By Mary Patterson
At the Games+ Learning + Society 2015 conference held in Madison, Wisconsin, the question was posed, “How many of you are gamers?” I looked around confused. I didn’t notice any rumpled, thirteen year old boys who looked like they just crawled up the basement stairs. And yet, nearly every hand but mine went up. The speaker then asked, “How many of you have a game you play on your phone when you’re bored, or waiting in line? How many of you get together with friends to play cards, or dominoes?” My hand shot up and my mind was blown - I am a gamer!
In today’s society, we often think of gaming and gamers as those so engrossed in different worlds that they often leave the real one behind. However, in the United States (U.S.), 91% of children between the age of two and seventeen play video games (NPD Group, 2011) and a nationally representative study of U.S. teenagers found that up to 99% of boys and 94% of girls play these games (Lenhart, Kahne, Middaugh, Macgill, Evans, & Vitak, 2008)
So, why do we play games? We play games because they are fun! Should school be fun?
Perhaps the right question to ask is why shouldn’t schools be fun? Advantages of game play in schools are numerous:
In fact, respected researcher James Paul Gee, in his book What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy looks at major cognitive activities including how individuals develop a sense of identity, how we grasp meaning, how we evaluate and follow a command, pick a role model, and perceive the world. He believes the 36 principles of learning in video games are the better principles of learning upon which we need to model our schools.
Games have long had a place in classrooms. How many of you remember a game center in a corner of the room for when you completed your other school work? How many of you remember making those file-folder games to demonstrate that you learned a particular concept? Then why does there seem to be a reluctance to infuse games into today’s education?
Schools today have become a very serious endeavor with some very high stakes for both student and teacher accountability. There’s a laser focus on teaching and testing specific standards. But to me, this is where the advances in learning analytics and technology can provide teachers with robust evidence of learning. As game developers work more with learning scientists to develop effective educational games, we can use analytics to understand our learners.
Another barrier for using serious games in education is the timetable that runs our schools. Many serious games don’t easily fit into a 45 minute time block. How can schools transform traditional bell schedules? My daughter’s high school is experimenting with a block schedule similar to colleges. Perhaps this is a step in the right direction.
Educators also state that a lack of an industry standard for a rating of educational on games makes them less likely to recommend a game for the classroom. This topic was addressed by game developers themselves at the conference. Many expressed disdain for games that are marketed as educational with no real basis for claiming that label and there were vows to make changes
During a session on “Lessons Learned from Working with Educators,” the researchers stated that educators know what they want, but don’t know how to get it and developers don’t know how to engage with teachers. They suggested that teachers need a common language around games, they need administrator support, and they need to reach students across disciplines. Related to professional development, the researchers state that teachers need to experience the games first-hand in the way they will present them to their students. They need to learn by doing and they need access to resources; not a 45 minute lesson on how to play the game.
Finally, perceptions of game play need to be addressed. The idea of games in education should not be as another “add-on,” but as a pedagogy. Many of the participants in the GLS 11 Conference spoke of the social consciousness of games and how they connect people, spaces and opportunities. The winner of the Speed Run game was a serious, historical game, Czechoslovakia 38-39: Assassination by the team at AMIS. Trailer:
How do we persuade the public that kids playing games constitutes 'real' learning?
I left this conference with a new perspective on gaming and education. Games in learning can be so much more than that little table in the corner of the room. The latest game-based learning research white paper from Project Tomorrow entitled, “Digital Teachers, Digital Principals: Transforming the Ways We Engage Students” takes a closer look at how to enhance teacher effectiveness in integrating technology and 21st century skills into curriculum.
Dr. Jodi Asbell-Clarke Director, EdGE at TERC summed it up well, "We're not trying to turn your students into gamers, we're trying to turn your gamers into students."
Educators, how have YOU infused games in education? What’s worked, and what changes would like to see? If you could design the ideal game, what would it be?
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