Best Practices for Using Games and Simulations in the Classroom

videogamesA new free white paper that tackles the practical challenges teachers face when they use video games was released this week by the Software Information Industry Association (SIIA). I was the author of the paper and the co-chair of the working group that produced the paper.

Barrels of ink and pixels by the gigabit have been spilled trying to answer the question “Do video games work as teaching tools?” We started from a simpler perspective – assuming that games can support learning what are the practical tips that teachers can use to boost the odds of success? We interviewed the pioneers in the classroom and at the companies that have developed successful games and summarized their hard won insights in the paper.

I excerpt the executive summary below and over the coming days will post some of the more detailed findings. For the complete paper visit the SIIA’s website and download the PDF.

Most of what we surfaced is applied common sense that goes with any supplemental implementation. There are some key differences with games that we emphasize in the paper.

The paper is organized into three main sections:

  1. Selling the Idea – How can you convince your school to try games?
  2. Preparation – What should the teacher do to prepare themselves, their students, the classroom, and the technical infrastructure?
  3. Implementation – What classroom management approaches work best with games and simulations?

Each of the points in the summary are expanded upon in the paper.


NFImageImportPhase 1 – Selling the Idea

The effective deployment of any instructional resource requires the support of teachers. Educators cannot feel threatened, be uncomfortable, or lose control when they use something new. With EduGames, the potential for all three of these issues is higher, so a well crafted strategy to address them is essential.

Administrators need to understand their unique role and see resources that they can use to explain the project to stakeholders. If an administrator is driving the deployment, he/she needs to be prepared to support a wide range of teacher familiarity and comfort with EduGames. Administrators will need to be equipped with research

and references that can be shared with parents and the press.

Information Technology groups will prioritize stability, efficacy, network safety and cost control when they evaluate new products. Advocates for EduGames need to earn the trust of IT early in the process, or the project can be shut down before it even begins.

Students should not feel threatened, and they need to understand how it will work. They also have sophisticated filters for good games and won’t easily tolerate poor design.

As with any new instructional resource, gaining parental support is an important part of the political process. Widespread misconceptions about games can stall efforts unless you are prepared to address them. Regularly inform parents of the purpose, scope, and results of the project. Demonstrate the connection to 21st Century Skills to earn the support of the community. Where possible invite parents into the process.

00025pbwPhase 2 – Preparation

A holistic approach that addresses technical infrastructure, installation, support resources, professional development, and lesson planning covers most of the bases.

Because EduGames are still largely unknown to most educators, implementation services can not be optional. In order to reach sustained — rather than experimental — usage, schools and districts need to dedicate time and money to preparing the environment thoroughly.

Districts vary widely in technology infrastructure, the openness of IT to new solutions and their general policies about games and learning. However, in general, advocates need to acknowledge that games need extra support and cooperation from IT.

Implementing any new instructional approach requires professional development. Even teachers who are gamers do not intuitively know how to use games in the classroom. Tightly link professional development and initial student use — any delay can lead to problems.

Plan on a minimum of a ½ day on-site with hands-on time in teams.

Teachers need to understand how the activities connect to the standards, what the goals are for the exercise, and which students it can benefit the most.

They should also introduce the games at a pace they are comfortable with. Teachers are the lynch pin to success. Get the right teachers on board, and they will inspire their students and the other teachers in your building. Ideally

you want people who are leaders – politically, technically, and pedagogically.

043_picsPhase 3 – Implementation

The majority of the comments we received on teaching strategies related to blended learning. Mix game play with discussion, lecture, reading and writing to gain the most benefits.

Panelists encouraged others to tap those aspects of games that make them fun – competition, failure, and transgressive play.

Lessons and game activities should be organized so they can be “consumed” in a 45-50 minute class period. It can be useful to start small in order to accommodate the natural learning curve teachers and students will need before they become proficient with a new resource.

There are pedagogical and practical reasons for having students play in teams of 2-4 rather than alone. Pedagogically, games force collaborative decision making. Grouping helps reduce barriers to learning by grouping proficient gamers with non-gamers. Practically, working in teams lowers the technology footprint needed, and it allows students to cover for each other during absences.

Classroom management for EduGames is very similar to any hands on activity.

An actively involved teacher providing content expertise and focus moves things along.

Games appear to be particularly good at encouraging peer tutoring.

To date, behavioral issues like bullying have not been an issue.

Backend integration with the school’s management systems relieves a lot of the administrative burden from teachers.

Given the novelty of game-based learning, many educators remain skeptical of the games’ ability to facilitate learning or to embed assessments appropriately. It is important to provide external validation of the learning that is taking place. Over time, if games deliver as promised, we expect educators to become more comfortable with in-game assessments.

I want to express my thanks to the SIIA and the Games & Simulations Working Group for the opportunity to work on this project. It was fun, informative, and I hope it contributes in a meaningful way to the growth of the EduGames market.


One response to “Best Practices for Using Games and Simulations in the Classroom”

  1. Marisa says:

    Hi Lee,
    I’ve followed your blog for some time now but have never commented. First, I really like your blog and your thoughtful sharing of all the fantastic information you have and insightful reflection you’ve done around such cool topics. At least, I find the topics intriguing and cool!
    Also, this is soooooo picky but I downloaded the white paper on games and best practices for education (which is terrific!) and forwarded it to a couple of colleagues of mine in CS at UCSB and research at Microsoft. My pickiness is this…can you rename the pdf file for future people? games_final is not as helpful a trigger title as I think people would find useful.

    Keep up the great work and thanks again for this blog!