Lisa Galarneau’s presentation at the ULearn conference has certainly stirred up a lot of conversation about gaming in education – ranging from those who are inspired and enthusiastic to those who don’t see any place for computer games in the classroom. A lot of this is fuelled, of course, bu the sort of statement that was made in the TV3 news item about Lisa’s talk where the intro claimed that “games may be the future of education”.
Such extravagant claims are, or course, intended to stir imaginations and evoke response – all of which is constructive as we seek to address questions about the future of schooling in a digital and networked age. I have three children still at school, and while I would not like to think that their future will consist of sitting all day, every day in front of a computer games console, I am continually intrigued by the ways in which their engagement with digital technologies and participation in the online world is contributing significantly to their disposition as learners – both in terms of how they learn and what they learn – as well as with whom they learn.
In response to what I see as an undercurrent of negativity and ultra-conservatism among some at this conference, I thought I’d record why I am a supporter of the use (and ongoing research into use) of games, gaming and game development in education. Here are my three main reasons:
- Games are engaging – there is little doubt that games engage learners. As educators we are all interested in making learning engaging, relevant, delightful etc. There is much to learn from the whole area of games development that might inform the nature of learning activity that occurs in classrooms in the future. We need researchers like Lisa and others to lead us in this thinking – and we need to be engaging in conversations about how this can inform the nature of what happens in our schools and classrooms.
- Games can effectively mediate experiences and events we’ve long recognised the advantages of direct, purposeful experiences in educaiton – theorists such as John Dewey and Edgar Dale have provided excellent frameworks to support this. There are some really useful initiatives going on at present to explore how the exisiting gaming engines may be used to provide pedagogically sound, educationally-oriented experiences for learners. Second life is a good example of an open, simulated environment that is being used by some educators, while simulations such as Darfur is Dying provide a more focused experience based on specified learning outcomes.
- Game development is effective for teaching important skills – Games in education needn’t be focused only on playing games. I believe there is a lot to be gained from providing students with the tools and abilities to create, construct and contribute to their own games. Using such tools students have the opportunity to develop and use skills that are going to be in demand in a digital world – including programming skills, graphical and design skills, collaborative skills etc. There is an increasing focus on the development of games that can be modified by the user (MODs) which fits this category also.
I could elaborate more on these ideas I’m sure, but for now this summarises where I’m coming from. I think we ignore the potential impact of games in education at our peril – and we simply can’t wait for our politicians and policy makers to complete their “risk mitigation” on this – those who are already using, playing, making and modifying games with their students. We need to capture these experiences, share them and learn from them and eachother (and that includes the students). There’s already a plethora of information available to us to support what is happening in this area, so let’s just do it.