Educational technology is essential to help children develop a digital literacy, but there are still questions about the effectiveness of educational technology – particularly when it comes to games and simulations, which have become known for for their entertainment qualities than their persuasive or educational abilities.
Although the games for learning field is still young, scholars can count on several “facts” about games that make them perfect for teaching and learning. This series of blog posts will investigate these game facts.
1) Video games are designed to convey complex ideas and practice these concepts repeatedly – these abilities can be used for serious purposes.
It’s an old game design adage that players don’t read the instruction book; game designers must account for the large majority that doesn’t want to read a book before experiencing play. A game should be easy enough to comprehend right from the game’s opening screen that the engaged player can understand controls and objectives from the start. Unfortunately there is a similar problem with today’s educational system; there are those that do not want to “read the booklet” or simply study theory when practicing these ideas and concepts is far more engaging, even in some cases entertaining.
Educational games are designed to play free of the “instruction book—” games like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego and Oregon Trail take concepts like geography and history and make them an intrinsic part of gameplay. And through gameplay players gradually learn educational concepts like the distance between different countries in Europe or the historical diet of settlers moving out West in the 1800′s. James Paul Gee posits that this kind of “active learning” is more effective than reading the same kind of concepts in a textbook and testing them on the subject. While games don’t necessarily guarantee active learning, a well-designed game has a better chance of engaging the player/learner than any one text can possibly accomplish.
Intelligent, committed and creative teachers can engage the student and produce an active learning environment, but that kind of experience is only possible in smaller-sized classrooms and with students who are all roughly at the same level in the material. Today’s schools are facing budget cuts upon budget cuts and classrooms are expanding every year. The active learning environment is becoming a distant dream in many cases. Even if access to a computer is limited, giving students a short time with a cheap tablet and truly engaging educational programs can help to improve the educational experience even if it cannot fix the whole of what has gone wrong with the public school system.
Tracy Carlin is a Communications and Public Policy Intern at SIIA. She is also a first year graduate student at Georgetown University’s Communication, Culture and Technology program where she focuses on intersections in education, video games and gender.