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Educational gaming on the rise, but funding remains a challenge

Teachers most often use literacy or math games in the classroom.

In a national survey, teachers say they believe that using digital games in the classroom helps students maintain concentration and enthusiasm for learning, while making it easier for teachers to differentiate instruction and assess students.

The survey of 505 teachers who use digital games in their K-8 classrooms aims to identify what teachers think about game-based learning and how digital games affect students beyond academic achievement. It offers a mix of qualitative interviews with quantitative data to offer a more rounded picture of teacher opinions.

The survey, Teacher Attitudes about Digital Games in the Classroom, released by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop in collaboration with and support from BrainPOP, was released at the NewSchools Venture Fund-Aspen Institute Summit in San Francisco.

The majority of teachers in the survey are K-5 classroom teachers, one-fifth are special education teachers, and 86 percent teach in public schools. K-5 teachers reported higher game usage than middle school teachers: 57 percent versus 38 percent, respectively.

Teachers who said they are “very or moderately comfortable” using digital games in the classrom also use games more frequently with their students. Thirty-two percent use games 2-4 times per week, and 18 percent use them every day.

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A large majority of teachers (70 percent) said they agree that using digital games increases motivation and engagement with content and curriculum, and 62 percent said using games in the classroom makes it easier for them to level lessons and effectively teach a range of learners. Sixty percent said using digital games helps personalize instruction, helps them assess student knowledge better, and helps them collect helpful data.

Three in five teachers also said they believe that games encourage more collaboration among students and help students to keep their focus on specific tasks.

Fewer than 10 percent of teachers said they experienced negative side effects when it came to using digital games, such as delayed content delivery (8 percent), behavioral issues with lower-performing students (7.7 percent), or increased conflict between students (5.1 percent).

“With over 90 percent of all school-age children now playing digital games on a regular basis, and many underserved students struggling to benefit from traditional approaches, it is common sense to deploy interactive technologies to engage students in more personalized and joyful learning,” said Michael Levine, executive director of the Cooney Center. “The survey confirms that in many classrooms, teachers are asking students to put down their pencils and play.”

When it comes to the types of digital games used, 95 percent of teachers use digital games that were created specifically for educational use. These games are most often used with literacy or reading content (50 percent) and math (35 percent). Fewer than one-fifth (18 percent) said they adapted commercial games for their classroom environments.

Teachers said digital games also were valuable if they align with the Common Core State Standards. Most teachers use Macs or PCs with classroom games, 25 percent said that students use iPads or tablet computers, and fewer than 10 percent use other portable devices, mobile phones, or video game consoles.

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Nearly half of teachers (46 percent) first learned about digital gaming during in-service professional development, and 35 percent said they discovered digital games by self-directed study.

Thirty percent learned about gaming from online discussion forums for educators, and 21 percent used video tutorial sharing sites. Only 12 percent of teachers said they learned about digital games during preservice training.

Barriers to digital gaming

Half of educators said that cost is the top barrier to using digital games in the classroom, and a close 46 percent said access to technology resources also limits classroom gaming.

Thirty-eight percent said that an emphasis on standardized tests is a “substantial barrier.”

Fewer than 5 percent of teachers said that parents or administrators are “not at all supportive” of digital gaming at school.

Forty-four percent of teachers said they think their school or district’s allocation for digital game spending will remain the same over the next three years, 36 percent said they think their school or district will allocate more resources, and 20 percent said they believe fewer resources will go toward digital gaming.

Forty percent said they are not sure what their school or district spends per year on digital gaming, and 20 percent said their school or district spends nothing.

The survey is part of research being conducted by the Games and Learning Publishing Council, which aims to identify areas of innovation in the games and learning space. The Games and Learning Publishing Council, convened by the Cooney Center and E-Line Media, is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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