The Science Behind Educational Board Games and Learning

Game-based learning is one of the most popular teaching methods nowadays. It aims to improve students’ knowledge through peer collaboration and interaction (Adams, 2006).

John Coveyou, a former biology, chemistry, and physics teacher, founded Genius Games in 2013. He created his company to make intimidating concepts more relatable. He specializes in creating board games that accurately model challenging science concepts.

Game-Based Learning

There are several ways teachers can use games for learning. One approach is to find a game with educational value and integrate it into the lesson plan. Another is to use a game as the basis for a project or activity. Finally, some educators use games as a reward for students or as a pastime activity. Educators need to be careful to distinguish these different uses of games.

The educational potential of games has long been recognized, even before the digital era. 20th-century psychologists like Jean Piaget and Leonard Vygotsky emphasized that play is vital to cognitive development. Digital and analog games, educational board games, can teach cooperation, creativity, and analysis skills.

Some research suggests that playing certain digital games can improve academic performance. However, the evidence for this needs to be more consistent and convincing. Perhaps the reported link between gaming and real-world skills reflects chance or other factors that are not accounted for.

Board and card games, whether digital or analog, can provide a context for students to explore complex topics that cannot be taught using traditional methods such as lectures and practice tests. For example, a teacher can have students use a card game to study the effects of environmental pollution. Students can work in groups to play the card game and report back on the results of their experiment.

Game-Based Assessment

As the name suggests, game-based assessments are psychometric tests that incorporate games and gaming elements. They are a popular way employers assess candidates during the hiring process. These assessments are typically completed online on a laptop or mobile device and take 60 – 70 minutes. They are a great way to understand a candidate’s natural behavior and reactions and are more representative of work situations than traditional questions-based assessments.

Often, the game choice is critical to its effectiveness as an assessment. For example, a social studies teacher candidate who wants to use games in her classroom may start by searching for educational games with historical themes. She might find that educational games set in the 17th through 19th centuries are particularly well-received by players.

It is essential to remember that game-based assessments require high concentration and attention. Therefore, taking these assessments is best when you feel most alert and in a distraction-free environment. Reading the instructions and identifying what the assessment is trying to measure is also helpful. For example, if a game asks you to remember certain items, it measures your memory.

Some research indicates that previous experience with video games and gaming hardware can bias the results of a game-based assessment. For this reason, the games used in these types of assessments must be designed to be as accessible and neutral as possible.

Game-Based Collaboration

While many games are played individually, there is a growing trend in board and tabletop gaming to engage in collaborative play. Some games incorporate social elements, such as character interaction and dialogue, that can enhance the learning experience. In addition, some studies have found that collaborative gaming can increase students’ learning outcomes.

Collaborative educational games can be a valuable tool for educators in their classrooms and at home to help learners acquire teamwork competencies. The ludic engagement and competition inherent in these games can also be a motivating force for learners. Some scholars have also found that learners prefer educational games with a collaborative learning environment.

Research has shown that board games can help students become more engaged in science by using interactive and engaging methods that encourage collaboration, inquiry, and critical thinking. Moreover, they can be used to promote social learning and provide opportunities for students to apply what they have learned.

The study by Unal-Coban and Ergin also suggests that board games can be practical tools for enhancing students’ love of learning and improving their attitudes toward school. However, using games in teaching should be considered carefully and thoroughly, with attention to the students’ motivations and needs. This can be achieved by integrating these games with appropriate pedagogic practices.

Game-Based Motivation

For some learners, the challenge of playing a board game can provide the motivation they need to continue learning. Unlike some educational games that may present an overly complex challenge and a negative experience for students who fail, many of today’s board games are designed with the ability to adjust complexity according to student needs.

For example, in the game Catan: Oil Springs, players can invest in new oil wells while investing in environmental conservation projects. This enables students to learn how to balance these priorities in the face of resource constraints. Additionally, the game teaches that it is okay to lose and how to accept defeat with dignity. Young people must understand that problem-solving is a learned skill rather than something they are naturally good at.

Teachers can leverage these same principles when designing digital game-based learning experiences. By incorporating personalized game paths and avatars, learner-specific difficulty adjustments, and a narrative structure that keeps students engaged in the learning process, educators can develop a more effective and engaging experience. One study found that students who played a digital game-based learning experience performed better on their posttest than those who did not play the game (Dziob, 2020). Personalizing and engaging with the content helps learners stay motivated to continue working toward success.

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