Commercial Video Games in the Science Classroom
Angelone, Lauren, Science Scope
Though often dismissed as mindless wastes of time, video games can be rich, immersive learning environments that, with the help of thoughtful teacher facilitation, support science skills and content. The study of video games as a learning environment and tool is relatively new, but there are many examples of how well-designed games promote various types of learning, whether it be content, process, social skills, or game skills (Aldrich 2005; Barab and Dede 2007; Delwiche 2006; Ligorio, Cesareni, and Schwartz 2008; Neulight et al. 2007; Shaffer 2006; White 1984).
With video games, students can practice taking on a new identity (Gee 2003), much like we hope they take on the identity of scientists in lab activities. Students can also become a part of a virtual world not possible in the classroom (Gee 2003; Bogost 2008). This could include a universe with unknown species or a gravity-free environment (White 1984). In video games, students participate in tasks that require exploration, discovery, gathering of data, and the repeated formulation and reformulation of hypotheses based on new data. All of these skills, due to the nature of game play, are valued and rewarded (Gee 2003).
There's no denying that middle school students are interested in video games. Every teacher has observed students excitedly talking with friends about a new video game or their experience within game play. With such motivation present, we as teachers should harness this media in a productive way in our classrooms. Students today are much more technologically advanced than ever before, and using video games is one more way to use something from their world as a teaching tool.
Not only are video games a motivating teaching tool, they also have been shown to serve subgroups that are typically underserved in science education. Girls have been shown to have no less interest in video games than boys, but they do have different interests (relational, cooperative), which should be considered (Jenkins and Cassell 2008). Students who have trouble with school have been shown to have greater success when video games are incorporated into the curriculum (Joseph 2008). In addition, students with physical disabilities, who are often unable to "play" as the other kids do, are on an even playing field in the virtual world of a video game (Pitaru 2008).
What kinds of video games?
Though many universities and private companies have begun to make excellent video games that are specifically educational, these are often expensive or part of a specific study in which a school must be participating. There are also freely available educational games on the internet, but many of those games replicate quizzes or simple, low-level thinking skills, so those are not the focus of this article. There are, however, many commercially available video games students are already playing that can be used in the classroom. Commercial games may have a leg up on typical educational games because students do not have an immediate association between the game and school, which could be a great benefit to students who are turned off by all things school related. Many students bring valuable experience that can help with integration, as well as giving students leadership roles. Commercial games are more accessible than educational games; they can be found at many retailers and students may even volunteer to bring in additional copies or consoles on which to play them (if required). We, as teachers, must be able to look past video games as "just for fun" to be able to see the potential they hold in the science classroom.
Because video games are such immersive environments, through them students can be part of inappropriate or violent virtual worlds (Bogost 2008; Everette and Watkins 2008). This is consistently noted by the media, but should not be a reason to ignore games that are appropriate and effective for use in the classroom. …