This article first appeared in the Teaching Professor on July 27, 2020. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.
Studies show that many students do a poor job of studying (Miller, 2017). Quite a few just scan the readings again or cram the night before a test in hopes that the information will last until the next day. But neither strategy is especially effective. The best strategy for preparing for a test is to use spaced retrieval practice which involves answering questions about the course content at intervals. This forces the student to draw the information out of their long-term memory. Not only does this reinforce the information—essentially hardening it to make it easier to produce in the future—but it also mimics the exam experience where the student needs it. Retrieval practice is analogous to a batter practicing by hitting balls in a batting cage, while rereading is a bit analogous to watching another batter practice.
Faculty can help students study effectively by giving them games that reinforce course information. There are a number of apps and websites with free game templates that can be used to build study aids.
Below are some of the best games and sites for making educational games:
- Flippity is a website that offers a multitude of free games. Each game comes with instructions and a template with sample data already included that can be swapped out with course information. While users play the games on the Flippity site, the actual data is housed on a Google Drive spreadsheet in the game maker’s own Google account. To create a game, one clicks the “template” button, which creates a Google Drive spreadsheet that is copied to the creator’s Drive account. The creator then swaps out the data in that spreadsheet for the subject information and clicks “publish to the web.” This creates the game on Flippity website and issues a link that takes players to the game. The game can also be revised at any point by changing the spreadsheet data. Some of my favorites are Flashcards, Quiz Show (a bit like Jeopardy!), and Manipulatives (a drag-and-drop game where players put the correct box on the correct term). There are many other games that are useful for studying as well. One of the most appealing features is that the player can switch the game type, such as from a flashcard to a matching game, and it will automatically create a different game from the same data. Thus, students can choose the game type that best works for them.
- ClassTools is another website offering a number of games, though college instructors will likely only be interested in two: Connect Fours and Fling the Teacher. Connect four presents the player with a wall of 16 items that the player needs to organize into four groups of four according to common features. For instance, a chemistry game might provide four common names of chemical compounds, four structural formulas of those compounds, four categories for those compounds, and the molar mass of each compound. Then the user needs to pick a compound name, connect it with its corresponding structural formula, category, and molar mass, and do the same for the others. Fling the Teacher is modeled after Angry Birds and provides 15 questions for the user to answer. If the player gets all 15 correct, they get to fling an avatar of a teacher with a slingshot, just like in Angry Birds. Yes, some instructors might worry that this game undermines respect for teachers, but I think that students will take it in the lighthearted nature that is intended and appreciate the humor of a teacher assigning this game.
- Educandy also offers a variety of game templates, including a few that the systems already mentioned do not offer, such as Anagrams. The creator picks a template, enters the game data, and is given a unique code that is distributed to players to play the game. Its advantage over the systems mentioned above is its cleaner interface, as well as no ads. But what I really like is that one can download an app version that allows students to study on their tablets or cell phones on the go.
Games are an excellent way for students to study using retrieval practice. Faculty who do not want to be burdened with creating these games can offload the duty onto students by assigning game creation as an assessment. Students can be put into groups, assigned a class topic, and given the job of creating a game that fellow students—including future students—can use as a study aid. Each student should be assigned to create a certain number of questions for each game and to evaluate the questions that others create to ensure that they make sense and are accurate. The instructor then evaluates the outcome for clarity and accuracy and makes it available to the rest of the class and future classes. This way, students not only learn the content themselves in creating the game and learn from the games created by other groups but also get the pride of knowing that they are helping future students succeed. Consider how you can use games in your courses.
John Orlando, PhD, has spent over 20 years teaching online courses and developing online programs at a variety of colleges and universities. He is the editor of Online Classroom series in The Teaching Professor newsletter, and has published over 75 articles and delivered over 100 presentations, workshops, and keynotes on online education, teaching with technology, and social media.
Miller, M. D. (2017, June). Retrieval practice in online teaching. Online Classroom, 17(6), 1, 6.