Friday, April 27, 2012

Video Games Could Save Schools

feel very lucky that this was published in Learning and Leading, May 2012

Do you know what is really compelling about a great video game? It is not the great graphics or the amazing sound effects or even the ability to do things you can’t do in real life. The really compelling feature of video games is their ability to give you a task to complete that is hard enough that you feel challenged but easy enough that you know you can do it. In addition, as you work towards that challenge you get constant feedback about how you are doing. And I don’t mean the computer is shouting back at you “Alllriiight!!!” or “Way to go dude!” but rather that at any moment, you can see your score, your time, your distance, and see how you compare to others in the game. And what’s more, the challenge you are completing is epic. It is part of a larger story, often part of the ubiquitous hero’s journey. In this journey, the choices are yours to make. Your decisions will make a difference and will contribute to events more important than your individual life.
Think about all that for a minute.

Photo By Ryan Somma
What if going to school felt the same way? What if when they arrived at school students knew they were about to be presented with a challenge that was difficult but achievable, a challenge that was significant to the world outside of the classroom walls, a challenge during which the student would consistently learn if he or she was on the right track, a challenge where students could make their own decisions and choices.

I think we would have students that love coming to school, have high engagement in their learning, and would be prepared for a future world of work and learning where they will need to solve difficult problems.

I have been lucky enough to work in some classrooms where teachers are trying to make the connections between video games and content learning. Several classrooms in my school division are currently using online, multiplayer, content area games. When you walk into the classrooms playing these games, you can feel the excitement in the air. It is loud as students shout encouragement back and forth. It is busy as students ask for help with problems they are unsure of. It is focused as students work on content area skills to conquer an online problem. Furthermore, playing video games, students are building their confidence in content areas. Whether it is simulating the challenges of being president in iCivics, or determining why the fish have left a national park in Quest Atlantis, working as a team to solve math problems to conquer a node in Dimension M or trying to help the American Revolution in Mission US, teachers report that students are engaged, persistent, and better problem solvers as a result of their experience playing games in schools.

We can do better than dismiss video games as violence-producing time-wasters. We need to stop thinking about video games as things that are sucking our students away from learning and instead find out what they are learning from playing video games. Then, we need to find more ways to make school like video games: self-directed, relevant, challenging and epic.

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