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As a collection of learning scientists, we have rich experience in analyzing commercial and educational games to understand their power, articulate their limitations, and provide directions for revisions with the goal of making them more impact-driven.

With respect to research goals, we are interested in (a) examining learning as it unfolds within the gaming contexts, (b) assessing conceptual gains before and after the game-infused experiences, and (c) tracking longer term outcomes both at the individual and systems level. The goal of which is to simultaneously produce theory and impact.

Gathering claims about the power of games for impact, involves multiple forms of research appropriate at different stages in the research lifecycle. Three of the most active research activities are:

  • Design-Based Research: Design research is not so much an approach as it is a series of approaches, with the intent of producing new theories, artifacts, and practices that account for and impact learning and teaching in naturalistic settings. In such work, learning gains are necessary, but not sufficient as a key component of design research is accounting for why and under what conditions such learning happens with the goal of advancing both products and theories.
  • Needs/Landscape/Opportunity Analysis: While any design work should begin with a clear analysis of the project’s needs, it must also take into consideration related work in the proposed area of interest. Here, conducting a landscape analysis can provide a wealth of insight into what works, what doesn’t work, and what is needed before even beginning new designs.
  • Social Impact Analysis: Social impact analysis is one of the most difficult sorts of research to conduct. Here one examines inputs, outputs, and long-term tracking of outcomes at the individual and systems level. The goal is to both understand longer-term outcomes at the individual level and to drive improvements that increase the value of programs to the people they serve.
  • Research Reports. One can interrogate the value of a game for impact at the level of the learning science theory that informs the game mechanics/play, or interview users to better understand the potential impact, or carry out a more substantial analysis by observing the game being implemented in a context. Such reports can be based on qualitative data to build rich insights into mechanism, or through quantitative data about group differences through an experimental design.

These types of research can include following the game through classroom implementations, or using our research laboratories on the Tempe campus to examine game play and learning. We are quite interested in looking at individual products to examine usage, or to have design teams in-residence for periods of time where we collectively examine game play, video data, all in relation to project goals. All these activities are framed and supported using an apprenticeship model, allowing participants to level up under the ongoing support from research mentors and in the context of examining real products. This includes initial activities for novices, along with pre-determined leveling trajectories based on learning progressions to support deeper mastery of various research methodologies, but especially design-based research.