The Xbox factor: gaming's role in future assessment

Computer games offer 'authentic' test of creativity, says Gloucestershire v-c. Melanie Newman reports

October 1, 2009

In a proposal that will be music to many students' ears, a vice-chancellor has suggested that computer games should play a greater role in assessment.

Patricia Broadfoot, vice-chancellor of the University of Gloucestershire, said computer games could be useful in the tricky area of assessing creativity.

In a speech delivered via teleconference to the International Association for Educational Assessment conference in Brisbane last month, Professor Broadfoot said that computer simulations offered a more "authentic" test of creative problem-solving than current approaches.

"Games are excellent learning tools in that they are interactive and provide rapid feedback, opportunities for extensive practice, engagement with intellectual complexity, emotional involvement and, increasingly, open-ended outcomes that challenge the creativity of the player," she said.

They also offer training in metacognition, strategic thinking, concentration and even social skills.

"Perhaps most important of all for many students is the level of engagement that computers can provide," she said.

"Engagement, as we have seen, is the essential starting point for creative thinking, whether this is at school, at university or in the workplace."

Existing tools for assessing creativity include the Creativity Achievement Questionnaire and the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, the latter invented by Ellis Paul Torrance, professor of educational psychology at the University of Georgia in the US.

The Torrance Tests measure factors such as "originality" - the statistical rarity of responses - and "fluency" - the number of relevant ideas generated in response to stimulus.

But such tests are limited for assessment needs on a large scale, Professor Broadfoot said, adding that the sector needed to "embrace the full potential of the information age".

In 2004, a literature review by the former Learning and Skills Development Agency and Anglia Ruskin University found that computer games motivated young people to learn.

Research has also suggested that gaming could improve cognitive abilities, but in 2008, a team from the University of Illinois found that non-gamers showed no improvement in memory skills or the ability to multitask after spending 20 hours playing video games.

Professor Broadfoot predicted that educational assessment, which is her main academic interest, will move from mass examinations to a more flexible credit-based system.

"It may be that the familiar 'rites of passage' of school-leaving, university entrance examinations, degree finals and professional qualifications will begin to be replaced by the ability to accumulate credit at different times and levels," she said.

E-assessment-on-demand is already in use in the private sector, in areas such as foreign-language tuition, and in the UK's driving-licence theory test, she added.

"The learner will increasingly be in charge of their own learning journey, the teacher increasingly a facilitator, working in partnership with the student to help them build elements of their personal electronic portfolio - a record of achievement that provides a unique and self-managed narrative on each individual's lifelong learning," Professor Broadfoot said.

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