Gaming to Learn (by Amy Novotney)

Do educational computer and video games lead to real learning gains? Psychologists say more research is needed.

Many of today's K–12 students are spending their class time — and a lot of it — exploring science and diagramming sentences with Tim and his robot friend, Moby, through the website BrainPOP. The website allows kids to watch movies, complete quizzes and play games covering hundreds of topics within math, science, social studies, English, technology, art, music and health. The website tracks each student's learning accomplishments, and teachers have access to resources such as lesson plans, webinars, video tutorials, graphic organizers, and best practices — aligned to and searchable by state standards including Common Core.

BrainPOP is just one of hundreds of educational game websites in a billion-dollar industry that is growing in popularity. Nearly 60 percent of teachers now use digital games at least weekly in teaching, with 18 percent using them daily, according to a nationwide survey of 488 K–12 teachers conducted by researchers at New York University and the University of Michigan. In addition, more than a third of teachers use games at least weekly to assess student progress or understanding of class instruction.

The survey findings were released late last year amid increasing state and federal government interest in classroom use of digital games. In Washington state, for example, lawmakers are considering legislation that would create a pilot program offering interactive learning games in schools. Last fall, the White House and U.S. Department of Education hosted a game jam to promote the development of learning games.

But despite the growing popularity of such games, research has yet to determine whether they really help children learn, says University of California, Santa Barbara, educational psychologist Richard Mayer, PhD.

"When you look at the research reviews and meta-analyses that have been done, the evidence is not all that convincing yet that digital games are going to revolutionize education," says Mayer, author of the 2014 book "Computer Games for Learning: An Evidence-Based Approach."

You can read more of this article by Amy Novotney from the American Psychological Association here: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/04/gaming.aspx