Watchworthy Wednesday: How Video Games Amplify Learning

[Over the past ten years I’ve done research into game-based learning as part of my teaching at Carnegie Mellon University. In addition,  I’ve spent time with schools that have tapped into game-based learning. It works! Here’s an article about Constance Steinkuehler from Mimi Ko Cruz on the Digital Media Learning blog that highlights some of the benefits as well as the myths. ]

As a leading scholar of video games, game culture and game player behavior, Constance Steinkuehler argues that games amplify learning and academics.

In fact, video games and esports “leverage and require an incredible amount of cognitive intellectual labor,” she said at last week’s University of California, Irvine eSports Symposium. “Video game play actually leads to higher problem-solving skills. And, those higher problem-solving skills actually lead to higher academic grades…. You can start to see where games, rather than being in competition for so-called intellectual pursuits or academic performances, actually are enhancers.”

The UCI professor of informatics and president of the Higher Education Video Game Alliance gave an overview of research findings from studies conducted over the past decade. Among the results:

  • Video gaming has significant positive effects on reading, reasoning skills and mathematics achievement.
  • Games align well with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). For example, one study showed improvement in STEM performance of more than a grade of difference when using games to learn instead of textbooks.
  • Video gaming results in 20% higher self-efficacy, 11% higher declarative knowledge, 14% higher procedural knowledge and 9% better retention.
  • Video games have a positive impact in areas like perception and attention, systemic thinking, ethical reasoning, collaborative problem solving and computer and technology fluency.

Stereotypes that video game players are anti-social are untrue, emphasized Steinkuehler, who is part of UCI’s Connected Learning Lab. “Game play is done in collaboration and in tandem with other people. Even when you play on one screen, you tend to rely on a community of interests that actually drives your performance.”

When looking at athletics and academics, she said, research shows that athletic motivation predicts academic performance. In other words, Steinkuehler said, “kids who really want to be good at competitive athletics tend to be really good and competitive in school. You see higher GPA (grade point average) for high school students. Team sports are associated with a long list of positive impact, such as personal growth, motivation toward degree completion, persistence, grit, tenacity, internal locus of control, the belief that your performance is based on how much work you do and that it’s a skill you can improve. Sports amplify academic success.”

As for esports, she said, not much is known. That’s why she and her UCI research team is launching a study of UCI’s video gamers in the fall. The study will be asking how students’ game play aligns with what they’re doing in school and how it amplifies in ways that endure. Scholars interested in helping conduct the research are invited to contact Steinkuehler by email at

Her UCI eSports Symposium talk is available online.

Creating a World of MAGIC

[The Rochester Institute of Technology has taken Maker Spaces to a new dimension. They’ve looked at how MAGIC -Media, Arts, Games, Interaction and Creativity – can solve institutional problems. In my work as an educational technology broker I’ve seen some great projects, but this Campus Technology interview really demonstrates how far you can take a brilliant idea.]

By Mary Grush, 11/29/16

What happens when you mix a high-end technology sandbox loaded with ample, cutting-edge digital media tools and production facilities with some of the world’s brightest students and most innovative faculty? Andrew Phelps, founder and director of the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction and Creativity (MAGIC) and MAGIC Spell Studios talks with CT about MAGIC at RIT.

Mary Grush: Why did you start MAGIC Spell Studios at RIT, and what does it do?

Andy Phelps: In my prior academic days, I was the founder and director of RIT’s games school, the School of Interactive Games and Media. We were doing a lot of things in games, and in what we termed ‘new media’ — which is sort of the fusion of design thinking with technology.

One intriguing thing about that work was that increasingly, none of the faculty were necessarily in the right homes. We had a games program that grew in a college of computing; we had a new media program that was trying hard to straddle a college of computing and a college of imaging arts and sciences (which is our art school); we had folks running over to the college of business to try to take entrepreneurship and digital marketing courses; and we had a ‘digital humanities’ effort coming out of liberal arts.

RIT had what amounted to a kind of hodgepodge across campus in trying to make all this work. So, if you take for example something like games — which was my area — and looked at what you would need to facilitate that kind of work, you’d see that it spreads broadly across a campus in ways that the traditional academic management model isn’t necessarily set up to address. And everybody says ‘multidisciplinary’, but very few actually do ‘multidisciplinary’ very well.

I had a number of talks with the president, with the provost, and with others on campus, and we came to this idea of trying to move the research and development function a little bit away from being placed simply at the department level. Instead, we were going to create a center that cut sideways through all of the things that were happening at the university. Then, we would seed it with resources so that people had some incentive to play. It’s not an uncommon model — it’s been done in different places — but we looked at it and said: “We’re creating the center, providing the space, and we’re using some campus resources to get people engaged and crossing multidisciplinary lines.”

Hopefully, we thought, people were going to be able to make things — but the question became: What happens to what they make? And that’s where MAGIC Spell Studios was really conceived. If we are serious about facilitating faculty and student work in digital media, a big part of the digital media ecosystem is actually publishing it — getting it out there; putting it in front of the public; and having the public react to it (seeing what that looks like, understanding it, and incorporating what you learn into the next thing that you do).

We looked at our university, and found that it was really not set up to do all that. We had students publishing things into the app stores and then walking away from them. We had multiple groups of people trying to figure out how they were going to do dissemination as defined in their research — but that usually meant writing and publishing a paper or a book about the work, usually without ever publishing the thing itself that they had created, at least not broadly.

We decided we want to get our work ‘out there’. In order to do that, we needed a publishing studio. Usually people will just casually say, maybe over lunch, “We’ll publish it this week.” But really, publishing and and supporting a digital media work is a very involved thing, including dealing with the finances, branding, marketing, and first- and third-party relations… All of this really means you need a place, a center that’s committed to publishing and helping others publish their work, servicing the work once it’s out there, and helping people understand its impact.

Read more….


[For the past five years I’ve worked in the game-based learning arena, mainly for Zulama, a local company that developed a high school (and now middle school) curriculum based on the work of the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University. In this online article, you’ll discover a new competition open to middle and high school students in Pittsburgh, Dallas, and New York City.]

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Games for Change (G4C) is proud to announce the launch of the 2nd annual G4C Student Challenge in NYC, Pittsburgh, and Dallas for the 2016-2017 school year. This year’s programs features three new themes — Local Stories & Immigrant Voices, Climate Change, and Future Communities — along with a new lineup of partners and student events.

The Challenge is being implemented through a consortium of national partners, including Mouse and Institute of Play, and local partners in each city (The Sprout Fund in Pittsburgh and Big Thought in Dallas) with generous support from the Best Buy Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities and the HIVE Digital Media Learning Fund in The New York Community Trust.

Challenge themes

Students will design games around the following three themes, each supported by partners that provide research assets, workshops, and subject expertise:

  • Local Stories & Immigrant Voices – supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH): Games that explore the unique history of local immigrant experiences through the lens of the student’s own experience;
  • Climate Change – supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA): Games that explore the local effects of climate change, and aim to raise awareness and change the behavior of people in each city;
  • Future Communities – supported by Current, powered by GE: Games about how smart technologies and infrastructure can improve urban life and empower citizens, with participation from the city governments in NYC, Dallas, and Pittsburgh.

Read more…