Research corner

30th October 2015 at 00:00

In the last of our magazine series highlighting education research conducted by teachers, TES Professional finds out how Paul Nolan, an A-level economics teacher at Blessed William Howard Catholic High School in Staffordshire, turned his economics students’ grades around using online games


Objective tests, in which students respond to a series of multiple-choice questions, form a third of the AS-level economics exam paper. Yet despite a belief among students that the multiple choice papers would be easy, Paul Nolan, pictured, found that they were often what challenged them most.


Historical examination data for Nolan’s school indicated that his students did not perform as well in this element of the examination compared with national data and that of similar schools, and the objective test was fast becoming a barrier. He decided to study the impact of online gameplay in raising attainment; making it not only an appraisal objective but also the subject of his MA dissertation at Staffordshire University.


Nolan chose Zondle, a game-based learning platform, to conduct his research. After completing an objective test which served as a benchmark, the students were split into a control group and a Zondle group. This latter group enjoyed unlimited access to objective-style questions within a gaming format on the Zondle website, which the control group was denied. The aim was to see if the gameplay element motivated students to repeat questions, developing familiarity with the style and embedding knowledge and understanding of the topics. After two weeks, both groups took a second test on the same topics. Owing to the small sample size of 41, Nolan analysed the resulting data using the Wilcoxon signed-rank test.

The results

This analysis suggested that although both groups made an improvement of the equivalent of one grade from the benchmark test, Zondle – as compared with less technologically advanced methods – was no better in improving student attainment, as indicated by the lack of correlation between game use and grades. Zondle’s emphasis on repetition to enhance understanding was also challenged by the emergence of a trend whereby second test scores for some students, who had tried tasks several times, were lower than their first.

The impact

In terms of student performance in examinations, economics at the school has improved since the study. The research also revealed the vast benefits these online resources can bring to teachers. Nolan says the only way to realise the full potential of educational gameplay is to conduct further research into the specific skills that it can hone, and into whether this is something that can be sustained over long periods of time, owing to the potential for excitement and subsequent fatigue.

To find out more, contact Paul Nolan at

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