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Playing Fair

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Competition in the Classroom

A lot of instructors are understandably nervous about teaching with games, but certain challenging ideas, like competition between classmates, aren't an essential component to games, especially for your first few game-based exercises.

Using games for learning requires the same priorities we already employ for formal assessment: fairness and relevance of the score to learned material.

Focus on Winning vs. Focus on Learning

This is a very serious concern and a good response to it distinguishes a truly educational game from mere entertainment. Lepper and Cordova, 1992 report if the material to be learned is simply in the background of the game, that students will breeze by it on their way to the finish line without noticing it. Learning must be essential to scoring and to winning.

Students at a Disadvantage

Physical and Learning Disabilities: If a disability prevents a student from performing certain tasks, or has them performing the tasks at a disadvantage, you need to determine whether that task is integral to learning.

Students who consider themselves "no good at science" have difficulties in traditional science classes. Will these students become even more intimidated at the prospect of a science competition?

Domination by Teammates: Students who are shy or disadvantaged may let their teammates do all the work and rack up all the points.

The Same Players Winning (or Losing) All of the Time: This can happen, when one group or person is noticably better prepared or motivated than the others.

For Further Reading

The Positive Coach Mental Model - Research Summary: Teaching with games to improve self-esteem.

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