By Amanda Dodge • July 8, 2022

Are All Classroom Online Games Created Equal, and Are They a Waste of Time?

Teachers and administrators are constantly inundated with new tech. From lesson planning apps to classroom games, there seems to be a new tool for everything. Some of these tools are useful, while others seem like a waste of time.  

Gamifying education – introducing games to lesson plans to engage students – isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Today’s EdTech apps meet students in an environment where they are already comfortable. Your students love playing video games at home, so why not bring them to the classroom? However, some teachers have noticed that not all games are created equal. 

Should you bring a new game to your classroom? How do you know if it is worth your time? Here is what you need to know about EdTech effectiveness and how to sort beneficial games from tools that you and your students will both get frustrated by. 

You Can’t Waste Your Time on Single-Purpose Games

The year of remote learning caused by the Covid-19 pandemic caused an explosion in education technology innovation. Suddenly, every company promised the perfect tech solution for every classroom. New companies were formed and existing companies vied for investor funds. 

According to the Holon IQ Global EdTech Venture Capital Report, investment in education technology startups was three times higher in 2021 than before the pandemic. In 2019, global venture capital firms gave $7.0 billion to education companies. By 2021, that number exceeded $20.8 billion. These billions of dollars are spread across hundreds – even thousands – of companies all creating tech for teachers. 

But is the technology any good? 

If you ask teachers, they will give you mixed results. While many educators have favorite online classroom games, others feel overwhelmed and annoyed by the number of solutions being thrown at them.  

“During virtual learning especially, educators were completely inundated with far too many programs,” says Ryan Fan, a Baltimore City special education teacher. “I am young, have a master’s degree, and am known for being pretty tech-savvy for a teacher, but there were too many options for which programs to use.” 

As a result, educators are taking a step back. They would rather have a few high-quality tools to guide their lessons instead of grabbing onto any new app that debuts. 

In your game search, this means you need a tool that can be used in your classroom for the whole year and across multiple subjects for consistency. A single-purpose online game that teaches multiplication might seem fun, but it’s not worth your time to learn how to incorporate it unless it can also teach fractions and verbs. You need a multi-purpose partner, not just a fun, one-time app.  

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Games Should Teach, Not Just Review

What is the purpose of introducing games to your lesson plans? Why even bother gamifying the classroom? 

Oftentimes, teachers use online games as a reward for students. Once your kids finish a lesson, they spend half a class period playing games and practicing what they learned. That’s fine if rewarding students and reinforcing ideas are your two main objectives. However, it may be harder to find the right solutions if you are proactively looking to teach new material through technology. 

“Using games in teaching can help increase student participation, foster social and emotional learning, and motivate students to take risks,” says Hoa P. Nguyen, assistant editor at Edutopia. Nguyen highlights studies that show students with ADHD focus better when they are playing games and how students with dyslexia improve spatial and temporal attention – improving reading scores.  

This research highlights how games are more than reward systems and tools for checking off SEL requirements. They can be used to introduce students to new concepts, which you can then reinforce off the screen. 

At eSpark Learning, we live by the policy that our games enable students to play to learn. We don’t believe that today’s kids have to learn and then play. 

Your Online Classroom Games Need to be Engaging  

From an education side, you need games that actually teach the lessons you are introducing to students. Otherwise, these various apps and tools are just distractions that take up class time. From the student side, these games and apps actually need to be fun. 

If you sat down with your students, they could likely name some of their favorite games. These are the Among Us and Minecraft-like apps that captivate students for hours and inspire their Halloween costumes. Most kids can also talk about games they download that they got bored with or couldn’t understand. A game alone won’t engage today’s students – it also has to be good.  

Maija Kozlova, a senior assessment manager at Cambridge English, uses the phrase “chocolate-covered broccoli” to describe games that aren’t actually fun for students. They look engaging on the outside but aren’t rewarding or enjoyable once you start playing. She even quotes one student that says, “I like games, but not the boring ones.” 

Effective classroom online games need to keep the attention of students and pass their critical eye. For example, when students play eSpark games, they vote after each one to share whether they actually like it or not. We use this feedback when deciding what games will shape our curriculum, and what games maybe shouldn't. This is what makes students want to use the eSpark system. 

The Best Games Accommodate Different Learners

One final feature to look for if you are interested in gamifying education is differentiation amongst learners. Every student has different strengths and weaknesses. One student might love fractions but struggle with geometry, while another masters find the area of oblong shapes. Valuable online classroom games will challenge each learner and focus on the topics they need to work on most. 

It’s not just your struggling students that you need to find accommodations for. Advanced students can get bored easily, causing them to stop participating and potentially leading them to be disruptive. 

Look for games that target the unique strengths and weaknesses. You can’t be 30 places at once in the classroom, meeting 30 students on their level. Instead, your online classroom games can do this for you. They can push advanced students while helping other learners catch up. 

Find a Partner With eSpark Learning

Our team strives to be a partner for educators. We create online classroom games that can be used throughout the year and by the entire school. Kindergarteners can play games related to sight words in the morning and fifth-graders can master geometry concepts in the afternoon. From August to April our adventures can be used to introduce new material and keep learners of all levels engaged. 

Don’t get overwhelmed by niche solutions and tools that claim to solve overly-specific classroom problems. Instead, find a resource that you can rely on to guide your students through core concepts they will use from now through adulthood. Check out our student activities to see what we can offer your students.

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