“Doing what’s popular is not always right; Doing what’s right is not always popular.”
That’s about the way I feel about gaming in the classroom; I’m not a huge fan. At least I think we need to consider carefully what we are trying to accomplish with games in the classroom. (I need to stipulate that I make a distinction between using games and simulations in the classroom. I believe simulations can be very effective tools in education.)
A recent article in District Administrator magazine described how gaming is on the rise in the classroom and gaining respect. According to DA, the Joan Ganz Center at Sesame Workshop conducted a study of over 500 teachers to determine their attitude toward games in the classroom. Their study found 32 percent of teachers used games once a week in the classroom and 18 percent used them daily. Seventy percent of teachers said games “increased motivation and engagement.” Proponents of gaming claim students learn creative problem solving and collaboration.
Here’s the problem – all of that may be true – but I’m not convinced students gain much of value educationally. To begin, I have been teaching in a one to one environment where all of my students have their own laptop for six years. I have seen students wear out the directional keys on a laptop while gaming before school and any other time they have permission. Yes, they are only allowed to play “educational games.” I say engagement does not equal education.
This video based on a talk by Dan Pink provides some interesting insights into human motivation that is leveraged to great effect by game designers.
Did you catch that? It’s not the game per se that is engaging, it’s the motivational theory that is used in the game that makes the game engaging – there’s the key. We have to be careful with correlations. Yes, games are correlated with active engagement and motivation, but are they the cause of said behaviors?
I remember reading a study done by a hospital that correlated an increase in patient deaths following visits by Catholic priests. That sounds bad huh? What, the priests are killing the patients?
It was simply that dying patients that happen to be Catholic often requested last rights by their priest before they died. Clearly we have to be careful of conclusions that we draw from anecdotal evidence.
I believe gaming trains students to think of technology as source of entertainment instead of a tool for education and productivity; at least that has been my experience. I believe we should examine how we can incorporate factors that affect student motivation without resorting to games.
Online and blended learning environments are popular because they address autonomy. Students like having control of when and where they learn. Online classes and teachers that “flip” their classrooms allow students to advance through modules as they achieve required levels of mastery – that may be a reason students and teachers like that model.
What about purpose? I teach science. I want my students to be patient problem solvers that are interested and fascinated by the natural world – not an imaginary one. I believe that PBL (project based learning) is effective because it addresses the last factor of purpose. If students are involved in asking essential questions and framing the context of learning, they will have satisfied the necessary need for the purpose of learning.
In conclusion, games – like any other resource – probably have a place in education. I just think we need to be careful and understand why we are using them and what we hope to accomplish with them. What about those 18% of surveyed teachers that used games daily? I’m sorry, I think the games were used as a baby sitter so that the teacher didn’t have to stand and facilitate a real education. Those students may have been quiet, and engaged, and not causing trouble, but I don’t believe for a minute they were being educated.
Teaching is hard work; there are no shortcuts. Let’s learn from game designers, but let’s not use games as an excuse not to do our job.