I spent the past two days at the GLS 2010 conference, presented two projects I have been working on in the past years. One is "Augmented learning for Middle school kids" involving Gaming SMALLab at Q2L, and the other one is "Mannahatta: The Game". The second one is part of a bigger presentation titled "Game by Network: Thinking about Game Design for the Development of City-Wide Learning Channels". The conference was awesome, however, while everyone is certain that game is somewhat educational, no one was able to provide a new assessment method that will work for measuring game-based learning. Mcnemar's test is so last century.
I remember at "The Night to Re-imaging Learning", Katie Salen mentioned that we are in a time that games have the best access to kids' learning. That has been proven right and kids are so ready for it. However, I think now is also the time for us to convince those people around the kids, such as teachers and parents, that this medium will really work. To do that, a new set of assessment tools is needed to measure game-based learning, and it has to be standardized.
At Q2L, we work with teachers to create game-like quests as alternatives to classroom-base learning. The common goal of every game we made here is to create the "needs to know" (Katie) in kids inside or outside of the game. In order to be better in the game, kids are often self-motivated on related research. More amazingly, they sometimes came up with their own methods and strategies on memorizing materials for quick reference while playing games, or "cheats" in game terms. We are experts at designing those "need to know" moments using principles of game design. Our experiences told us that games have the potential to transform their memorized concepts to long-term active knowledge.
The other reason that is hard to create assessment tools for measuring game-based learning is that game is not a self-contained educational system that guarantees positive learning outcomes. Because games are interactive systems, and sometimes the results of certain interactions might generate negative emotions in kids. The dissemination of these negative emotions can be guided to a greater learning moment in my experience. We need guidance in game, and it could be any formats, introductions, discussion, worksheet, complete curriculum, ... etc. However, if there is not a moment in or after the game that kids reconnect their in-game experiences to a sets of learning goals, then those experience are wasted. The assessment tools have to somehow capture those moments happened outside of the games to give a more accurate evaluation.