Incorporating educational video games into the classroom


The current generation of students has grown up in an environment where technology and the Internet is a normal and essential part of life. To effectively engage students, schools and educators need to maximize the use of technology. There is some research that suggests that students are more likely to interact with a video game than with the teacher or other students. Students are also far less likely to learn from the traditional lecture model, one-way communication that teaches by rote and involves only one sensory input. The current generation of students in the classroom learn very differentially than their parents did.


Some researchers suggest that educational video games may well represent the learning environment of the future, and a great deal of research is being conducted to identify how this can be best accomplished. Students who have grown up playing video games are accustomed to dynamic sensory experiences in which they are challenged and engaged in ways that provide deep gratification. Conventional schoolwork holds little attraction in comparison. The vast majority have been using computers from the time they were toddlers and could wrap their small hands around the mouse. Unfortunately, in many respects the educational system has not kept pace with technology.


Games can be an extremely important tool to help students learn, not only because of technological familiarity, but also because educational video games utilize many of the core mechanisms that promote learning. These include:


1. Motivation. The ideal learning condition motivates learners. If a student finds an activity meaningful and personally rewarding, they are willing to devote whatever time and effort might be required to achieve an objective. When learning by means of a video game, students are enjoying the activity and achieving personal satisfaction in the process. They are learning without even realizing it.


2. Customized learning. Learning is optimized when individual learning needs and styles are taken into account. Video games make this easy to do. Students choose the game that interests them, and play it on their preferred system, whether an iPad or a PC or a PS3. They are in control of their learning and it fits their personal style.


3. Immediate feedback. When a student is able to receive immediate feedback on a concept, it optimizes learning and helps avoid uncertainty and gaps in understanding. Students are accustomed to communicating through instant messages and email, and they expect immediate feedback. Video games are highly interactive and provide immediate feedback as to whether the player has made the correct decision.


4. Multisensory. An environment that stimulates multiple senses and promotes active discovery makes it easier to acquire and retain new knowledge. Learning is maximized when there is a tactile, visual, or auditory input to augment the experience. Modern gaming systems, like Xbox360 and Wii, allow a wide range of sensory input, including movement. This enhances learning, memory, and retention. It also makes video games particularly useful for students with learning disabilities or other physical limitations that may hamper learning by traditional methods.


5. Learn by doing. The hands-on approach, where students actually get to test a concept in a real-world situation, is what cements learning and makes it relevant. Video games place all the learning within the control of the student and make it completely applicable to everyday life.


6. Interaction. Students learn by interacting with others. In addition to the PC, many video gaming systems, such as PlayStation3 and Xbox360, are now designed for multiplayer capability, including web-based applications. The learning interaction can also be virtual.


Video games align with every learning enhancement concept and fit every learning theory, and are therefore the perfect learning augmentation tool. There are other ways video games can be used. Jeopardy-style games introduce a spirit of competition into learning concepts, helping with student motivation. The notion of virtual learning communities is also made possible with video games. Students can discuss mutual interests and develop social relationships through which learning is enhanced. They connect to other learners who may represent a range of age groups, providing even greater learning opportunities.


Video games with the capability of creating simulated new worlds in which players can become immersed represent another untapped learning potential. Among younger children, the Jumpstart series has successfully advanced learning through video game play, including the online simulated world experience. Children can access this virtual world with their PC, and take their character through multiple worlds where they learn geography, advanced science and math concepts, improved reading and spelling, music and art - all in an environment that promotes learning far more successfully than the traditional classroom.


These same techniques can be equally effective for students at all levels. Just as children learn how to populate a farm or city and care for simulated people, emergency workers can follow simulated emergency procedures and organize disaster relief in a simulated city. Medical students can use a nanobot to simulate the role of a white blood cell traveling the human body, in order to understand the immune system. Sociology students can study group behavior by playing an online jungle survival game with other players. Army combat missions can be tested and rehearsed every step of the way. As video games become more and more sophisticated, with more realistic graphics, the potential for learning applications increases.


Let's not forget the role of entertainment, either. This may well be the most important reason to use educational video games in the classroom. Good teachers have always known that they must get the attention of their students before they can teach them anything. The 1960s movie To Sir With Love built on that concept. A teacher with a dysfunctional, rebellious, and highly resistant group who were so caught up in dealing with life's issues that they had no time for learning, was able to break through to them because he got their attention. Video games are the most natural way to achieve a similar result, particularly when dealing with a generation that has been weaned on such games. Create an interesting and entertaining learning environment and catch the ear and mind of the students. Then you can start to teach.


Educators who want to engage students and enhance classroom learning should be looking at ways to incorporate video games into the classroom, using every possible platform: Wii, Nintendo, Xbox 360, PC, PS3. Rather than looking at video games as nothing more than entertainment, or perhaps even an undesirable distraction, educators need to look at how video games can be embraced as an essential part of the educational system. Students in today's classrooms have been spending a significant amount of time playing video games from a very young age. They are more likely to engage and be willing to be taught if educators reach out to them with something that is both familiar and enjoyable.




Serious Games: Incorporating Video Games in the Classroom.


Play to Win! Using Games in library Instruction to Enhance Student Learning.


Video Games in the Classroom?


Playing to Learn: Video Games in the Classroom.

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