Parents and teachers alike are often concerned with the amount of game time that students expose themselves to. In my previous role as an EdTech coordinator, it was often confessed to me by other teachers that they had difficulty keeping students’ attention “these days”. This was because they felt as though they had to compete with common devices like Playstation, X-Box or other online gaming options. The response that I often communicated was, “if you cannot beat them, join them”. The rationale behind this response was because I am aware that there are many options for teachers to explore when it comes to utilizing games in the Classroom. Unfortunately, teachers either distrust the use of games in the classroom, or they do not know where to get started. However, once they are opened up to the potential of gaming, many teachers become sold on the idea.
The first benefit of games in the classroom is around engagement. Students that are exposed to games are more likely to experience an emotional connection to the work. Student engagement is defined as, “select(ing) tasks at the border of their competencies, initiate action when given the opportunity, and exert intense effort and concentration in the implementation of learning tasks; they show generally positive emotions during ongoing action, including enthusiasm, optimism, curiosity, and interest”. (Lester & Spires et.al, 2014) Students are far more likely to invest themselves in activities they enjoy. There is no better way to ensure this than by tapping into what they do in their free time. One of the points of interest is that it appears that both boys and girls benefit from the use of games. In Lester & Spires et. al., investigation of Crystal Island: Uncharted Discovery, a science game aimed towards upper elementary students, both boys and girls experienced learning benefits from gaming to learn science. On the surface, it seems obvious that if we want to engage students we need to tap into their interests. This can be tricky when we feel like we need to tap into the individual interests of a classroom full of students. However, it appears that gaming maybe a common interest area amongst most students.
Games based learning also provides possibilities as an online tutoring tool. Students can reinforce their skills at home in an interactive manner. The best gaming experiences are not just reward oriented, informing students when they have been successful (ie. earning points etc.) or when they are not successful (game is over or loss of points). Games should instruct students where their mistakes were made and how to correct them. When these elements are present, the game becomes a much more effective and independent tool for the student. Students will play games after school on their own free will. If gaming can be combined with homework and studying, this is a win-win for everyone involved.
It is also being proven that games based learning can help students learn in a more authentic and real-life environment, particularly in science classes. According to Li, games based learning helps students collaborate in authentic learning environments that cannot be reproduced through textbooks and note taking. (Li, 2013). Students often enter school with a natural curiosity about the world and their environment but this often does not sustain itself. Science is a very difficult subject to teach in a classroom. The more teachers can find ways to connect learning to real life, the more engaged students are in the process and the more likely the learning will be transferable beyond the classroom walls.
Games based education cannot replace good teachers and teaching. However, it is an excellent supplement to engage and assist students in their learning. There are still limitations that need to be worked out. For example, connecting games to specific learner outcomes or ensuring that students are learning authentically through real-life situations and not simply rote repetition and memorization. However, I do not think that it is necessarily a bad thing that there are shortcomings to games in the classroom. I have witnessed scenarios where teachers become overly reliant sites like IXL Math. Tools like this can become the main form of instruction which is not ideal for learning. I do not feel games can ever replace teachers, they can only help them and their students by enhancing the learning experiences in a fun and engaging manner.
Lester, J. C., Spires, H. A., Nietfeld, J. L., Minogue, J., Mott, B. W., & Lobene, E. V. (2014). Designing game-based learning environments for elementary science education: A narrative-centered learning perspective. Information Sciences, 264, 4-18.
Li, M. C., & Tsai, C. C. (2013). Game-based learning in science education: A review of relevant research. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 22(6), 877-898.