Commentary: "Overcoming Obstacles For Using Digital Games in the Classroom"- by Laurie Sullivan - Mind-Shift

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Editors’ Note:    Mind/Shift™ explores the future of learning in all its dimensions, covering cultural and technology trends, innovations in education, groundbreaking research, education policy, and more. LaurieSullivanHere’s a fine article on using digital gaming in the K12 classroom, by Laurie Sullivan, MediaPost technology geek and author. She raises many fine points to consider if you are thinking of using gaming apps with your classroom iPad(s). Finally, note the links in red below. They are great resources to bookmark. We will post a brief, final commentary on her blog below.


Overcoming Obstacles For Using Digital Games in the Classroom

By Laurie Sullivan

Mind/Shift Blogs


A recent survey by the Learning Publishing Council asked 694 teachers to identify and rank the major barriers to using games in the classroom. Here are the top 10 obstacles they list, and ideas about how to overcome each one.


Forty-five percent of teachers reported that insufficient time is a barrier to implementing game-based teaching strategies. But this concern presumes that video games would take time away from instruction.

It’s a matter of changing tactics and presumptions: Games can be integrated into everyday curricula because they enable teachers to present academic concepts in a contextualized, experiential way.

 Imagine games like activities or projects that can either reinforce or introduce new concepts.


Forty-four percent of teachers reported that cost is prohibitive. It’s all too true that teachers lack the financial resources they need and often use their own money to purchase supplies.

There’s not much that can be done to ameliorate this obstacle, though for motivated teachers, resources like Donors Choose and other crowd-sourced fundraising sites can certainly provide some options. The majority of tablet games are fairly cheap, ranging from $1 to $10. Many are also free, such as Questimate!, a game that introduces students to estimation skills. The cost of using any kind of new tool in school can be prohibitive, but for educators who want to make it happen, trying free games is a great first step.


Thirty-five percent of teachers surveyed reported that they lack the technology resources to introduce game-based teaching strategies. But this might have to do more with perception than reality.

Though some tech corporations may push the notion that one-to-one device-to-student ratio is necessary, I don’t think that’s the case. Teachers can go a long way with learning games with just
a few devices. Students can play the game in groups, collaborating and working together. Follow it up with a group writing project to describe how the game impacted students’ thinking about the subject matter. Have one group work on this while the others do non-digital activities. Rotate your students from one project to another.


Thirty-four percent of teachers reported that it’s hard to find games that fit the current curriculum.

Check out Graphite and Playful Learning and Educate for ideas. All three of these sites allow you to filter information about games by traditional subject areas and by grade level. Remember that the best way to use games is as a supplemental reinforcement for your traditional teaching. Don’t look for games that will teach your curriculum. Instead, look for games that might approach the same subject area from a different perspective.


Twenty-nine percent of teachers reported that an emphasis on standardized tests makes using digital learning games difficult.

Game-design companies have been addressing this by attempting to align games with standards. Filament Games, for example, offers many learning games and each one includes a “standards map.” Check out their PLEX Life Science Suite of games and how they map to various sets of science standards. These are fun, playful games that don’t “teach to the test,” but do align directly with state standards.


Twenty-seven percent of teachers reported that they don’t know where to find quality games.
The big app stores don’t help much either; they want to sell games and apps more than they want to help students.

See the sites listed above (number 4). All three of these sites offer sophisticated ways to filter search results and find specific games. Also, read How to Choose a Learning Game for more ideas.


Twenty-three percent of teachers reported that they’re not sure how to integrate games into instruction—thus the need for this guide!

You’ll find ways to implement game-based learning, and understand the theoretical, pedagogical, and practical uses. In this guide, we show how to apply games to math and humanities education, as well as how games can facilitate interdisciplinary learning.


Seventeen percent of teachers reported that they’re unfamiliar with technology.

That’s okay. Most of the writing about game-based learning focuses on digital media, but the truth is that you don’t necessarily need devices. At the Quest To Learn school in New York City, game designis a way of thinking, a paradigm A great deal of their curriculum uses paper-based games rather than digital games. Check out their print and play games. There’s also the great Socratic Smackdown, which makes it easier to add games to your classroom without technology.


Fourteen percent of teachers reported that lack of administrative support when it comes to games in the classroom.

But with more and more data to support the use of games, teachers can use the new research to convince administrators. For example, an SRI Research report showed that students on the median score 12 percent better. This kind of research can help you make a strong case with your administrator for using digital games to enhance learning.


Nine percent of teachers surveyed reported a lack of parental support for games in the classroom.

That’s clearly not the majority of parents’ perspectives, as evidenced by the small percentage; what’s more, a Joan Ganz Cooney Center report, Learning at Home; Families’ Educational Media Use in America , showed that more than half (57 percent) of parents say their children have learned “a lot” from educational media. Still, teachers may have to account for their use
of games for learning, and in those cases, I suggest you start slowly, demonstrate to parents
(as you may have done with administrators) why you’re using these tactics with evidence to back it up, and you’ll prove over time how well it’s working.


Laurie Sullivan has provided a fine overview of what it takes to get Learning Games working smoothly in your classroom. The many reports she linked to will be great resources to get you started.
If you have any questions or comments, click on the blue globe below, and we will get back to you with the best answers we can find….

Tom King & Dale LaFrenz

Dr. Tom King has served for over 40 years as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Saint Thomas in the School of Education. The Saturn School of Tomorrow, formerly a St. Paul Public School, and his visionary response to educational reform, was a lighthouse on the frontier of school change. Tom was an experienced high school teacher of mathematics, a school administrator, and Director of Technology for the St. Paul MN Public Schools. He is also a member of the RE@L Team. Dr. Dale LaFrenz is Chairman of RE@L and one of the founders of MECC Software who brought “Oregon Trail” to millions of K12 kids everywhere. He has written extensively on the history and evolution of Ed Tech. His work in forging new paths for MECC’S “edutainment" software was instrumental in connecting school-markets, kids, teachers and consumer-markets/kids/parents, and now serves as the new launching pad for RE@L apps and software.

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