The topic of digital literacy can be on the somewhat dry side at times, which is exactly why a group of educators at a Tennessee school set out to make learning about this topic fun. The result of this collaborative effort in early 2015 was a board game they call Digital Brainium.

“We had an opportunity for professional development and wanted to make it memorable, as well as model how we could teach this subject using a game,” explains Ginann Franklin, director of libraries and educational technology at the Currey Ingram Academy, a K-12 independent college preparatory school in Brentwood, Tenn. “By giving teachers this game, they could immediately take it to their classrooms and use it with their students.”

Modeled after the late 1990s board game Cranium, Digital Brainium has four categories: digital data, digital drama, digital drawing, and digital Mustangs (the school’s mascot). The categories include facts, acronyms, true/false statements, acting out clues, or drawing clues in order to get a teammate to guess the answer. The mustang category uses questions that are about Currey Ingram Academy’s technology or information literacy policies or tools.

“The biggest success factor to this game is that it gets everyone actively involved and creates an avenue for discussion,” said Franklin. “For example, when teachers or students have to decide if this statement, ‘Legally, employers are not able to check social media when considering someone for a job,’ is true or false, it makes them stop and think about what they’ve heard or seen on this topic. It also brings out what they feel about the topic. As the game is being played, hopefully the teacher is listening to hear how students are responding. Which question is causing the most discussion? Which one does everyone miss?”

Another positive, she says, is that by using this game with teachers during professional development, it not only communicates facts, but promotes a school culture of what is meant when talking about being a digital citizen.

“In turn, we give the game files to teachers so they can customize it to fit their students," Franklin said. "It’s easy to create new cards to meet the needs and age groups that each teacher is working with. Instead of a category about your school policies, it could be a category on digital ethical dilemmas. The game is only limited by the creativity of the person using it.”

Franklin said that since the game’s conception — up until the ISTE presentation in June in Denver — there was a team of eight people involved on this project.

“Our LibTech team meets weekly to review our schedules and brainstorm ways of making what we do fresh and interesting. It was during those meetings that the idea of this game was born. While everyone worked on the questions, Ashley Kemper created the card templates, and Dee Travis created the game board. Everyone helped with edits.”

Aimed at seventh- to 12th-grade students, Franklin said Digital Brainium has been extremely beneficial in helping children learn in different ways.

“We’re a school for children with learning differences, so we have students who might struggle with dyslexia, executive functioning issues, ADHD or something else that is preventing them from succeeding in a regular classroom," she said. "We use multisensory approaches for all of our learners and are always looking for new ways to help them learn.”

This is where Digital Brainium is helping.

“If they’re not getting something, we need to approach learning in a different way,” Franklin explained. “So many of our students respond to games. But, we purposely did not make Brainium all tech, because sometimes tech can get in the way. Students want to play on the device, instead of pay attention. Board games can provide the perfect opportunity to have interaction. Everything we did was very purposeful with our students.”

A certified Commonsense Digital Citizenship Ambassador and Educator, Franklin is passionate about empowering students to become critical thinkers and problem solvers in order for them to thrive in an information-driven society.

“As a partial result of creating this game, I was asked to work on the digital citizenship curriculum for our school,” she said. “To keep the momentum, my goal last year was to ensure our school received its digital citizenship accreditation by Common Sense Media.”

Franklin is ecstatic that Digital Brainium is starting to receive a lot of interest, particularly after this year’s ISTE conference. Several schools have begun to implement Digital Brainium, and she hopes more people will contact her by email to receive a link with instructions to the game.

“People were surprised that we are not charging for this, but this is educationally purposed," she added. "You can keep playing Digital Brainium all year long just by changing the cards."

Stephanie Hwang is one educator who may be just as happy about Digital Brainium as Franklin is. And she found out about the game quite by accident at this year’s ISTE conference.

“I stumbled upon Ginann’s Digital Brainium booth and was so busy looking for another booth that I only stopped to take a picture of the information,” recalls Hwang, who is the instructional technologist at Bishop O’Dowd High School, a 1:1 laptop school in Oakland, Calif.

“When I went back to review the information, I realized how much more fun gamified learning could be for the teachers.”

Since June, Hwang has used this game on all the new incoming faculty and staff at her school.

“The new staff really enjoyed it because they had been sitting in orientation all day,”. Gamifying digital citizenship is an entertaining, friendly competition to learn about the school's technologies and digital practices," she said, adding that, this game can be customized specifically for the tech uses of her school to include PowerSchool, Schoology, Google Apps for Edu, etc. "It provides a bird's-eye view of all technologies at O'Dowd, as well as our responsible technology use policies and aspects of digital citizenship.”

Lisa Kopochinski is a Sacramento-based writer and editor who writes on numerous topics for both U.S. and Canadian publications. Visit her blog at https://lisakopochinski.wordpress.com/ or email her at lisakop@sbcglobal.net.