Next Steps: The Potential of Digital Games for Healthy Development and Learning

At a White House event in 2011, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the establishment of the Digital Promise, a nonprofit initiative created to promote digital technologies with the potential to transform teaching and learning. Experts on digital media and learning cheered this latest signal that robust experimentation with technology based on rigorous research and development would take a more prominent place in the national education reform debate. Here are some of the key challenges that more research and development work on well-designed game-based learning platforms might help address in the decade ahead.

The Nation’s Literacy Crisis

Foundational literacy skills are completely stagnant among low-income and minority students; despite billions of dollars spent on early intervention in literacy, we have made scant progress in 25 years. Tragically, only one in six African-American or Hispanic fourth-graders is proficient in reading, according to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress; time has run out on our twentieth-century approach to this wholly preventable national disgrace. New evidence from the U.S. Department of Education’s Ready to Learn programs have shown significant gains in vocabulary-development and reading-comprehension skills that can be facilitated by embedded media, like games, that personalize and deepen literacy learning (e.g., Penuel et al., 2009). We need to know much more about how engaging games can be delivered in multiple digital formats anytime, anywhere to promote learning “right from the start.”

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