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

By André Thomas

“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: http://www.tedxtamu.com/andre-thomas.