Imagine playing the video of game League of Legends to learn in a classroom.

While multiplayer, online, battle-type games will not be used in most classes in the near future, a new study by University researchers shows how digital game use in the classroom can help teachers track student learning.

A report from the A-GAMES Project, released last Thursday by professors from the School of Information and New York University, focuses on common features in games that are effective in assessment and learning. The A-GAMES Project represents Analyzing Games for Assessment in Math, English Language Arts/Social Studies and Science.

The video games used in the study are different than typical video games. According to Jan Plass, education communication and technology professor at NYU, video games in learning are designed with purposes and goals fundamentally different from games for entertainment.

“In a game for learning we have to ask what primary educational function the game should have, and what learning goals they will serve,” Plass said. “In our study the games were more on the level of acquiring new skills and automating these skills. Based on these goals the way the game has to be designed is fundamentally different.”

The first part of the study, released in December, was conducted as a series of nationwide surveys to teachers.

The study found that of the 27 percent of teachers who use digital games for teaching monthly, 34 percent use it as a form of formative assessment, or as a way to track student progress with the material and .

“Formative assessment is a very common and very important practice in K-12 education,” said Education Prof. Barry Fishman, who is also a professor of Informatics. “In general, you want some checkpoints to see how well students understand material and change the way you’re teaching for people who need different kinds of support. Its like temperature taking along the way.”

According to the data, teachers who are frequent users of games did more formative assessments than teachers who are not.

“You want teachers to do as much formative assessment as possible,” Fishman said. “It seems the games have the potential to support formative assessment.”

Fishman is currently running another alternative classroom learning program, called Gradecraft. With that platform, students start out with 0 percent in the class and earn points by selecting from a bank of optional assignments.

In the most recent A-GAMES report, released Thursday, researchers observed and interviewed 30 teachers in New York. Fishman said the study used games from BrainPOP, an animated educational site for kids. BrainPOP offers games on a variety of topics, from science to social studies to arts and music.

Researchers asked teachers what features of the game proved most useful in making sense out of learning. These features included feedback systems that used points or stars, screen capture and dashboards to track player progress.

Though the study provided insight into the benefits of these games, Fishman said there were also a lot of weaknesses. Game features such as points or stars were often hard for teachers to interpret.

“The teachers knew that students who were getting a lot of points or stars were making a lot of progress in the game, but it can be hard to determine what that means in terms of what students know,” Fishman said.

According to Plass, the observation of how teachers use video games for formative assessment in the classroom, and the feedback received from teachers, allowed them to make recommendations for video game designers to help them understand which features of games are most useful in assessment and learning.

“We hope that our study unblocks the gridlock between what happens in the classroom and what should be put in the games as features,” she said.

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