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

By André Thomas

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!