In a rapidly evolving information mediascape shaped by participatory, mobile, and multimodal digital technologies, attention is the primary currency, and engagement its main requirement. Today’s students tend to be far more fluent with, and far more attentive to emerging media forms like digital games than the educational specialists seeking to guide and support their learning. Building from the more general first generation research questions of "how can we use games to motivate students," this proposal seeks to study the classroom ecologies (teachers, students, technologies) that best support and enable games for learning. In particular, this study is concerned with questions such as: “What supports does a classroom educator need to implement digital games for learning; how and in what ways are games best implemented in classrooms; what and how do students learn differently via gameplay; and if and how do digital games engage different learners (e.g.: girls, boys, English Language learners)?
This research will contribute to the developing body of research that examines how and in what ways games are implemented in classrooms in K-12 education in Ontario. We still know little about the educational benefits claimed for gameplay, such as whether they transfer to other real world contexts or persist over any length of time beyond the play and evaluation session. The challenge taken up in this proposed research program, therefore, is to address the gap between claims and evidence with regards to game-based learning through a mixed-methods study of the implementation of a digital game and its customized teacher resources for Physical Geography in Grade 7, 8 and 9 classrooms. The central goal of this work is to identify the particular classroom ecologies (teachers, students, technologies, resources, etc.) that necessarily power a digital game "learning engine" (Gee, 2003). This is essential and timely research greatly needed to inform policy and practice guiding the development and deployment of digital games in formal, classroom learning contexts, as well as to contribute to a re-conceptualization of theories and practices of game-based learning.