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Va. tests video games as teaching tool

Virginia reportedly has become the first state to implement a pilot program using Tabula Digita’s DimensionM video games to help boost student test scores in mathematics and motivate students to learn.

DimensionM is an immersive video-game world that engages students in learning pre-algebra and algebra objectives through a series of missions. Tammy McGraw, director of educational technology for the Virginia Department of Education, read about DimensionM and its use in New York City public schools.   After seeing some empirical research on the games’ efficacy as a teaching tool, she decided she wanted to find out more.

According to a study conducted in 2008 by scholars at the University of Central Florida, DimensionM’s immersive educational video games can improve students’ understanding and raise scores significantly on district-wide math benchmark exams.

The study included all three interactive titles from the DimensionM series. The games have three-dimensional graphics, sound, animation, and storylines comparable to those in popular video games. (See "Students want more use of gaming technology.")

The study was based on a sample size of 193 algebra and pre-algebra students and 10 math teachers from Orange County, Fla. Evaluations included pre- and post-unit district benchmark exams, game preparation tests, motivational surveys, classroom observations, and personal interviews.

Students in the experimental groups who played Tabula Digita video games over an 18-week period scored significantly higher (in some cases, twice as high) on district benchmark tests than students in the control group who did not play video games, researchers said.

Also, four out of five teachers (and all 15 students) who were interviewed reported that students’ math understanding and skills improved as a result of playing the educational video games.

According to the teachers, the games were effective teaching and learning tools, because they were experiential in nature, offered an alternative way of teaching and learning, and gave students reasons to learn math to solve the game problems and progress in the games.

Students said the games were effective because they combined learning and fun.

"The traditional view of video games has been that they are distractions from the task of learning, said Ntiedo Etuk, CEO and co-founder of Tabula Digita. "But this research clearly shows the opposite is true."

In another informal study conducted by a Florida district that used DimensionM as part of its summer school program, 75 percent of the group using DimensionM passed their summer course, compared with 37 percent of those who did not use DimensionM. After seeing these results, the district soon chose to integrate DimensionM into its curriculum.

In November, the Virginia Department of Education asked Tabula Digita to give a short demonstration. In January, the department agreed to implement the pilot project.

"Gaming resonated with me," explained McGraw, "because it’s adding value to the learning process. It offers a much more powerful learning environment than what we’ve previously been able to offer–and you have to go beyond that in today’s classrooms."

McGraw said Virginia education officials are looking at the social implications and technical challenges of using gaming for instruction and to see if DimensionM can be used as an effective supplement to the traditional classroom experience.

"For the past three years, we’ve seen continual acceptance of the use of educational gaming by K-12 schools and districts," said Steven Hoy, vice president of sales and business development for Tabula Digita. "Teacher by teacher, building by building, district by district, they have heard and seen that gaming is not a fad. When we started talking to [Virginia], we were thrilled that gaming was being looked at from the state level, because it adds instant credibility for those districts that haven’t quite bought into gaming."

So far, Tabula Digita says it is in talks with a few other states as well, but adding it’s too early in the negotiations to reveal more details.

The pilot project in Virginia began in February and will run through the end of the school year. Students in grades six through eight are participating in the pilot, and students play the games anywhere from 15 minutes to one full class period per week. Students also can play the games at home as often as they’d like.

The pilot includes 15 districts throughout Virginia, with each district designating one school to participate in the program.

"Clearly [Virginia] recognizes what current research supports: that students can learn and perform at higher levels when using technology-based tools that are relevant to students," said Etuk. "Their dedication to bringing the spark of excitement to the students they want to inspire is to be commended."



Virginia Department of Education

Educators take serious look at video gaming (eSN, Nov. 2005)

Gaming advances as a learning tool (eSN, Jan. 2007)

Gaming helps students hone 21st-century skills (eSN, April 2008)

Researchers mull gaming’s impact on learning (eSN, Aug. 2008)

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Math Intervention resource center. U.S. students are lagging behind their peers in other countries in math achievement, fortunately education companies are responding with solutions. Go to: Math Intervention

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