Callaghan et al. (2017) do not question digital games’ ability to improve student learning and engagement. This is an idea that has been well researched, documented, and adopted by educators around the world.
This notion accounts for the surgence of curriculum-aligned video games in recent years. Rather, they take this a step further and investigate why the instructional potential of these games has been widely unrealized by asking three questions:
- “Do teachers report using PD support to integrate a … computer game with their teaching practices?”
- “For what reason do teachers report using game features in their teaching practices?”
- “How is teachers’ use of game features associate with students’ … achievements.?” (p.12)
Their goal was to identify ways PD developers can encourage teachers to better integrate digital resources, like video games, into their “teaching practices to create more effective learning environments for students” (p.12). They did this by interviewing 12 teachers to identify trends and then validating those trends by surveying another 863 teachers. Here are some of the highlights of what they found.
Teachers Want PD But Won't Ask
Although participating teachers enjoyed an orientation session on how the digital resource worked, many expressed a “strong desire for more PD support for integration.” Despite this, most were both unaware of existing follow-up PD resources and “rarely sought PD support” (p.14).
Integrating the Game
The integration of the game into their existing instructional practices revealed six main themes:
- Most teachers referenced the game during their lessons to helps students make connections between the gameplay and the class content.
- A few teachers reported using screenshots or the game itself as a visual aid in class.
- Teachers seldomly used the game’s ability to change the sequence of the game objectives to align with their curriculum plans; many were unaware that this feature existed. Those that did resequence the activities saw some of the biggest gains in student outcomes.
- Only 25% of the teachers reported test-driving the game which gave them greater insight to the underlying math concepts.
- In-game reporting tools allowed most teachers to better identify, and start conversations with, student show struggled with specific objectives. This was particularly helpful for supporting students who rarely raised their hands in class.
- Some teachers reported that the game helped them gain a deeper understanding of the math concepts they were teaching. This is particularly helpful for younger grades where many teachers are generalists.
Ongoing PD programs that focus on how to use digital games in the classroom “may be key to improving their confidence and competence while teaching students” (p.18) and overcome the perception that digital games are a distraction rather than an effective tool. These PD opportunities will also benefit student performance.
Callaghan et al. suggest that PD opportunities need to be pervasive and well-communicated to teachers whenever they are provided a new, disruptive tool to be used in their classroom. Disruption to a teacher’s instructional practices is often met with reluctance and uncertainty. It means the teachers must rethink their craft and learn a new skill set in the precious little time they have between their already long list of tasks and responsibilities pertaining to the classroom. Therefore, PD coordinators must do their part to ensure teachers are well-equipped and confident in their ability to use their exciting and promising new tools. This confidence and competence is essential in the tools ability to realize gains in student outcomes.