Integrating Games Into School: Close To A Reality?

Any young, avid gamer is fully familiar with the elaborate balancing act of dividing their time between the desire to play video games and the need to finish homework assignments. Completing problem sets has always been the nemesis of wanting to finish one more mission, or quest, or game. As a result of this clash, the stigma that playing video games has received from most of the general public is that they are used as a form of entertainment, a distraction from the problems and duties of reality. A problem many gamers have already addressed. However, now there is a movement beginning that melds the two arch rivals. The process is called, game-based learning. The goal being to create an educational system based upon the phenomena of video games that has captured the minds of students across the globe in order to increase critical thinking abilities.

This is not a terribly new concept, and on the surface, this seems like a rational connection. Student engagement is crucial to the learning process, and it’s certainly not unheard of to have a student, at any level in the educational cycle, spend 10 – 50 hours trying to complete a game. Yet, that same student will refuse to read one chapter of a textbook. This is not because the student has no desire to learn, but because the application of information does not engage his/her critical thinking the way video games do. Games provide a unique space, with unique problems, that allow the gamer to identify those problems and seek out solutions without being told the answer then quizzed on its memorization. Naturally, textbooks have difficulty keeping up with this level of engagement and interaction.

Developers are now beginning to tap into this idea of training a student’s brain to understand and utilize its own thought process, which can be defined by the word, “metacognition.” Jordan Shapiro, a professor at Temple University and contributing writer for Forbes, recently went over this idea in a speech at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai. In his speech, he highlights the benefits of game-based learning by saying, “[Game-based learning] forces students to reevaluate their thinking over and over, to recognize gaps, to identify the failures in their conceptions, and to look for patterns and assumptions. Game over. Start again. Replay. Go deeper. Learn more. Discover possibilities.” So, the application of video games is a natural breeding ground for metacognition. Through gaming and the process of completing missions, students are guided to understand and consciously improving their own thought process. This improvement can be extremely useful to all areas of study, regardless of topic. To see Professor Shapiro’s full speech, you can follow the link below.

Glasslab has recently tapped into this process, as well. In their product, SimCityEDUPollution Challenge!, which is based upon the classic SimCity model that many gamers would be familiar with, students are appointed mayor of a town struggling to control its output of pollution. Their mission is to reduce the city’s carbon footprint, while also monitoring the number of jobs available, and the overall happiness of their citizens. Students can generate power for the city from coal plants or more green options like wind, all while being provided information on the trade-offs between the options. Another dilemma provided by the game is the need to increase enrollment in the local school, which is solved by creating access through roads and adding bus stops to shuttle students to the school.  A video from a middle school in Dunlap, Illinois that beta tested SimCityEDU entitled, SimCityEDU: Engaging 21st Century Learners. The students’ reactions are terrific.

Overall, we are beginning to see a strong trend of connecting cognitive learning with video games. This process is even being applied outside the classroom, as well. The success of sites such as Luminosity are a great example of the realization that video games can extend far beyond entertainment and distraction. Also, with the implementation of The Common Core Curriculum in schools, which places emphasis on developing students critical thinking abilities, incorporating video games seems like natural fit within new learning process. Soon, the days of dividing time between homework and video games will disappear, and homework will simply become playing video games. Which is day that truly cannot come soon enough.