Gaming for grades: News Corp.’s Amplify launches digital games for schools

Amplify, the new education venture at News Corp., is getting into the gaming business.  On Tuesday, the company rolled out more than 30 digital games designed to help middle school students improve their language arts and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills.

The games won’t be made widely available to districts until the spring of 2014, but they’re being piloted now in a few schools across the country. Naturally, the games can be played on Amplify’s own branded tablet – the 10-inch Asus device running the Jellybean Android operating system, which it launched at SXSWedu earlier this year. But the games will also run on other major mobile operating systems, including iOS (s AAPL). Schools can buy them as part of a broader Amplify curriculum or separately, the company said.

In pitching its tablet, Amplify talked up the benefits of giving schools an entire learning package of hardware and software (each Amplify tablet is specially optimized at the manufacturer level for use in schools and comes pre-loaded with learning tools and content). But the company also sees an opportunity in offering schools just a tablet-based curriculum, of which the new video games are a part.

Amplify gameThe games, which include an English language game world called Lexica, an arcade-style game called Food Web and a real-time strategy game called TyrAnt, were designed to hold students’ attention as much as for learning. The hope is that students will be hooked enough to play the games outside of the classroom and extend learning time, the company said.

“We’re not designing homework here,” Joel Klein, Amplify’s CEO and the former New York City Schools Chancellor, said in a statement. “These games will improve learning not because kids have to play them in school, but because they want to play them in their own free time.”

It remains to be seen just how effective these games will be in boosting students’ skills, but interest in educational games, generally, is growing. Earlier this year, New Schools Venture Fund and social gaming company Zynga announced an accelerator for educational gaming startups. And, last year, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation put their weight behind a project at Electronic Arts called the Games, Learning and Assessment (GLASS) Lab.