Can gaming change education?

As video games continue to permeate our culture, schools and students are increasingly interested in using video games for learning. This interest has prompted universities and neurologists to explore what makes a successful educational game, what the current barriers to adoption are, and how gaming as a whole affects the brain.

According to a recent paper by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), games, when developed correctly and used appropriately, can engage players in learning that is specifically applicable to school curriculum—and teachers can leverage the learning in these games without disrupting the worlds of either “play” or school.

“Moving Learning Games Forward: Obstacles, Opportunities, and Openness,” by Eric Klopfer, Scot Osterweil, and Katie Salen of the Education Arcade, an MIT research division that explores games that promote learning through play, explains why educational games have seen an increase in popularity: mainly owing to the advances in consumer games.

For example, commercial games have not only exposed new audiences to gaming but have expanded the range of education games, growing the conceptual areas they can reach. This, the paper states, is partly a result of greater experimentation with content and game mechanics that stems from new technologies and gaming genres.

“Consumer games are also changing the perception of the nature of video games, making them more accepted in a greater diversity of places. For example, gaming is becoming part of … the activities in senior centers, libraries, museums,” and the workplace, says the report. “They are also providing cheaper and easier ways to reach everyone, making open access to games a reality.”

The report credits new gaming platforms and a “sinking edutainment ship” as factors that have led to an increased education interest in gaming.

Thanks to advances in technology, cheaper prices, and a growing market for video games, children and young adults are playing video games more than ever.

A report from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, “Game Changer: Investing in digital play to advance children’s learning and health,” claims that on an average day, children as young as eight spend as many hours engaged in media activity as they spend in school. Seventy-five percent of American children play computer and video games, it says.

The report, said Michael Levine, executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, aims to help answer the question: “Can digital games, especially well-designed education games, help reshape our nation’s approach to learning and growing?”

The center, which supports research, innovation, and investment in digital media technologies to advance children’s learning, interviewed experts in learning, health, and civic participation games–as well as scholarly skeptics, says Levine–who are directly involved in research, design, and policy development in the field of gaming.

The report analyzed issues raised by the interviewees through a review of current literature and news sources.

“We conclude that current approaches to solving key education and child-health challenges insufficiently leverage the ubiquitous digital media that currently pervade children’s lives,” said Levine. “[We] believe that the demonstrated potential of digital media wisely guided by caring adults could become a ‘game changer’ in advancing children’s prospects in the decade ahead.”

Meris Stansbury

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