Video games start to shape classroom curriculum
While more educators adopt games as a learning tool, one public school designs a brand new teaching philosophy.
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They envision teachers brainstorming with game designers at least once a week and having a staff of developers on hand throughout the school day. But Salen’s not too worried about overwhelming educators with new responsibilities: “Games create a need in kids to figure something out, so the need to learn comes from the kids, not the teacher.”Skip to next paragraph
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More integration, less intervention
Scot Osterweil, the creative director of the Education Arcade, a games and learning research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wants games incorporated into classrooms in manageable ways – and for them to become more than just “automated tests tricked out as games.”
The key, he says, is good game design and a realistic understanding of how much game play teachers can allow in their classes, given limited time and resources.
“Let kids play games outside the classroom, but get ‘game skills’ into classrooms,” he says. “Also, use kids’ experience of games to deepen their understanding and get academic ideas into a play space.”
Eric Klopfer, director of MIT’s Teacher Education Program and the author of “Augmented Learning: Research and Design of Mobile Educational Games,” points to mobile gaming as a way to address Mr. Osterweil’s concerns.
“Casual games designed for play in those interstitial spaces between school and life – on the bus, in the cafeteria – fit better with the way teachers think about teaching and kids approach games,” Mr. Klopfer says.
He points to the success of Palmagotchi – an academic spinoff of the once popular Tamagotchi virtual pets. This new version is a mobile biology game that helps players learn about evolution as they nurture their pixelated pets in a simulated world that includes predators and climate change.
Can games replace tests?
Video games do a better job of gauging a student’s mastery of a subject than actually teaching them a subject, says Timothy Magner, the director of the Office of Educational Technology at the Department of Education.
“The computer can track the choices you make in the game,” he says, “and see if you have the confidence and skill to move on to harder levels.”
Ironically, though, testing is the very thing that might curtail the use of video games in public schools. Many game designers complain that bowing to the pressure of standardized tests, such as those set up by the No Child Left Behind Act has forced teachers to push facts, not skills.
Legislated tests “create the sense that classrooms are a place of content delivery … and put teachers in a position where they think they have to teach to the tests to get kids to succeed,” says McCall. But he insists that game play and design have helped his students do well on the Ohio graduation tests.
“It’s a qualitatively different exercise with games,” he says. “Game play is like reading and critiquing, and game design is like writing your own [historical account].”
The real hurdle, Salen says, is getting educators, parents, and even students to acknowledge that “something fun can be serious.”
After completing an exercise using a commercial game, Dubbels asked his students what they had learned. “Many of them felt they hadn’t learnt anything until I pointed out that play is a form of learning. They were amazed to acknowledge that their chosen activities had beneficial content,” he says.