Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Can Gaming Improve Teaching and Learning?

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Can Gaming Improve Teaching and Learning?

Article excerpt

Today's sophisticated digital games are engaging students and conveying hard-to-teach concepts like failure and perspective. So why aren't more classrooms playing along?

IF THE USE of technology in education is about meeting students where they are, it seems like gaming would be a good place to start. After all, as far back as 2008, the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported that 97 percent of kids ages 12 to 17 were playing some kind of digital game every week; about half played daily.

And why not? When Neil Postman wrote his classic, Amusing Ourselves to Death, about the shift from a typographically focused society to one that was ruled by television, his title could just as easily have been foretelling the increasing use of gamelike activities in all aspects of life. Consumers spent about $21 billion on the game industry last year. Half of all American households have dedicated game consoles; many have two. We don't fly without getting our miles. We can't shop without handing over our rewards card. We seem to be a species well-suited for seeking "pleasure and reward," notes Janna Quitney Anderson, director of Pew and Eton University's Imagining the Internet Center. Gaming and its trappings play right into our appetites.

Proponents say gaming provides a compelling way to engage students and make educational efforts more effective. Others believe that allowing students to play games simply provides a merry diversion from what should truly be happening in the classroom. Where do the golden tokens reside? Let's click for a roll of the die and find out

"Failing Up"

Games and playing have been part of classrooms "for a long time," declares Katie Salen, game designer, DePaul University professor, and one of the masterminds behind Quest to Learn, a public school in New York designed around game playing. "Play is the way that human beings learn about the world.... That's how we discover how things work."

Besides providing an environment in which to "learn by doing," games offer several other educational benefits, according to Salen. For one, games structure problem-solving in a way that helps the player to "fail up," as Salen puts it. "Every game designer expects every player to be successful in their game," she notes. The best games are designed to make problems both hard and fun so that students will "want to continue to persist on that problem."

Sometimes, the learner will have to try hundreds of times to find success. "You know you're getting better at that particular skill every time you try, and you're learning something about how to solve that particular problem," Salen says. The failure is productive. Rather than hitting some kind of wall and just stopping--which is "what kids tend to experience in the classroom"--failure becomes "a fantastic thing because it's about iteration and discovery. When I try it again, I'm going to apply that particular piece of learning."

Data Rich

One of Salen's arguments for the use of games in education should sit well with most policymakers: Games are rich with data. "They're filled with information for players around how they're doing, where they need to go, how they need to get better," she notes. That data can be used by teachers as well as students, she adds. "Games open up assessment, so it's really kid-facing, and that can be incredibly powerful."

Kristen DiCerbo, a senior research scientist at Pearson, agrees with Salen and offers an example from the world of SimCity. A collaboration between Electronic Arts and GlassLab has produced an education-oriented update of the decades-old city-building simulation game built specifically for the classroom. Called SimCityEDU, the game challenges learners to solve problems such as combating pollution, and a multitude of data can be captured to show what students do first, what actions they take, and where they linger. DiCerbo says, "By starting to look at how long people spend looking at information--all those little things that we could never gather from a paper and pencil path--we hope to be able to get a finer and better measurement of what kids can do. …

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