Game-based learning is a hot topic in education right now. Among other qualities, its ability to promote deeper learning and engagement have many educators looking to this pedagogical approach to supplement their instructional delivery of core content in the classroom. But if game-based learning can render such great results with academic content, can it serve to teach and assess social skills too? Melissa E. DeRosier PhD says, “yes!” Her new book, Social Skills Assessment Through Games: The New Best Practice explores just how this works.

While social skills assessment has traditionally been administered with paper and pencil, navigating through a battery of questions, DeRosier suggests research-based ways that such surveys can be better leveraged with online game-based technology.

In her book, DeRosier reviews the literature underlying social skills assessment (SSA), providing a comparative evaluation of traditional SSA approaches, and suggests ways that game-based SSA can be leveraged to provide for intervention at both school and home.

“Social skills impact all social relationships,” DeRosier says. “While each relationship brings slightly different social demands and expectations, these nuances do not take away from the critical role of social skills.”

Identifying appropriate games to assess social skills is increasingly becoming difficult due to others who have identified a hot trend and have begun producing games purported to support SSA. DeRosier acknowledges this fact and reminds readers to look beyond the shiny packaging for “solid research demonstrating validity and reliability,” which the author outlines in her book, broken up into four distinct parts.

As alluded to before, Part 1 digs into the social skills literature to define various types of social skills and how they affect the dynamics of our social relationships. “[Social Skills Training] programs can help motivate children to behave prosocially by explicitly teaching and letting them practice prosocial attitudes that drive intent,” DeRosier points out. She continues, saying, “Helping children understand that acting with mutual respect, responsibility, and honesty can produce a win-win [and] increase the likelihood of their using prosocial means to achieve their social goals.”

In part 2, the reader is introduced to how social skills in children are traditionally assessed. DeRosier laments that, “For most SSA purposes, ‘quick and dirty’ methods are a waste of the time you spend administering them. Even worse, they’ll likely cost you more time in the end than if you had chosen a more accurate, yet more time-consuming approach in the first place.” In this section, DeRosier also identifies common goals for SSA, including screening to identify children with SSA deficits, monitoring a child’s progress during the course of an intervention, and evaluating the impact of an intervention for helping a child achieve particular outcomes.

Part 3 calls the reader to consider how game-based assessment can transcend the limitations of traditional social skills assessments with children using the game Zoo U as an example. Here, DeRosier says that “By incorporating well-established educational game frameworks and engaging game mechanics found in successful entertainment games, we were able to develop an SSA that appeals to both children and teachers while alleviating the many hurdles associated with traditional SSA methods.”

Finally, Part 4 examines how game-based SSA can be used to improve current practices for social skills intervention. In support of this point, DeRosier explains that, “games allow children a safe place to explore the consequences of different social choices without the burden of those consequences persisting for days, months, or years . . . Games [also] allow for multiple characters that have varying degrees of social mastery, self-awareness, and alignment with the goals of the student. Characters can supply both positive and negative examples of social behavior and challenge the student in situated contexts that mirror the real world.”

In Social Skills Assessment Through Games: The New Best Practice, DeRosier has created a very comprehensive and eye-opening discussion of utilizing an increasingly popular pedagogy in game-based learning to systematically support the instruction and assessment of a skill that predicates a child’s ability to master academic skills, content areas, and 21st century skills. As stated on the back cover of this book, “If you’re an educator, clinician, or parent seeking to understand the most effective practices for evaluating children’s social skills, you’ll want to learn about the powerful potential of this innovative new assessment approach.”