Give a kid an empty box. One afternoon it’s a space station on the Moon, and the next, it’s a hut in the middle of the rainforest. Play comes naturally to the young. It’s the way we learn about the world. Of course, play has advanced from an empty box to interactive video games and apps hosted on various electronic platforms. And while the former is still championed as a way to nurture the imagination, the latter has a decidedly suspect reputation, especially in the context of education.
Many view gaming as a distraction from proper education, a diversion from how students should be learning. But there’s an emerging cohort of educators and innovators who view gaming as a way to make education more effective. They’re aiming to shift the way society thinks about gaming in education, and their case is compelling.
Lindsay Grace, director of the Persuasive Play Game Studio at American University, succinctly states
the case for involving games in education: “You have entire generations of people who are devoted to gaming. If we can harness that into something that motivates and educates, we can create learning environments that students will be receptive to.”
Transform the medium in which students learn into something they already enjoy doing, and naturally, they’ll be more engaged with the material. Give a student the choice to learn the mathematics of a parabola in a textbook, or through an interactive game, and surely, he’d choose the game.
Proponents of gaming aren’t proposing huge changes in curriculum, but rather, changes in the way the curriculum is taught, so that it’s more engaging and intuitive to young people.
“Mobile gaming can work very well within a classroom setting. It gives students a chance to individually interact with a learning tool, rather than just be a captive audience to a giant screen,” Grace says. Indeed: consider how much more engaged a student would be if his math lesson was embedded within a level of Angry Birds on his mobile device instead of projected on a board 20 feet away from him.
, a nonprofit organization developed out of 7 years of research at USC (which houses the #1 game design program in North America), is at the forefront of this new frontier in education. Named one of Fast Company’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Education, GameDesk’s mission is “to develop the next generation model of education, revolutionizing the way students learn by embedding academic content and assessment into hands-on experience, digital games, and simulations.”
The nonprofit has created educational gaming software like Dojo, which helps players recognize and regulate emotional conditions, and Ancient Inventions, which teaches students about cultures and people who made huge impacts to science and technology, through building. And it already has some big names invested in it, most notably AT&T, who recently donated $3.8 million to help develop these kinds of innovative games.
The idea that games are distracting and have no place in education is a long-standing one, and while it’s always difficult to change an established opinion, leaders like Persuasive Play Game Studio and GameDesk are paving the way. Play has long been the way humans learn about the world. We’d be narrow-minded not to try to harness that inclination into an effective learning tool.
What do you think about using games as a learning tool?
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