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Game-Based Learning in Action

How an Expert Affinity Group Teaches With Games


Matthew Farber

How are expert educators using games in their classrooms to give students agency, while also teaching twenty-first century skills, like empathy, systems thinking, and design thinking? This question has motivated Matthew Farber’s Game-Based Learning in Action: How an Expert Affinity Group Teaches With Games showcasing how one affinity group of K12 educators—known as "The Tribe"—teaches with games. They are transformational leaders outside the classroom, in communities of practice. They mentor and lead newcomers to game-based learning, as well as advise game developers, academics, and policymakers.

Teachers in "The Tribe" do not teach in isolation—they share, support, and mentor each other in a community of practice. Farber shares his findings about the social practices of these educators. Game-Based Learning in Action details how the classrooms of expert game-based learning teachers function, from how they rollout games to how they assess learning outcomes.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the best practices of expert educators. These teachers use games to provide a shared meaningful experience for students. Games are often the focal point of instruction. Featuring a foreword from James Paul Gee (Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies, and Regents’ Professor), this book comments on promises and challenges of game-based learning in twenty-first century classrooms. If you are looking to innovate your classroom with playful and gameful learning practices, then Game-Based Learning in Action is for you!

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Chapter 12: Open-Ended Assessments for Open-Ended Games


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David Williamson Shaffer (2012) once asked, “How do we know that players aren’t just learning how to play the game?” (p. 403). Is what is happening in a game transferable to outside of where play takes place? Playing a game presents a safe-to-fail setting to hypothesize and test affordances without incurring real-world consequences (Barab, Gresalfi, & Ingram-Goble, 2010). Games are situated spaces, in which transfer can take place (Gee, 2007; Shaffer, 2012). But as Sutton-Smith (1997) noted, play is “ambiguous” to define. Therefore, assessing student play in educational games is inherently problematic.

Digital games are particularly adept at aggregating data. They can be used to assess 21st century skills that could be difficult for a teacher to measure such as solving problems, thinking with systems, and collaborating with teams. As a result, game-based learning has the potential to enable teachers to be more effective in practice.

Companies in the educational market are keen on reporting learning analytics to teachers. “There is a push for those requirement for learning games,” researcher Sande Chen said, when we spoke in late 2016. “In general, publishers of entertainment games don’t have lesson plans because they are coming from an entertainment perspective. Teachers adapting an entertainment product for the classroom need to come up with their own lesson plans.” ← 191 | 192 →

While phonics workbooks are useful for reinforcing certain literacy skills, they are not the sole...

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