Learning Good Citizenship the Digital Way

iCivics games help students engage in learning, study finds
By Marie Yeung, Epoch Times Staff
February 22, 2014 Updated: February 21, 2014

Students can now learn about citizenship and government in a fun, engaging way. iCivics, a free website founded by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, teaches civics concepts using 19 educational games.

“Students play video games and answer questions in response to different scenarios that focus on civics knowledge and dispositions,” said Karon LeCompte, Ph.D., researcher and assistant professor at Baylor University’s School of Education, in a telephone interview.

Le Compte is co-author of a recent study that explores the impact of the new game on student learning.

“As recent national citizenship reports have suggested, the level of civic knowledge in the U.S. has remained unchanged or even declined over the past century,” states the study.

The study, published in The Journal of Social Studies Research, involved over 250 students in two Waco, Texas, school districts who played iCivics games for half an hour, twice a week, for six weeks. Pre-tests and post-tests were given to the students, who were also asked to write about their experience.

“Students in grades 5 and 8 showed improvement in test scores, with eighth-grade students scoring nearly five points higher on both,” said study co-author Brooke Blevins, Ph.D., researcher and assistant professor at Baylor’s School of Education. “Students in fourth grade showed a marked improvement of nearly 10 points, the highest out of all of the grades.”

High school students did not show improvement during their post-test. According to LeCompte, the iCivics games are tailored for students between sixth and eighth grade.

“All the students had gains across the board in terms of content knowledge,” said LeCompte. “The twelfth-graders were kind of flat-lined in their gains, which makes sense because by twelfth grade they’ve already had these courses.”

Teachers Learn, Too

Structured interviews were conducted with the teachers after their experience with iCivics, in which they reported that the students were more comfortable using the games than the teachers were because they have been using technology-driven devices as early as 3 and 4 years old.

“The teachers needed more time to understand the games because they are really digital immigrants,” said LeCompte. “They were just not raised that way. They didn’t have computers or iPads at their fingertips all the time.”

The level of education each student benefits from is teacher-dependent, as interaction and support from an instructor takes the experience beyond students just playing video games. This interactive process—versus reading a textbook—helps students assimilate to any content area that they might not understand.

The Game

The iCivics games consists of several modules that mimic the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights (“Do I Have a Right,” “Immigration Nation,” “Argument Wars”), the Executive Branch of the U.S. government (“Executive Command”), the Judicial Branch (“We the Jury,” “Supreme Decision”), and the Legislative Branch (“Lawcraft,” “Represent Me”). They games also include topics such as citizenship (“Activate”), budgeting (“People’s Pie”), separation of powers (“Branches of Power”), political campaigning (“Win the White House”), and local government (“Counties Work”).

“The students were so connected to the game that they loved the game even without knowing that they were learning, so there were no classroom management issues,” said LeCompte. “The students had also extended their learning outside of the classrooms.”

LeCompte believes that this will help set a foundation to increase the students’ likelihood of engagement in today’s governmental issues.