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Research Paper: Video Games in the Classroom

It is common knowledge that throughout history, new technologies have changed the lifestyles of so many people.  Thanks to some very important inventions, society has become the way it is today.  Inventions like the printing press and the computer have impacted how people not only communicate thoughts and ideas, but also how they learn.  This has also impacted the educational system throughout the world.  Thanks to new technologies, people are constantly able to learn new things in new ways at a much faster pace than the generations before.  There seems to currently be, however, a halt in the change of the face of education.  Recently, classrooms have not changed at the same pace as the world outside of them, and they have been stuck in the same place for quite some time now.

Since the 1970s, playing video games has been a growing pastime for all sorts of people.  Fast forward to the current date and video games are everywhere.  They can be found not only on consoles designed specifically for the use of playing, but also on our computers and phones.  Video games have been used as advertisements and parts of political campaigns.  It is true that they literally are everywhere we go.  That is everywhere except one place: the classroom.  The typical classroom has not changed with society simply because it has blocked out a very influential part of modern day life.  Without the video game, the classroom is a place separated and different than the outside world, so it is time to incorporate the outside world, meaning the one that includes video games, into the classroom.  Questions arise with this issue such as how this can be done, what benefits video games have on learning, and if students would actually benefit from a curriculum that allows video games to be played right in school.

The first issue that needs to be addressed when it comes to putting video games into a classroom is why it should be done in the first place.  After all, the current educational system has worked for years, so many would argue that there is no point in fixing something that is not broken.  However, something can always be improved even if it works already.  Kids these days are completely surrounded by technology.  It is no longer a luxury, but simply a part of life that is expected.  When this is taken away, for example in school, kids do not feel engaged or motivated (Leonard Annetta).  This really makes sense to anyone who simple takes a moment to think about it.  If someone is used to being able to interact with games and have them respond to the individual’s interactions, why would this person want to give that up in place for simply sitting at a desk?  Kids want to play games.  This has always been true but this can be proven in the modern day by simply looking at the fact that so many kids pay (or have their parents pay) large sums of money to buy a video game or even monthly fees to play popular online games such as World of Warcraft (Leonard Annetta).  Children and adolescents alike want to play video games, and there really is not much arguing against that.  Studies have also shown that females enjoy playing video games just as much.  The only slight difference that is sometimes found is the specific types of video games most commonly played by each gender (Angelone).  So if everyone wants to play these games, it only makes sense that they would want to play them in class.  A modern day movement is beginning to realize that if these games could be turned into an educational tool, then students would feel much more motivated to learn.  Many adults are beginning to realize that if the lines between education and entertainment can be blurred, much more can be learned (Tannahill).

Clearly kids want to play video games.  However, that reason alone is not enough to really push to get them put into schools.  A major benefit of video games that is enough to help with this push is the fact that they have potential to help with many cognitive processes.  Take, for example, Tetris.  This simple game requires the player to take simple shaped blocks and attempt to fit them together.  When a row is filled with these blocks, it will disappear, thus giving more room to continue playing.  Unsuccessfully fitting these shapes together as they fall results in using up more than the given space and then it’s game over for the player.  “The elemental shapes (or “Tetriminos”) found in Tetris stimulate our visual system to engage in low-level pattern recognition.  Players report not only seeing falling Tetriminos in their peripheral vision and while dreaming but even find themselves attempting to mentally interlock real world objects together” (Tannahill).  This means that playing a simple video game can help with puzzle solving skills that could be needed in many life activities.

Along with puzzle solving skills, video games allow failure to be a learning device, something that schools already try to succeed at but are not always successful at.  With video games, failure happens so often in the form of dying, not completing a mission in time, or many other possibilities.  Failure happens so often that it feels like such a temporary thing, and the next time failure could be turned into success (Tannahill).  This means that a student will continue to feel motivated, even after failure.  If this could be incorporated into the school system, a lot more learning would happen.  Currently, if a student fails an assignment, he will receive a failing grade and then move on with life.  If the material was not mastered then, it will definitely not be mastered after the assignment is done with.  Video games allow students to try again until they succeed, fully mastering whatever is required in that specific task.

Now it makes sense as to why video games should be put into classrooms, but an even larger question is how this is even possible.  The most obvious answer is to create video games that are meant to teach specific lessons normally taught in traditional ways in the classroom.  This would require the need for someone to not only understand the concepts but also have good knowledge on how to create fun and exciting video games.  Some of these games, conveniently called “serious games”, have already been created.  For example, there is a game developed by Brown University called Immune Attack that has a goal of teaching many concepts of biology.  In this game, the player drives around a nanobot inside a body that has lost immunity to everything.  The point is to fix the white blood cells so that they properly work again (Leonard Annetta).  Along the way, real life biological processes are taught and each level introduces a new infection with a new type of immune cell to train.  This sounds like a real video game that kids would buy on their own time.  The only difference is this is teaching real life processes of immunity using real diseases.  This would get a student engaged much more than sitting through lectures where the teacher simply lists the infections and which cells fight them off and how.  The game provides real goals that can be completed and rewards for completing them: saving the body from that infection.  With the simple lecture version of this same lesson, there are no goals or rewards, except maybe passing a test at the end, which is not nearly as exciting.

Science is not the only subject that has had games designed specifically for it.  Social studies is another subject that has great potential for video games to be included into the classroom.  This is largely due to history playing out in the form of a story.  Real life history has a sequence of events that develop a plot with causes and effects.  One game, titled Discover Babylon, has been designed by University of California students and faculty, in order to teach history lessons to eight to fourteen year olds.  This multiplayer game uses “historically and scientifically accurate information, 3D photorealistic simulations, as well as question and answer management tools intended to foster learning” (Leonard Annetta).  The only way to complete challenges in this game is by developing an understanding of the society, business practices, and trade of Mesopotamia.  This game, much like Immune Attack teaches the lessons that would normally be covered with lectures or possibly a video.  The video game, however, makes the lesson interactive.  Students learn as they complete challenges and use their own curiosity to dive deeper into the material, which is essentially the point of putting these video games into school to begin with.

Along with specific games designed to help teach specific lessons, it is also possible to go even deeper into putting video games in the classroom.  An extreme way to do so would be to turn the entire classroom into a video game world.  This has been done at North Carolina State University, where an entire class was taught online in the form of a video game (Len Annetta).  Here, students were able to roam around the online game world when, where, and how they pleased, while completing minigames such as “Phases of the Moon” and “Who Killed the Pharaoh?” all over the place that were used in place of teaching actual lessons.  Inside the game world was an easily accessible virtual classroom where the professor’s avatar would be around to answer questions at specific times of the day along with other times that he decided to log in (Len Annetta).  The point of teaching this entire course in the form of a video game is to allow interaction on all levels possible.  Not only are students able to interact with the lessons, in the form of games, but they are also able to interact with one another in the online world.  Each student creates an avatar, allowing for personalization and individuality as well.  There are other ways to do this besides creating it as an online college course (Len Annetta).  This could be taught in a high school room, where the students would get their lessons from the game during the class period, but then the teacher can also be available in the classroom to answer any personal questions.  This would allow for much more one on one personalized teaching from the instructor, as she does not have to use any time teaching an entire class all at once.

While these all seem like very interesting ways to teach, anyone with any a sense of reality would have to question the possibility of actually using these video games as teaching methods.  First there is the problem of finding someone to create these games simply because most educators do not have the skills to do so.  There would have to be a lot of interaction between both educators and game developers to make sure that all the proper material is included in the game.  Even with knowledgeable workers developing the game, there is also the problem that different states have different standards.  While some may focus on one thing, others may focus on others, making it very difficult to create a game that would be useful across the country.  Then there is also a matter of money.  “Though many universities and private companies have begun to make excellent video games that are specifically educational, these are often expensive or part of a specific study in which a school must be participating” (Angelone).  Most school districts currently do not have piles of extra money to pour into these video game programs.  Many school districts are already struggling to get basic textbooks with current funding, so video game technology is absolutely not going to happen.

There are, however, alternatives to creating a video game based on a lesson or a course.  After all, there are countless commercial video games already on the market that would be much cheaper to get into the classroom.  All that is needed is a little bit of creativity on the teacher’s part and a game could be tied into a lesson and seem just as appropriate as a game like Immune Attack.

Take, for example, the English classroom.  Especially in lower class school districts, a problem that many teachers face is simply teaching their students how to read.  A video game is the perfect way to combine education and entertainment.  All that is needed is a video game with a lot of text (Adams).  A good example is 2002’s Neverwinter Nights.  This particular game does include violence, which may not be seen as a positive thing, but in all reality, its battles are no more intense than anything read in Titus Andronicus or Beowulf, texts often read in high school.  More importantly, is this game would get students involved in reading.  Students could be put into groups, where they would have to read the text out loud.  In order to continue the game, students have to first read the dialogues and descriptions, with are essential to understanding how to win the battle.  This allows the students to play video games, an activity that they will surely enjoy doing, while improving their reading skills.  The game can even be a worthwhile activity for more experienced readers because of challenging and unfamiliar vocabulary due to the context and scenery of the game (Adams).  While this game is would be a great tool because of the amount of text, it is one of many that could be used.  The best part is any game can be used, especially role playing games, as they often have a lot of text to read.  A teacher could get to know the personalities of the students to find a game that would be enjoyable by each class.

ELA classes are not the only ones that can benefit from video games.  Biology classes can also benefit from commercial games as long as a teacher is willing to use many tying together skills taught when receiving certification (Angelone).  Take, for example, the game Spore.  In this game, players create an organism that they then have to adapt many times throughout the game in response to a changing environment.  This sounds just like evolution.  While the game is fun on its own and many kids play it outside of school, with teacher instruction, it can now become a learning tool.  Have the students play it for a few class periods, in which they will get to see how important it is for their organism to change in order for survival.  The most important part of this type of activity is tying it up at the end.  Students would benefit the most with activities that involve them connecting their game experience with concepts they learned about evolution (Angelone).  This will help lock the concepts into the brain as the students will now have not only visual ties to the theory, but also interactive ones.  Also, for deeper thinking, students could be asked about what could be changed about the game to be more realistic with the actual theory of evolution.  The possibilities are endless.  The key to including a video game into any subject matter is that the teacher has to be creative.  Also, the teacher has to keep a close monitoring of the gameplay to make sure that students are playing the game for the right reasons.

While it may seem like a challenge to incorporate video games into the core subjects, it may seem like even more of a challenge to incorporate video games into other classes, such as Physical Education.  This is largely due to the fact that up until now, video games and physical activity were seen as complete opposites on the spectrum.  Surprisingly enough, physical education classes are currently the ones that most often use video games to help complete goals (Christie).  Games such as Wii Fit and Dance, Dance Revolution have been used in gym classes to get kids moving.  While many students do not enjoy sports or physical activity, they do enjoy playing these games that get kids on their feet and using their body.  These games are a combination of the video games that people love with actual movements that promote physical health (Christie).  A great thing about exposing kids to these games is that some that normally live very sedentary lives playing video games all the time might purchase these games for their own homes.  These games will challenge all different fitness levels because of the various difficulty levels provided.  This way, even athletes can get a good workout from these games.

It seems like one of the best methods to getting commercial video games into the classroom is through the form of stations.  It is suggested that a teacher sets up multiple activities that can be done in groups, where the video game is simply one activity (Angelone).  This way, only one or two copies of the game have to be purchased as many newer games can cost around $60.  By having the games be part of a rotation, numerous copies would not have to be purchased so that each student has one.  This seems like the most cost efficient way to incorporate video games into the classroom when many schools face tight budgets.

Bringing video games into the classroom will allow the interactive and engaging world enter the learning environment.  The educational system would be caught up with modern technology and students will be happy.  Happy and engaged students will learn more material in a quicker amount of time.  Maybe this is the way to help us in the race to the top.  One thing is for sure, the current system is limited to what it always has been.  At one point, this was acceptable because the limits of education at the time were the same as the limits of technology.  However, it is time to help the classroom develop just as the outside world has.  Video games will allow the classroom to do just that.  This new interactive classroom is the key to promoting maximum potential out of students, a goal that has always been a major part of the education system.

 

Works Cited

Adams, Megan Glover. “Engaging 21st-Century Adolescents: Video Games in the Reading Classroom.” English Journal: n. pag. JSTOR. Web. 25 June 2013.

Angelone, Lauren. “Commercial Video Games in the Science Classroom.” Science Scope (2010): n. pag. Academic OneFile. Web. 24 June 2013.

Annetta, Len. “Serious Games: Incorporating Video Games in the Classroom.” Educause Review Online (2006): n. pag. Directory of Open Access Journals. Web. 25 June 2013.

Annetta, Leonard. “Video Games in Education: Why They Should Be Used and How They Are Being Used.” Theory Into Practice: n. pag. EBSCOhost. Web. 14 June 2013.

Christie, Brett. “Interactive Video Games in Physical Education: Rather than Contribute to a Sedentary Lifestyle, These Games Demand Activity from the Players.” The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance: n. pag. Academic OneFile. Web. 14 June 2013.

Tannahill, Nick. “Video Games and Higher Education: What Can “Call of Duty” Teach Our Students?” Frontiers in Psychology: n. pag. Print.

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