What Educators Need from Games that Teach

Recall the moment just before your high school teacher was about to introduce an educational video into a lesson. For many students, the Play button was actually a switch that turned their attention off, disengaged them from the subject, and usually signaled time for a nap.

Now, call upon your memories of losing your family to wolves or dysentery on The Oregon Trail—not the actual trail, but the educational desktop video game that became popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s. If you think back—if you’re old enough to think back—to when you first played that game, you’ll probably find you were more excited to play a role as a pioneer in a virtual West than you were to watch an historical reenactment onscreen.

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Cover of Popular Educational Game

Education is a multimedia experience, but some mediums are proving better than others. One that’s getting high marks is the video game. Digital game-based learning provides an immersive experience; many teachers are finding that games are beneficial to students at all performance levels, especially low-performing students, according to The National Survey of Digital Use among Teachers.

Although game-based learning is being embraced by educators, developers targeting the education sector would do well to understand the barriers teachers report when trying to implement games as teaching elements. The list of barriers reported in the survey could read like a road map for an educational game app.

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Walls educators hit

Insufficient Time and Tech Resources—Of teachers surveyed, 45% percent report not having enough time to implement learning-based games, and 35% say they do not have the necessary technical resources. Educational games have to be easy to download, installation must be quick—as many teachers will have to load the game on multiple machines—and configuring the game shouldn’t require a call to the helpdesk.

Cost—Educational systems across the US are dealing with budgetary cuts. Cost is a serious factor when selling education technology, as reported by 44% of the respondents. Be sure your project stays within budget, and research a price point that does not force buyers to exclude your product.

Games Do Not Fit Curriculum—If your game deals with a subject common across school systems, review the curriculum of the biggest school districts to make sure your game flows with the material being taught.

Trouble Finding and Using Games—Teachers who say games are hard to find account for 34% of those surveyed. Another 23% report not understanding how to incorporate a game in their teaching. Don’t expect that the meaning of your game is obvious. A significant part of the game’s marketing must explain how to involve your digital learning tool into daily teaching.

Reaching across platforms

The survey also found that learning games are being deployed on a variety of platforms, ranging from desktop to tablet, but also including interactive whiteboards and smartphones. When developing learning-based games, explore cross-platform game development engines such as MonoGame, Unity, or Cocos2D JS. In the coming months, Sycnfusion’s Succinctly series of free e-books will publish titles concerning a few of these cross-platform engines.

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