Magazine article Teach

Game On: Games Take Learning to a New Level [Education Arcade]

Magazine article Teach

Game On: Games Take Learning to a New Level [Education Arcade]

Article excerpt

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Until a few years ago, University of Wisconsin education professor James Paul Gee was himself clueless about video games. He became interested when he watched his son, then 6 years old, play a game called Pajama Sam. Intrigued by his son's fascination, Mr. Gee wondered what a game for adults would be like. So, he bought a game called the New Adventures of the Time Machine, which was loosely based on the work of H.G. Wells. Floored by the length and difficulty of the game, Gee began to wonder why millions of people would spend $50 or more on a game that may take them 50 to 100 hours to complete (i.e. win). As an educator, he was curious: Why can a child devote hours to challenging play and yet be bored after 10 minutes of learning algebra?

Higher learning institutions are taking notice of this youthful obsession - several are even devoting specific research to understanding what is behind the appeal and its educational potential. Believe it or not, video games may soon be coming to a curriculum near you. In an effort that resembles the enormously successful Children's Workshop of the 1980s (the creative genius behind several educational television programs, including Sesame Street), techno-savvy academics like Gee are joining forces to revolutionize both education and the ever-expanding gaming industry.

Over the past few years, electronic gaming has steadily crept up on mainstream media, growing to the point where analysts,' reports show that annual revenue from console gaming - more than $10 billion (U.S.) in the United States, more than $1 billion in Canada - now exceeds movie box office receipts.

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, which included video games in 2003 for the first time in its annual report on the global entertainment and media industry, forecasts that the category will expand to $35.8 billion by 2007, making it the fastest growing industry segment.

A new project being led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Gee and fellow researchers at the University of Wisconsin, intends to tap into this popularity by bringing video games into the classroom.

The Education Arcade is an initiative that hopes to raise teacher awareness of the effectiveness of game-playing in education, encourage software developers to come up with new educational games and help to build markets for their products. An offshoot of a now-ended effort called the Games-to-Teach Project funded by Microsoft, the Arcade began in fall 2003 with a grant from the Electronic Software Association.

"Kids often say it doesn't feel like learning when they're gaming - they're much too focused on playing," Gee says, explaining how successful games are challenging enough to entertain, yet easy enough to solve - or at least easy enough for the player to feel like he or she is making progress.

According to Gee, who recently published a book called "What Games Teach Us About Learning and Literacy," research indicates that people learn best when they are entertained, when they can use creativity to work toward complex goals, when lesson plans incorporate both thinking and emotion, and when the consequences of actions can be observed. Those needs, he says, are not met in school classrooms where students are often delivered the facts, told to memorize them, and expected to revisit them on tests or in essays.

Video games, Gee argues, immerse people in different worlds, make them rely on problem-solving skills and see the consequences of their knowledge, or their ignorance, as their scores climb or fall.

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Gee uses the example of Civilization III, a "real-time strategy" computer game where players build societies from the ground up. When a group of middle school kids were invited to play the game during a recent project in Chicago, the majority of them chose to develop Native American societies, with full knowledge of the actual historical outcome - i. …

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