What Educators Could Learn From Video Games

classroom-computer-sm250Video games have a bad reputation. While kids spend hours upon hours engaged in sedentary electronic play, parents wring their hands and bemoan the wasted time.  But while there may not be any real-world advantage to mastering Super Mario, at least one expert believes that video games do have something worthwhile to teach us.  Namely, how to teach our kids. 

James Gee, of the Mary Lou Fulton Institute and Graduate School of Education at Arizona State University, says that the design of many of today’s most popular video games provide an ideal environment for learning.

For starters, rather than teach, many video games are structured in a way that allows kids to learn.  Where a classroom teacher might impart information and then instruct a student to go use that information, a video game generally takes the opposite approach.  Players start out doing and additional information is given along the way as needed.  This approach, says Gee, optimizes learning.

In addition, video games provide a stimulation that traditional instruction generally does not:  Frustration.  On the surface, this may sound like a bad thing, but Gee believes this “pleasantly frustrating” environment provides a doable challenge that motivates rather than discourages.

But perhaps the most important advantage the video game learning model has over more traditional methods is the assessment factor. Generally, students are subjected to standardized testing to track progress after a period of instruction. In video games, learning and assessment are happening at the same time.  Feedback is given in real-time as players progress in the game.  This, according to Gee, is not only more timely, but is ultimately more cost-effective as it eliminates the need for a separate testing component.

Gee says that computers in the classroom aren’t necessary in order for teachers to make use of the video game methods of learning.  Good teachers have been teaching this way for years, he says.  Through the use of field trips, class gardens and other hands-on experiences, situated learning is taking place all the time.

But while Gee may not envision a classroom without teachers, there is movement in that direction.  A government-sponsored contest to transform learning through the use of digital media is well underway.  While the intent of such a program is clearly to enhance education, could rendering teachers obsolete not also be a consequence?  Would that be a bad thing?

Image: Extra Ketchup/Flickr

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