Video Games and Education

Via the Associated Press on September 16, 2008, it appears to be a matter of when, not if video games become incorporated into the school environment:

Ninety-seven percent of young respondents play video games. That’s 99 percent of boys and 94 percent of girls, with little difference in the percentages among various racial and ethnic groups and incomes.

… And they don’t just play by themselves. Nearly two-thirds play video games to socialize face-to-face with friends and family, while just over a quarter said they play with Internet friends.

“It shows that gamers are social people,” says Amanda Lenhart, a senior researcher at Pew who led the report on the survey. “They communicate just as much. They spend time face-to-face, just as much as other kids. They e-mail and text.”

It does seem that this upcoming generation is communicating loud and clear about their needs as learners.  It appears that there is a strong desire for learning to be interactive and fun, as well as a social activity.  This appears to be a huge opportunity for educators, especially in how a well-designed game can tailor a learning experience to the individual needs of a learner and allow them to progress to a new “level” at their own pace.  A video game format also seems well-suited to identify areas where a student is having difficulty, and would allow an educator to have immediate access to this information.

as noted previously on this blog, the BBC reports on April 4, 2008:

Evidence shows that where technology is used effectively in schools, the results are inspiring – improved grades and retention rates, greater participation by students and increased effectiveness by teachers and tutors.

Schools across the country are using the internet, mobile phones, interactive whiteboards, hand-held learning devices, school radio stations, blogging, podcasts, digital photography and video conferencing to create increasingly stimulating and exciting environments for their students to learn.

… Whether we like it or not, technology is now at the heart of everyday life for us all.

and there is this report from Education Week on June 17, 2008:

For educators who think real life does not offer enough opportunities to practice their profession, there’s Second Life, an Internet-based virtual environment that counts thousands of educators among its enthusiasts.

Second Life bears a passing resemblance to an online game, with users represented by digitally drawn characters, called avatars, that can interact and engage in a vast array of activities. But a growing number of K-12 educators and groups have come to see the 3-D virtual environment as having educational potential that is very real.

“Think of Second Life as a world, an extension of the physical Earth, and a place where you will find a thriving educational community,” said Peggy Sheehy, a teacher in New York state who has become a Second Life evangelist…

The rest of the article requires a subscription or access to the paper version, but this is a fascinating development as well.  I am encouraged to see educators developing a recognition of the educational potential of the online environment, as I have serious concerns about a prejudice against online games and virtual worlds as something that is purely recreational.  I believe that these online resources are only ‘recreational’ to the extent that they have not been developed as educational resources.  I think that recognizing the potential of the online environment to enhance the practice of education is a critical first step toward the development of real improvements in the education system.

It seems that the needs of learners have already shifted, and that it is imperative that educators recognize these changes and develop programs that take full advantage of this shift.  I think that educators risk losing an important opportunity to help students become effective learners if this trend is ignored.  I do not believe that the Internet is capable on its own of teaching the habits and skills necessary for effective learning, and that the need for educators to guide students in these new online environments is vitally important to the accomplishment of the goals of education.

update: I haven’t been able to find online access to this study, but for now, this line from the abstract is nice to hear:

Online and computer-based instructional gaming is becoming a viable instructional strategy at all levels of education.

Cameron, B. & Dwyer, F. (2005). The Effect of Online Gaming, Cognition and Feedback Type in Facilitating Delayed Achievement of Different Learning Objectives. Journal of Interactive Learning Research. 16 (3), pp. 243-258. Norfolk, VA: AACE.

update:  via Wired on December 11, 2008:

A recently published study conducted by the University of Illinois psychology department finds that time spent playing videogames actually improves the mental prowess of older people.

and via Physorg.com on December 11, 2008:

This is the first such study of older adults, and it is the first to find such pronounced effects on cognitive skills not directly related to the skills learned in the video game, said University of Illinois psychology professor Arthur Kramer, an author on the study.

this is interesting:

Those who did well in the game also improved the most on switching between tasks. They also tended to do better on tests of working memory.

update: via the Associated Press on February 20, 2009:

Microsoft has put up $1.5 million to start The Games for Learning Institute, a joint venture with New York University and other colleges. The goal of the research is to see whether video games – and not just software specifically designed to be educational – can draw students into math, science and technology-based programs. The institute has begun lining up middle school students to study.

Microsoft is the not the first to explore whether video games could enhance education. For instance, University of Wisconsin researchers have found that playing “World of Warcraft” can encourage scientific thinking. The researchers noticed that players used mathematics and models to deal with situations in the game’s fantasy world.

Even so, groups that monitor gaming say Microsoft’s entry into the research will bring needed money and credibility. Many studies so far have focused on educational games, not shooter games.

“There isn’t a lot of good research out there,” said Linda Burch, chief program and strategy officer for Common Sense Media.

update:  via this blog, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit examines research related to video games in Video Software v. Schwarzenegger.

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