Gaming as an Educational Tool

Tony Wan recently moderated a panel called Technology in Education: How Will it Change the Game? organized by the Churchill club. Wan would like to see the gap between general games and educational games close, and asks the panel questions to determine their thoughts.

Here’s what they said:

Noah Wardrip-Fruin (Associate Professor of Computer Science, UC Santa Cruz & Co-director, Expressive Intelligence Studio):

Noah has seen through his students that they are very motivated by making games.He feels it is important that people be able to step back and learn how to critique the systems that are being used. In an effort to expand gaming beyond the mathematical and scientific realms, Noah has just released a game called “Prom Week,” which teaches about bullying and being a good stranger.

When asked about the pitfalls and misconceptions related to gamification, he responded that the heart of games is play and not points, levels, and badges. Noah is interested in gamification to the extent that we re-think the core activity of gaming to focus on the aspect of play, which he calls “playification.”

Lucien Vattel (Owner, Chizuru Games & Executive Director, GameDesk):

Lucien sees a need for a school experience of learning that is more reflective of the type of world that we actually live in and says we need to completely re-think what education is.When you play a game you are learning and we know that people are consistently engaged. What we need to learn, however, is how you can use all of these things that have been developed through game design to create connection to things that we actually want kids to learn. So for example, we can have a student learning fractions and equations and they have to complete a “boss like” experience where the student has to prove an understanding of that material in order to move forward.

In terms of the pitfalls and misconceptions related to gamification, Lucien says he thinks that rewards without context or meaning are not really rewards. We know when we are being duped and we know when we are playing a game that ultimately won’t fulfill us. If the reward is connected to performing the actual learning, then the reward is meaningful.

Anthony Salcito (Vice President of Worldwide Education, Microsoft):

Anthony wants to lift the way in which technology makes a difference in the classrooms by looking at the motivation of the learner or player of the game. He says there has to be a platform of optimism making students feel they have an impact in their world and community so that learning becomes relevant to what they hope to achieve. Students who get an “F” on their papers conclude they can’t understand that subject whereas with a “Game Over” screen, gamers come back and try harder while learning from their mistakes. So the assessment models in schools are often not motivating while the language of games has an incentive for students to learn from their mistakes and move on.

When asked about teachers concerns with respect to using educational gaming while also teaching for standardized testing, Anthony points out that what teachers are saying is that if they teach to the test with boring and uninspiring lectures, there will be better results. But this is not supported by research. Microsoft is working on a project in Singapore, which found that students who weren’t strictly preparing for the tests did far better because when kids are more engaged, they are more inspired and the learning is more personal. Most learning in the US is not personal so we need to let students enjoy learning in a playful way while connecting it to the things that teachers will be assessed on.

Ben Chun (Educator, Galileo Academy of Science & Technology):

Ben believes that the potential for kids and games is to allow kids behind the scenes to determine what they are interested in and what is needed to reach that interest.He says that a challenge for educational gaming is that the student may not be learning what we want the student to learn. For example, a student who learns to figure out the right answer to a math question in a game setting but outside of the game cannot work through a similar problem. So this sort of trap needs to be avoided; just because someone is successful within the system does not mean they are grasping the intended subject.

He also points out that we need to be cautious about how we structure social interactions in educational games because if the teacher puts a gold star by the name of student one and not student two, then the gold stars may not be about student 1 getting a badge but about student two thinking they can never get to where student one is. So we need to be careful in how we give praise and rewards and pay attention to the psychology of how that will impact learners as they progress.

Linda Burch (Chief Education & Strategy Officer, Common Sense Media):

Linda believes that technology can empower kids to learn and collaborate and sees a need for schools, teachers, parents, and kids to embrace this. She finds that what is exciting about games is determining how interests get driven and how kids resilience gets built and sees an important role for the teacher as participating in reflection and discussion with kids using and exploring this technology.

Linda’s concern about the word gamification is that it undersells the learning potential that is in game-play and would like to see it made clear how gaming is a great way to learn.

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