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Gaming in the Classroom: Some Research

By Renee Ramig - Posted Sep 1, 2017
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What is gaming or gamification? The Oxford Dictionary defines gamification as “the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity …” A simpler way to say this is applying gaming techniques to non-gaming applications such as math, language arts, science, history or foreign language.

Often, any application with graphics is seen as game. However, adding images or even simple movement around a screen does not create a game. Games need mechanics. There needs to be consistent rules that have specific outcomes.

Players need to see progress by getting ongoing feedback in response to their actions, and there should be rewards for their accomplishments such as badges or virtual prizes. Games should have ways to set goals and tangible measurements of accomplishment toward those goals.

Games involve competition, and students need to see how they are doing compared to others or themselves. It should be possible to “level up,” demonstrating growth and achievement.

Research on Gaming
Research on gaming in education is still in its infancy. Some of the challenges include inconsistent definitions of gaming and gamification with researchers, difficulty with creating truly random student groupings, lack of control groups, and the continuing growing field of games in education. In addition, much of the research tries to evaluate characteristics such as motivation and engagement that are difficult to objectively measure.

In 2012, Michael F. Young, et al. conducted a review of 363 studies with descriptions relating to games in education (Review of Educational Research). Of the 363 evaluated, only 39 were deemed to be scientifically rigorous enough to be completed in the formal review. The review found some positive effects of games on learning languages, history, and physical education. But there was minimal positive results the reviewers could find for other subjects, including math and science.

Douglas Clark, Ph.D., a professor at Vanderbilt University, believes more research is needed to find which pieces of games work best. The question is not “whether games are better than traditional education,” because it is not an either-or concept. (American Psychological Association, 2015).

Games can be a great part of a teacher’s arsenal of learning tools. Even with the limited and inconclusive research, teachers know their students. As with all tools, you should evaluate their effectiveness as they are used in the classroom. Share results—successes and challenges—with other teachers.

Renee Ramig is director of technology at the Seven Hills School in Walnut Creek, Calif. Reach her at

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