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Volume 26, Number 6
November/December 2010

Video Games Take Testing to the Next Level

Researchers see promise in game-like assessments that measure complex skills


Students demonstrate scientific inquiry skills by playing a video game about kelp forests in fictional Kamagua Bay, Alaska

Young people playing Halo or World of Warcraft might not realize it, but they are working on the prototypes for a future generation of student tests.

“A video game is nothing but a series of tests,” says James Paul Gee, the Mary Lou Fulton Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State University and the author of What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Game players, he notes, are continually using their knowledge to solve problems. They need to know, for example, how much energy they need to jump over chasms, which tool to use to open doors, and which weapons to use against particular foes. And, Gee says, “At the end, there’s a ‘super-test’; if you pass, you can take it to a new level.”

Based on these principles, Gee and others are currently developing new models of assessment that immerse students in virtual worlds to measure abilities that are difficult, if not impossible, to capture on pencil-and-paper tests, such as the ability to solve problems and conduct scientific inquiry. In some cases, these assessments are also learning experiences, because students receive instantaneous feedback, as players do in actual video games.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

Researchers at the Virtual Assessment Project in Cambridge, Mass., are developing three virtual assessments with seven school district partners. Watch a video about the development of the Kamagua Bay game-based assessment on their Web site.

J. Clarke, and C, Dede. “Assessment, Technology, and Change.” Journal of Research in Teacher Education 42, no. 3, (2010): 309-328.

S. Corbett. “Learning by Playing: Video Games in the Classroom.” The New York Times, Sept. 15, 2010.

C. Dede. “Immersive Interfaces For Engagement and Learning”. Science 323, no. 5910, (2009): 66-69.

D.L. Schwartz, and D. Arena. Choice-Based Assessments for the Digital Age. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University, August 2009.