A highlight of my life in 3rd grade was dying of dysentery at the hands of a video game. I got ahead on schoolwork and got to use the classroom computer to follow a family across America in The Oregon Trail game.
It was weird that I played this in a Canadian school – instead of exploring something like the long-distance transportation challenges in the Crosscountry Canada game.
But with gamers still joking about Oregon trail memes today, it’s clear the game has left its mark.
If we look at educational video games, many struggle to achieve a similar impact. The reason is a mix of teacher challenges and game design difficulties.
Educational Games Market
Educational games are a large industry, attracting a $11.24 billion market in the United States.
While the Canadian market is a bit smaller (the total video game market contributes 5.5 billion to our GDP), educational games and companies continue to pop up. Now, after a pandemic boom in industry growth, we can expect more educational games to appear in classrooms.
But more doesn’t mean better.
As the number of educational games available grows, according to a 2019 report by Common Sense Media, “the gap between the edtech products teachers use and what they find effective is real and cross-curricular.”
The change of landscape
From the start, educational games have typically been small ventures born out of passion or interest, like 4th grade teacher Mabel Addis’ 1960s creation of one of the very first video games to teach economics to her students.
Early games like The Oregon Trail and Crosscountry Canada were products of a time when designers and technology were exploring what was possible. The novelty of the games attracted attention both inside and outside the classroom. However, as the industry grew, educational initiatives struggled to keep up.
Games like Fortnite have a player base of over 80 million and feature graphics, gameplay and budgets that no educational game can match.
Practical experiential learning
Getting out of the classroom can be a challenging task for school communities, but video games provide children with hands-on moments for experiential learning. However, games will never have perfect presentation and the extent to which they match curriculum goals will vary.
However, commercial or educational games can provide immersive, powerful learning tools. Many parents will be familiar with Minecraft, which has cemented its place in schools with an educational edition of the game.
Or they may be familiar with Assassin’s Creed, which has attempted to recreate historical moments that transport students to a specific time (albeit with some valid criticisms of the game’s realism and how representation can limit critical perspectives of dominant ideologies).
Such reviews point to the value of this and other games in having a trained facilitator – like a teacher – to guide the player in learning.
teachers and games
Without an educator to critically engage students with moments designed in play, or to correct and challenge inaccuracies, learning can be misinformed or lost.
However, it must be ensured that the teachers know how to implement the game and ask questions about it.
Despite increasing numbers of parents playing games with their children, school systems have been slow to adapt to game-inspired, action-based learning. Teacher education and professional development must adapt.
Mastery is not required to bring games into the classroom. It requires teachers’ ability to connect the game to the curriculum and students’ lives.
Teach students or kill time?
When facilitating games, a teacher should be able to discuss the games that students are playing at home, recognize where a student is interested in a game and is struggling, make and recognize connections to the themes in the story how students should play (what you click, how you move).
All of this can generate strong moments of reflection that can be linked to learning objectives.
Good facilitation combines lessons and games to reflect before, during and after the game. But currently games are used in many cases like other time killers such as worksheets or exercises.
A necessary change in design
Most educational games are designed around being the teacher rather than working with them, which is why so many focus on storytelling.
But successful and popular games are all about choice. Games like Fortnite, Roblox or Minecraft promote some of the largest player bases among children and offer plenty of agency to make decisions that directly affect their gameplay.
Similar to playing in a sandbox, these games give players a space to dictate what to build, where to go, what things to use, and which to ignore. You have a sensible choice, and the choice is appealing.
But this agency is questionable if you want your product to have someone who understands the “X concept,” and this is leading some developers to make the game as educators.
This is why so many educational games boil down to multiple-choice stories, worksheet questions with a “fun” reward, or arguably not educational at all.
Beyond simple instructions
Educational games suffer because both the game and the teacher want to be the teacher.
However, some developers and organizations are trying to improve the world of educational games. Organizations like Games for Change have some games in their collection that can go beyond simple classroom models.
Field Day Lab offers interesting products developed together with teachers. Montréal-based company Ululab tries to combine the desires of teachers with the skills of prominent game designers.
But for games to truly become part of learning, we need to help teachers effectively incorporate the barrage of educational games into their classrooms.
Serious intervention required
Some larger commercial game companies are getting into this process (while also getting into the market with young users). Dungeons and Dragons recently released educational materials.
But anecdotally I know that passionate teachers have done this on their own.
When games are well made, they provide students with awe-inspiring moments, like my pixelated death in 3rd grade. We can think of games as serious tools for anchoring knowledge – and serious tools require serious intervention in both design and learning how to facilitate them.
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Citation: Video Games Can Support Learning in the Classroom, But Not Without Teacher Support (2023 January 18) Retrieved January 18, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-01-video-gaming-bolster- classroom-teacher.html
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