Wednesday, June 19, 2013

New report on STEM and digital game learning

Two new reports from SRI was released this past week that was a meta-analyses of all the research that's been published on 1) simulations on STEM learning and 2) digital games. The findings are in general that yes, simulations and games can help to improve learning. Woohoo. Now, before we all run away and start developing STEM apps, here are some of my notes from the reports to keep in mind for app development...

Simulations on STEM learning:
1) Focused on computer-based simulations that were neither simple visualizations nor involved games.
So, not too simple, yet, not too complex.

2) Simulations were developed by researchers.
I'm including this only to say that understanding learning theories is important. It's not just about obtaining good content, but about incorporating that content with other features that enhances learning.

3) Out of the 2,392 initial abstracts, only 40 studies made the cut. 37% were cut because they were not a research-based article.
Again, there's lots of buzz, but not too much evidence.

4) Though no differences were found across age groups, only 4 out of the 40 studies targeted K-5th grades, where as 12 out of 40 targeted 6-8 grades, and over half - 23 out of the 40 studies targeted 9-12 grades
Apps so far skew way younger. Older students may benefit more from technology than younger students.

5) The majority of the studies targeted Science (33 out of 40) as opposed to Math (4) Engineering (2) and Technology (1).
There are many more apps for literacy and math than science.

Here are some of my favorite science apps:
PreK - 5th: Sid's Science Fair, This is My Body, Bobo Explores Light, The Magic School Bus
6th- 8th: Apps by KIDS DISCOVER
9th-12th: Frog Dissection, The Elements, Nova Elements, Simple Physics

Digital Games:
The results for digital games was not as clear. Analyses were based on 77 studies targeting grades spanning PreK-16, averaging around 6-7th grades. Again, most (92%) were computer-based games. Because the studies ranged in the target domain (science, literacy, math, etc.), outcome measures (knowledge, cognitive processes/strategy, general knowledge, etc.) and more, it was hard to draw strong conclusions once whittled down to the sub-categories. The overall point I got though, was that design matters! No real surprises here, but just stresses that it's not just about having good content.

1) For studies that compared the game to other non-game instruction, simple game integration and interactivity may lead to positive outcomes.

2) For studies that compared the game to a control, no intervention group, no positive effect was found. But the researchers note that these games were generally of low production value, among other factors.

3) There was some evidence that games providing scaffolding had positive effects for cognitive/strategy learning.

The Survey Spot
Take this quick survey on parental gating on apps! If you've at all thought about children's privacy and safety while playing apps please take a minute to do the survey. Read the parental gating post for some context.

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The survey's for parents, teachers, developers, and whoever else. The more responses, the better the results - Help spread the word!

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