Impact Rules at the Games for Change Festival

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Games for Change, and at the three-day G4C festival this week in New York City, the mood was celebratory as ever as developers, designers, educators, researchers, and philanthropists gathered to applaud the most impactful games of the year, and collectively raise the bar for future impact.

It was a week full of big announcements: notably, Amplify announced a series of STEM and ELA educational games for middle school students, and E-Line Media announced they are partnering with Alaska’s Cook Inlet Tribal Council to launch the first indigenous-owned video game company.

But one announcement in particular – from our friends and supporters at the Gates Foundation – hit closer to home.

In a conversation on next-generation learning initiatives, the Gates Foundation’s Stacey Childress announced the release of a new study on the effect of games on student learning, undertaken by SRI as part of the GlassLab initiative. SRI functions as an external research partner for GlassLab, tasked with independently validating the game-based assessments developed by the Lab. Ultimately, SRI will ensure that when GlassLab’s games make their way into the hands of teachers and students, they will have been tried and tested with proven measures of efficacy that teachers can trust.

SRI’s goals include four separate strands of research, which you can read more about on the SRI GlassLab-Research project page. The study released this week is part of the first strand, which is focused on making sense of what we already know about games and learning. For this study, SRI conducted a meta-analysis of the wide body of existing research previously done on digital games and learning. But out of over 60,000 studies produced on digital games and learning or simulations and learning, only 77 of them met SRI’s criteria for studies that are designed in such a way that they can make credible claims of impact on learning.

So what did SRI learn from studying these studies?

The research found that instruction using digital games resulted in a 12% increase in cognitive learning outcomes over instruction that did not use digital games.

Interestingly, this gain is largely about cognitive learning, and boils down to improvements in content knowledge. We know that games are also good for what Stacey Childress called the “non-cognitive, intrapersonal and interpersonal stuff” – including problem-solving, collaboration, communication, and other things broadly classified as 21st century skills – but only 1% of the 77 studies that made the cut attempted to measure these.

This is a pivotal moment for the games and learning field as we begin to transition out of an exploratory phase and enter a more evaluative phase, where we need to be clear about the learning outcomes games are designed to achieve, and produce hard evidence of the effectiveness of games as learning and assessment tools. The SRI research is a crucial step in this direction, and here at Institute of Play, we’re honored to be able to share the work we do with SRI for evaluation that informs and hopefully inspires future work in the field.

For more on the study from Stacey Childress, download the research brief and executive summary from SRI. The full report will be released in the fall.

For videos from G4C, check out the Livestream.

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