Education professor wins grant to develop digital game-based ‘stealth’ assessments

Valerie Shute, a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems at FSU

When playing digital games, children hone skills such as persistence, creative problem solving, and conceptual physics that traditional pen-and-paper assessment methods may not measure.

That’s why Florida State University College of Education Professor Valerie Shute is designing, developing and evaluating "stealth" assessments and well-disguised educational content that can be embedded in digital games to surreptitiously measure key competencies in children.

Now, Shute has been awarded a $600,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that should take her already internationally recognized work to the next level. The grant will support "Developing Stealth Assessments for Use in Digital Games," a new project led by Shute that will develop ways to extract game-play data from players’ log files and use it to learn more about a child’s competencies and developmental progress.

"My FSU colleagues, students and I have created stealth assessment mockups, but so far no one has actually built them directly within a digital game, as part of game play," said Shute, an expert in educational psychology and learning systems. "The new grant will help us to develop three stealth assessments within one game."

She said the assessments would be designed to pull out information from game play and use that data to make inferences about the states of various competencies. Shute and her colleagues will examine the degree to which such assessment methods yield valid, reliable measures, and the ease and challenges of reusing the evidence-based models in a second digital game.

Traditional assessments often lack context, and are too simplified and abstract to suit current education needs, according to Shute, who said they also fail to show what students actually can do with the knowledge and skills acquired in, and often outside of, school.

In contrast, well-designed digital games provide meaningful assessment environments, presenting students with scenarios to which they must respond with a wide range of skills.

"We need to assess students in relevant, engaging environments," said Shute, "not just by asking them to fill in bubbles on a prepared test form."

Shute’s Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant is the latest example of growing interest in her work. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently featured her research prominently in an article on the use of video games to measure thinking skills, while National Public Radio interviewed her last summer about Quest to Learn, a unique New York City public school where Shute has conducted research on its adoption of the video game as a teaching model.

For more information, contact Shute at (850) 644-8785 or; or Amber Smalley, director of communications and alumni relations for the FSU College of Education, at (850) 228-5943 or