By Ryan L. Schaaf
Have you ever observed a person playing a video game? Have you ever witnessed the intense range of emotions, extreme task commitment, engagement, and focus players experience as they smash buttons and hold on to their game controllers for dear life? My ten-year-old son, Connor, amazes me with his proficiency in playing games on the family game console or his tablet. I was guilty of starting Connor on this early path to gaming. At the ripe old age of 2, Connor was visiting Starfall.com to learn about phonics and letter recognition. This interactive site was the gateway to more advanced gaming experiences such as Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Star Wars Legos, and most recently, Minecraft.
What was truly amazing with Connor’s gameplay was the amount of content he was learning. However, this learning was a side effect of his fun. Connor discovered digital games had a lot to teach him. Similar to educational books and videos, Connor considered games an educational media format — one that will continue to evolve in its presentation and message for its players for many decades to come. In fact, Connor’s younger brother, Ben, is learning how to game. It puts some credence into the popular proverb, “the family that plays together, stays together.”
Digital games are a powerful factor in the lives of so many people. Whether we observe a committed gamer, spending 20+ hours a week playing Call of Duty or Halo; or a casual gamer, playing Clash of Clans or Candy Crush in their spare time, games are an extremely popular form of media. As gaming evolves, its purpose is changing. Games are no longer considered just an entertaining pastime. A growing body of research (which will be shared in this series) is identifying games as extremely powerful tools for modern-day teaching, learning, and assessment.
Quality digital learning games promote the development of soft skills; the skills so many educational visionaries (Sir Ken Robinson, Ian Jukes, Sugata Mitra, Tony Wagner, and Marc Prensky to name a few) identify as being crucial for our children to develop in order to thrive in the modern world after their academic careers are over. During gameplay, players develop skills in problem-solving, communication, perseverance, strategic planning, information processing, and adaptability to name a few.
Try to envision a scenario where the younger members of the digital generation play to learn. They would take risks, work productively alone or in groups, strive to improve, focus on a single task for an extended period of time, fail without stigma, persevere through challenges, work towards short and long-term goals, and learn through experiences rather than absorbing dry, unconnected facts – all while having fun during the process.
Today’s generations have become experts at analyzing gameplay, interpreting storylines, and ingesting raw game data. If parents and educators could take advantage of gaming’s popularity and positive attributes during learning, then edification would become an epic journey for our children.
Many living in Connor’s generation, the digital generation, will never experience a world without Mario, Master Chief, or The Sims. Outside of schools, they play hours of video games each week. While playing these games in their spare time, they are extremely focused, they take on all challengers, work collaboratively, solve problems, receive instant feedback and gratification, and ingest and retain a large amount of information quickly with amazing accuracy during recall. If these attributes can be transferred to academics, then we will cultivate a generation ready to take on the world.
This post is the first in a 12-part series entitled Digital Games: Learning Through Gameplay. In this series, parents, educators, and other stakeholders invested in the success of the digital generations will: examine the ubiquitous, pervasive nature of digital games and their grasp upon the digital generations.
- define the essential vocabulary associated with digital games, digital game-based learning, gamification, and other related terms.
- analyze the current research related to digital gaming and learning.
- compare and contrast the various platforms digital games are played on and their potential for individual, small-group, or large-scale digital game-based learning implementation.
- examine the criteria for selecting quality digital games for instruction.
- analyze the various ways digital games can be used by learners at home or incorporated into classroom instruction at school.
- observe testimonials of digital game-based learning in various academic programs.
Please join us as we dive headfirst into the educational potential of learning through digital gameplay.