Evidence-Based Reasoning

Evidence-based reasoning? Strange. Google says almost no one searches for this phrase (73 times/month vs. over 300,000 times/month for “critical thinking”). Yet, identifying evidence and drawing logical conclusions based on this evidence lie at the heart of problem solving, learning, and, yes, critical thinking. Imparting the skills needed for evidence-based reasoning should be a central goal for educators. Students who know how to do this can transfer what they learn between unrelated domains.

If you are still with us, welcome! This is our first blog with “our” being a small non-profit company, inDepthLearning. With support from the National Institutes of Health, we are striving to develop a new type of educational game that middle school students will enjoy, that will require them to reason from evidence, and that will provide them with knowledge and skills they can use to solve real-life problems. Responses to an initial version of our first game exceeded our expectations; kids loved it and learned. But we know that the game can only get better if others contribute. Thus, we are seeking your ideas and input.

We focus on games because they motivate. They can be fun! We want to harness this motivation to serious content and do so in ways that teach students how to identify and assess evidence, form hypotheses, and reach conclusions through logical reasoning. We want to find ways to excite and challenge students to understand more than they thought possible — or are currently taught.

The approaches we are taking to serious game development can be applied to many subject areas. For now, the first of several games under development addresses drugs of abuse. While not central to most middle schools, it is an important subject that too often is not well-taught. We will conduct a nationwide evaluation of the newest version of our Drug Scene Investigators game in January, 2010. Pilot data from an earlier version resulted in many students saying the game was “awesome,” and we know that they learned from it (see http://dsihome.org). Newly implemented features, many suggested by students, should motivate students even more and foster the development of critical thinking skills that can be transferred to other subjects.

During the coming weeks we plan to share our thinking about serious game elements and how they can promote evidence-based reasoning. Examples include critical thinking – what it is, why it is so important, and how it can be embedded in a game; the transfer of learning to other, unrelated real-world problems; the increasing impossibility of learning (and trying to teach) everything; the potential role of challenging work in combating the boredom of many students; the value of personalization and participation; the value of cooperative learning and the closely related topic of social networking; the problem of students being taught for jobs that will not exist; learning as a life-time endeavor; the role of the workplace in an era in which the average person will work in more than five jobs; and addressing the achievement gap through games. This is just a taste.

So, join in and share your thoughts! We reserve the right to remove offensive comments, something we hope we will never need to do. Everything else you write here will remain, including less than favorable comments. So we hope you will view this as a place you can talk about educational games, how they can help youth realize their potential in an undiscovered future, and other topics related to education and learning.

Rees Midgley and Lewis Kleinsmith, Founders, inDepthLearning

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