Epistemic Games – a better way to assess

Social Communicative Aspects of ICT

Gamification, games for learning are not new words anymore. The App Store is now abundant with educational games which help people (especially kids) learn maths, physics, alphabets, pinyin, and a lot more. But games for testing? That is something new.

This week’s reading The Right Kind of GATE: Computer games and the future of assessment by Shaffer, D. W., & Gee, J. P impresses me a lot, introducing a better way to assess students’ performance, not by standardized tests, but by epistemic games, which enable students to learn to solve complex problems occurred in a professional field in real life.

Shaffer is a professor in University of Wisconsin- Madison, and also leads the Epistemic Games Group, “which develops virtual internships, assessment tools, and other innovative learning technologies.” (More information can been found at their website http://edgaps.org/gaps/)

Here I include a brief introduction video of the Epistemic Games Group and what they have done.

I agree with the opinion that in many ways, games focus on good assessment and problem solving and that they can be well adapted to become assessment tools. However, questions also raise, such as:

1. Are these games fun? Will they become too realistic to lose the charm as games?

2. Why couldn’t we just ask students to participate in projects which simulate real life problem-solving rather than take the trouble to develop a game?

3. In the article, the author says that:

A GATE would have to take into account the fact that these children have not had the same experiences and provide missing resources before or during the assessment.

Imagine, if you will, two students. One comes from a family that has provided many learning experiences outside of school. This student starts the school year working at the 11th grade level and finishes at the 12th grade level. A second student comes from a family that does not (and perhaps can not) provide many enrichment experiences. She starts the school year working at the 7th grade level and finishes at the 11th grade level. The first child is a year “ahead” of the second in terms of her “level” of performance. However, with the appropriate resources, the second child made up 4 grade levels in a single year. The question is: which of these students would you want to hire? The choice seems obvious if what we care about is how well students take advantage of opportunities and use resources, rather than simply measuring what resources were already made available to them.

I don’t quite agree with the idea of “providing missing resources” and the example, especially the “obvious” choice to hire the second child. In real life, resources are not always ready for you out there. Most of the time you have to find hard to get them. So why would it be fair for the first child who spent the past several years learning so hard, while all his efforts are disregarded later simply because “the unbalance between resources”? What the first child has done was also a great demonstration of his ability to learn. And somehow I feel that in some tests, it is deliberately set that way to test students something which is not included in class, in order to see if they have done their own research out of class. The ability to be self-motivated and self learning is of vital importance in our rapidly-changing era, so I don’t think it’s a good idea to make the school testing system too vacuum and too idealized.

But after all, I definitely look forward to the real application of epistemic games as new testing tools and I am eager to learn more about them.

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