Citizenship Goes Digital: Baylor University Researchers Find Online Gaming Effective in Teaching Civics Education
- Student smiles while playing iCivics during the six-weeks study.
- Students playing the iCivics games.
- Brooke Blevins, Ph.D., assistant professor of curriculum and instruction in the Baylor School of Education. (Baylor University photo)
- Karon LeCompte, Ph.D., assistant professor of curriculum and instruction in the Baylor School of Education. (Baylor University photo)
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WACO, Texas (Feb. 14, 2014) --Can playing online video games help students learn civics education? According to Baylor University researchers, the answer is yes.
Brooke Blevins, Ph.D., assistant professor of curriculum and instruction and Karon LeCompte, Ph.D., assistant professor of curriculum and instruction in Baylor's School of Education studied the effectiveness of iCivics, a free online website founded by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor that teaches civics concepts using 19 educational games.
The study, published in The Journal of Social Studies Research, shows iCivics is an effective tool for teaching civics concepts to primary and middle school students. The study can be found at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0885985X13000697.
As part of the study, more than 250 students in two Waco-area school districts played iCivics games for six weeks, twice a week for 30 minutes. Students took pre-tests and post-tests and completed journal entries on their experience.
"Students' scores on a test of civic knowledge significantly improved after playing iCivics for the sample as a whole," LeCompte said.
Statistically, most of the grades showed improvement in their civics education, but with younger students exhibiting the most gains.
"Students in grades 5 and 8 showed improvement in test scores with eight-grade students scoring nearly five points higher on both," Blevins said. "Students in fourth grade showed a marked improvement of nearly 10 points, the highest out of all of the grades."
High school seniors' post-tests remained static with no improvement, but as LeCompte noted the iCivics games were designed for students in sixth through eighth grade.
Additionally, Blevins and LeCompte conducted interviews with teachers about their experiences and observations of students playing the games.
"Teachers indicated that their students loved the games and learned without even realizing they were learning complex civics concepts," Blevins said.
In today's digital world, youth are growing up using the latest technology and tools. This research study has important implications for the future of online gaming and technology in the classroom.
Blevins and LeCompte found that teachers serve as important gatekeepers in determining how civics education is taught in their classrooms, including moving towards an environment that "embraces the skills of today's digital natives."
"Regardless of state and national policy towards social studies assessments, teachers can and should focus on providing meaningful learning opportunities that are inclusive of civics education," LeCompte said.
The iCivics games consist of several modules that include citizenship and participation (Activate), The Constitution and Bill of Rights (Do I Have a Right, Immigration Nation, Argument Wars), budgeting (People's Pie), separation of power (Branches of Power), political campaigning (Win the White House), local government (Counties Work), the Executive branch (Executive Command), the Legislative branch (Lawcraft, Represent Me), and the Judicial Branch (We the Jury, Supreme Decision). Each module has different games to teach the concepts presented in the modules.
Students were able to answer questions and respond to various scenarios presented in the games. In Immigration Nation, students were able to grant entry to people based on immigration laws. To learn how taxes are collected and budgets are created, students played People's Pie and had to determine corporate, payroll and income taxes, decide what federal program to fund or eliminate from the budget, and respond to upset citizens based on funding decisions.
Building on their success with iCivics, Blevins and LeCompte began iEngage Summer iCivics Institute last summer to engage students in active civic learning, focusing on civic leadership and the notion of public service to bridge the gap between civic knowledge and engagement. With additional grant funding from the Hatton W. Sumner's Foundation, they will host a second camp Aug. 11-14, 2014 at Baylor.
To learn more about iCivics, visit www.baylor.edu/mediacommunications/iCivics.
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having "high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.
ABOUT BAYLOR SCHOOL OF EDUCATION
The Baylor School of Education is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and consists of four departments: Curriculum and Instruction (preparation for classroom teachers and specialists); Educational Administration (post-graduate preparation for school leadership); Educational Psychology (undergraduate and graduate programs for those who are interested in learning, development, measurement, and exceptionalities); and Health, Human Performance and Recreation (preparing for sport- and health-related careers, athletic training and careers in recreational professions, including churches).The School of Education enrolls more than 1,000 undergraduate students and 300 graduate students, employs 70 faculty, and is one of the few school s in the State of Texas that offers a yearlong teaching internship.