she achieves anything less than 100 percent.

Game-based learning gives students the opportunity to  play a more active role in the learning experience and connect with content on a deeper level. Some research even suggests that video games might make people better learners.

At Triseum, our immersive academic video games serve an important educational need, boosting engagement and making learning fun. Our team of game designers and educators are redefining the education experience through game-based learning, focusing on student digital literacy, motivation and mastery.

Originally published in Edarabia, available here.

Video Games by the Numbers

Video game usage is increasing dramatically–for play, for learning and for competition. If you are one of the 64 percent of American households that has at least one person who plays video games regularly (minimum three hours per week), then you can attest to the impact of video games.

Realistic graphics and irresistible story lines found in today’s most popular video games draw players in and engage them in ways other mediums simply can’t match. It’s a growing industry from academia to business. 

The ESA’s 2018 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry report is chock full of interesting data covering everything from market demographics to the size and scope of the industry.

  • More than 150 million Americans play video games and 60 percent of Americans play video games daily.
  • There are an average of 2 gamers in each game-playing U.S. household and 64 percent of U.S. households own a device that they use to play video games.
  • Most parents (70 percent) say video games are a positive part of their child’s life.
  • The total consumer spend on the video game industry was $36 billion in 2017.
  • The top three factors that influence video game purchases are 1) quality of the graphics, 2) price and 3) an interesting story line or premise.

Not only are video games being used as teaching and learning tools on college campuses, the study of video game production is gaining traction too. Thanks to a growing number of video game degree programs, students are turning their passions for gaming into lucrative and meaningful careers. Game-based programs in higher education account for a total of 7,675 undergraduate students in the U.S. and abroad.

Video games are driving the collegiate eSports phenomenon too, giving students the opportunity to replicate schools’ competitive sports teams set in a digital gaming world. Eighty-one colleges currently participate in the National Association of Collegiate eSports, and all but two offer scholarships to eSport athletes.

These video game numbers paint an impressive growth trajectory that shows no immediate signs of slowing.  As the video game market continues to advance, just how high might these numbers climb?

Game-Based Learning: What do Students and Faculty Have to Say?

For those of us who are at Triseum and the LIVE Lab at Texas A&M, we can attest to the countless hours of research, collaboration and testing that go into our game development processes. And while all of the results and interactions during development lead us to believe we are producing impactful games, the ultimate testament to the effectiveness of our games comes from those on the front lines–the instructors and students who are interacting with our games as part of the teaching and learning experience. We recently had a chance to sit down with some of our users and their feedback was inspiring. The opportunity for game-based learning and faculty is very promising and this is what faculty have to say.

ARTé: Mecenas encourages art history exploration and application:


“I think that the direct benefit that students received was learning without realizing they were learning.”
-Kelly Donahue-Wallace, Art History Professor, University of North Texas

“We started off introducing [the game] in classes in lieu of quizzes and also other assignments, and [students] really appreciated having that at the end of each week as opposed to other assignments they found to be less engaging and exciting. They really enjoyed it and seemed to apply the material better in class.”
-James Hutson, Associate Professor Art & Design, Lindenwood University

“It stuck in a different way and not in a ‘regurgitate on a test’ way.”
-Cynthia Meersman, Art History Student, Texas A&M University

Variant: Limits gives students a fresh new perspective on calculus:

“People in general are willing to bang their heads in a game where they generally roll their eyes and groan in a classroom. It’s stretching the students and challenging them to realize where the concepts can show up.”
-Rob Eby, Professor of Mathematics, Blinn College

“Homework doesn’t give you a second chance, but in the game, if you put in one wrong [answer] and change it, you can actually see the change in the game.”
-Alexander Rosen, Chemistry Student, Texas A&M University

“I’ve taken courses for limits and calculus and pre-calculus math, and I learned more from this game than I ever did in those. I saw in the lectures how they did it and then doing it in the video game really immersed me in it and allowed me to learn and think about it in lots of different ways.”
-Ethan Ritchie, Physics Student, Texas A&M University

“Because I was playing a game it helped me retain the information. I wasn’t just sitting in a lecture, I was actually engaging and looking at the game and finding out the information for myself. It definitely stuck with me more, definitely – I remember playing a game, I don’t remember the lecture of limits.”
– Jack Norman, Software Engineering Student, University of Texas

Hearing first-hand how our games are being used in the classroom and how they are helping boost engagement validates game-based learning and the incredible impact it is having on the education experience. Bring on the game-based learning revolution!

Math Video Games, Today’s Modern Story Problems

Word problems, also known as story problems, have long been used as a teaching tool in math. From the most basic addition and subtraction riddles to more complex algebra and calculus equations, story problems create relatable visual scenarios. Students must show that they can decipher the information they are given, understand the question(s) at hand, and pick the correct mathematical calculation(s) that will help them solve the puzzle.

Game-based learning does much the same thing. Albiet a bit more sophisticated, a video game can be viewed as an advanced story problem. The best math video games set the stage; present an engaging and challenging situation; highlight the variables that students need to consider, including information that may or may not be relevant; and require the student to think, not just memorize and regurgitate.

Stanford study a in 2015 concluded that playing math-based video games can dramatically improve one’s mathematical skills. The study compared two classes of third graders, one who played for just 10 minutes per day, 3 days a week, for four weeks and another who received the same materials and the same instruction but didn’t participate in the game. The class who played the game experienced a 20.5% improvement, contributing to the student’s number sense, problem solving skills and algorithmic thinking.

Another game-based learning endeavor is the Escape from Mathproject that took place at a high school in Italy essentially, students sought to explore “how they can learn about mathematics creating puzzles and escape rooms and then playing together.” Using games, students became less afraid of math, and learned to appreciate the engaging and funny side. They also improved their storytelling skills using mathematical knowledge in their plots. In the end, the “use of gamification gave very positive results”. Those students who tend to be more passive were active participants, even students who traditionally had sufficient or negative marks achieved good results. Full details are on Scientix, a site dedicated to the science educational community in Europe.

Math is the kind of subject that lends itself well to a video game, easily taking story problems to the next level. Students can make a visual connection between the story itself and the mathematical equations necessary to advance the character(s) and storyline. Through instant feedback, math games empower students to quickly learn from their mistakes and motivate them to continue trying.

That said, some math video games are certainly more effective than others. An immersive, strategic game like Variant: Limits not only engages the learner in an exciting story that students want to see it through to the end, but it also presents a logical flow of calculus concepts that build upon each other. In a recent game-based learning validation studyVariant: Limits proves a  positive impact on student engagement, motivation and knowledge acquisition, and in one instance even led to a 100% success rate on a teacher’s final exam.

The timeless story problem is taking on a new life through more modern game-based learning opportunities. Have you thought about introducing games in your math class?

Game-Based Learning Validation Study – Where Do We Go From Here?

Our year-long game-based learning validation study has inspired teachers worldwide who are interested in pursuing gaming in the classroom. According to the study, participating teachers agreed that ARTé: Mecenas and Variant: Limits had a positive impact on student engagement, motivation to learn and knowledge acquisition.

But that’s not all. The study also gave researchers an opportunity to weigh in and make some recommendations based on teacher feedback to further advance the game-based learning market.

Recommendation #1: Consider and further investigate cross-national differences
Developing a game that aligns with academic standards across multiple countries and cultures is no small feat. What’s applicable in one classroom may not be in another. For example, we learned that the range of content of ARTé: Mecenas was less relevant for the curriculum in Norway, but seemed too restricted for the curriculum of Italy, where they do a deeper dive into the Renaissance. Language also proved to be both a barrier and an opportunity. Our games are currently developed in English, which for some was difficult to implement in the classroom, but for others helped them improve upon their English language skills. We are also working on localizing our games based on interest and market potential in specific countries.

Recommendation #2: Consider and enhance teachers’ preparation and support
All participating teachers were involved in face-to-face trainings and webinars prior to using the games in their classrooms. That said, it was clear that careful technical and pedagogical preparation, as well as ongoing support for teachers is vital. This isn’t specific to our games, but rather game-based learning in general. Game-related exchanges (forums, chats and other learning networks) not only make teachers feel supported, they boost camaraderie, connections and ideas.

Recommendation #3: Review, amend and add didactic and pedagogical materials
Instructional and informative materials can help teachers build on the experiences of teachers more seasoned in game-based learning. Specifically, scenarios that were used in the validation study would be of value to future game-based learning instructors. For example, newer teachers may want to follow the approach used by many of the study’s participating teachers whereby they used the games in a flipped classroom setting, allowing students to play both at home and at school, which gave students room to play freely and minimized the classroom time needed.

Recommendation #4: Strengthen and further research game-based learning
The positive outcomes in our study spurred a desire for additional information and research, among more classrooms and involving more games. Because study results suggest the powerful potential of game-based learning, there is an urgency to capitalize on these results and further practice and promote the act of learning through games.

We would like to express a huge thank you to our partners and European Schoolnet and the evaluation team at The University of Würzberg for giving us the insights we can act upon. As a trailblazer in game-based learning, we’ve come a long way, but there is still so much to learn, to do and to achieve!

Four Must-Attend Annual Events in Europe for Supporters of Game-Based Learning

Europe is a hotbed for Game-Based Learning (GBL). Not only is the continent home to some of the leading innovators in educational video games, but European Union leaders have offered critical support, for the use of innovative teaching techniques in classrooms across the continent, including video games.   

Every year there are a number of events where GBL experts can share their wisdom with one another and, perhaps more importantly, with others who are interested in learning about the benefits of GBL: educators, academics and policymakers.

If you fall into any of these categories, the following events are great opportunities to discover exciting new developments in learning and, just as importantly, to mix with bright people who are motivated to make a difference in education.

Virtual Worlds and Games for Serious Applications 
Typically held in September, the Virtual Worlds and Games for Serious Applications or VS-Games conference is a yearly opportunity to discuss the latest innovations in virtual worlds and their real-world applications, ranging from game-based learning for elementary school students to physical rehabilitation for those who have suffered debilitating accidents. Topics covered include game design, engineering, human-computer interaction techniques and strategies for using virtual worlds to teach.

The intimate event usually attracts between 60-80 people, the great majority of whom work in academia. However, the goal of the conference is hardly scholarly navel-gazing: these people want to share ideas and technology that will advance society. Thus, event organizers are eager to welcome those from outside of the academy who are interested in sharing their own ideas or learning from others.

European Conference on Games Based Learning
Held every October, the European Conference on Games Based Learning (ECGBL) offers a chance for anybody interested in the development of game-based learning –– scholars, game-designers, educators –– to share the newest technological innovations in the field as well as discuss how to best put educational games to use.

What the ECGBL does exceptionally well is blend the theoretical with the tangible. Those who attend the conference provide a diversity of perspectives on GBL, from scholars with big-picture ideas on how games can transform education to game-designers who may be narrowly focused on showing how their latest game can help educators teach their students a certain skill.  

By the standards of the fast-changing world of educational technology, OEB (formerly Online Educa Berlin), which typically takes place towards the end of the year, has been around a long time. Its history stretches back nearly a quarter-century, to the dawn of the online era, when cutting edge computer programs either came on a CD-ROM or a floppy disk.

Due to its institutional status, you can always count on OEB being a big deal. In recent years more than 2,000 international learning professionals have trekked to the conference to learn from scholars, policymakers and technologists about the latest developments in digital learning. The event features a wide range of exhibitions relating to educational technology, including the latest gamified learning apps, augmented reality devices, online proctoring tools and new research on best practices in digital learning.

Games and Learning Alliance Conference
The Games and Learning Alliance Conference (GALA Conf) takes place every year in December and is organized by the Serious Games Society, an organization that promotes the advancement of games that exist for purposes beyond entertainment. The three-day event features tutorials, demos of new technology or games and lectures by some of the foremost thinkers in the serious games community.

GALA is a great chance for academics who are researching game-based learning to get a first-hand look at the latest innovations in the development of educational video games and it’s also an excellent opportunity for up-and-coming developers to show their products to those who could very well become their game’s strongest proponents.