Now nearly three decades into the research, the impact of digital games for learning robustly shows the benefits. There are games that are even becoming FDA approved for treatments (see Project EVO for ADHD and the like and Sea Hero Quest for Alzheimer’s).
Many educational games though suffer the “chocolate covered broccoli” conundrum. It’s essentially just meaningless drill and kill repackaged with shiny lights or play time with no real educational value, assessment, or adaptation.
There are games that get it right though (think DragonBox math instead of Math Blasters). For years District 75, in New York City has been using simulation games like a 3D World (based on Second-Life) and Minecraft to teach real world concepts that might be too difficult, expensive, or risky to do in the physical world. In doing so we’ve found that the “playful learning” sticks even better. It’s essentially digital project-based learning that studies show is retained by students better.
A game I have found effective for behavior management is Classcraft. I’ve implemented other programs/ behavioral/ point systems both recommended by behavioral experts (yes D75 loves ABA and B.F. Skinner) and ones I created myself. For many the points / badges, while initially motivating, seem arbitrary over time because, unlike Classcraft, they are not connected to real life events. The external rewards systems (treats) lose effectiveness because they don’t eventually get linked with internal motivators (challenge, meaning, social connection, etc.).
Classcraft inherently incorporates those factors, and I personally saw the drastic success in affecting the behaviors of some of the most cognitively and behaviorally challenged students.
If you were an early user of Classcraft, you may have found it confusing, but my geek factor probably got me involved using Classcraft early despite initial challenges that might have halted others. Today the class setup and management is much easier (the site was revamped last year and synced up with Google Classroom) and the support info, online training, and tutorial videos available along with class printables are much more robust.
Classcraft helped to totally shift my classroom dynamics for the better. l had formerly reticent students become class leaders and aggressive students now kindly asking for aid from the “healers” they needed help from who they previously may have bullied. It’s one thing to, as a teacher, encourage positive interactions and discourage negative behavior. I had students who mastered a lesson/skill begging to help their teammates to earn rewards. It’s a whole other thing to see students become internally motivated to change those behaviors on their own.
Yes, the kids love the costumes and powering up, but eventually, they began to see how those temporary benefits led to lasting changes in achievement and improved feelings of self-worth.