Mobile Apps in Education….what is “Success?”


The Stata Center houses CSAIL, LIDS, and the D...

The Stata Center houses CSAIL, LIDS, and the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week I’m attending the Sandbox Summit at MIT.  The focus of the Sandbox Summit is kids, play, education and mobile apps.  It’s a fairly small group that is attending…probably about 200 or so people…and a really cool cross-section from the children‘s media-education-technology sectors.  I’ve met some interesting and smart people from companies like Intel, Scholastic, TERC, WGBH, Highlights and Project LAMP, just to name a few. At the Sandbox Summit we are seeing presentations from some of the thought leaders in the industry and participating in workshops where we learn new things.  Today I attended a workshop called “Playing with your Head: Deconstructing Gaming Psychobabble” and it was conducted by Carla Engelbrecht Fisher from No Crusts Interactive.  We explored how to to take terms from educational psychology and operationalize them for educational gaming apps.  For example, when you’re looking to include scaffolding or cooperative learning or distributed learning in apps, what does that actually look like?  How do you design for it?

What was fascinating to me, and what I want to discuss with all of you, was the discussion we had around “success” in educational gaming apps.  What I learned is that I had a preconceived notion of “success” meaning that the app produced a change in student performance as a result of using it.  But others in the room had other definitions….”success” for an educational gaming app could mean that the child had fun; that the child had a ‘positive experience’ using the technology; that the child and his or her family spent time together enjoying the app.

So this got me thinking: what do YOU think the criteria for educational gaming app “success” are?  And if a critical component is NOT a change in learner performance then can we call these educational games?  Or are they really just games??

About karen mahon

i am a behavior and learning scientist. i hold an ed.d. in educational psychology and am trained as an instructional designer. i have spent more than 15 years working in education and instructional software design.
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9 Responses to Mobile Apps in Education….what is “Success?”

  1. For any educational app or educational game, I like to look at the different “taskonomies” out there that ask us to review an app and ask ourselves, what change do we see in learning or performance? What learning objectives will be met? What purpose will this app or game have in a lesson or learning plan?

    • karen mahon says:

      Jennifer, thanks for your comment. “Taskonomies” are new to me and I’d love to check them out. Can you recommend some for me to look at?

      Love that you brought up learning objectives too…sometimes it’s such a struggle to figure out what the learning objective IS with some of these educational apps/games!

  2. Missy says:

    Seeing if the objective is met is what I look for in an educational app. The child learning a new behavior is a given. But the family and child having fun together could also be an educational objective if it leads to a goal of improving family interactions. If the goal is to have fun, well that’s just a game to me.

  3. I feel the same in regards to learning objectives. It’s hard to know if you’ve succeeded if success has not been defined.

  4. Karen,

    Hey today I just finished up an article on Rochard – a gravity-bending action/puzzle game. I figured I would just stop by and let you know, just in case you wanted to give the game a peek. It’s really fun, and who doesn’t love when you have to use a gravity cannon to defend yourself against enemies? I rest my case – check out the article and see if you approve:

    http://gastrogamer.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/game-of-the-week-rochard/

    • karen mahon says:

      Thanks, Chad! Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you yet! In the depths of another project, but I haven’t forgotten you!!!

      Just quickly, I love what you’re doing evaluating accessibility of games. I worked in special ed for many years, so that is near and dear to my heart!

      • Well I’m actually surprised about how receptive everyone has been towards my accessibility reviews. I can only hope that when I start actually developing games that folks will be just as receptive to what I have to offer.

        Thank you though for your heart-warming support. It means a ton to me to know there are others who care about game accessibility, fun, and educational potential for all. Thanks Karen!

  5. Andrew says:

    There are lessons to be learned from games. I guess what makes an educational game special is that it overtly teaches.

    • karen mahon says:

      Hi Andrew- I agree that there are lessons to be learned from games…in fact, I think games often do a much BETTER job of building skills than so-called “educational” apps do. I think ed app developers could learn a lot from game developers. And the piece that is ironic to me is that, I think you’re right, an ed game is supposed to “overtly teach,” but often there’s little or no focus on what the learner does. The teaching that’s included is transmission of info, often not interaction from the learner. Frustrating!

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