Gaming, cognition, and education – Wrap-up

Yesterday I concluded my series of posts related to gaming, cognition, and education. The purpose of the series was to illustrate some of the powerful learning principles that are present in video games, particularly role-playing games where a participant takes on the role of a character interacting with her environment and/or others. The learning principles that I discussed help explain why a kid who can’t sit still in class for five minutes can be mentally locked in for hours at home playing video games.

The series only highlighted 18 of the 36 learning principles described in Dr. Jim Gee’s book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. I selected principles from the book that I thought were particularly powerful aspects of electronic learning environments. These principles are present in K-12 classrooms to varied extent, depending on the school and/or teacher. However, it is important to note that these principles, even when present, typically occur in K-12 classrooms only some of the time while for video games they are the bedrock foundation of the learning platform and are present nearly all of the time.

I think that video games, or virtual simulations, or whatever we want to call them, will be a key component of classrooms of the future. The learning principles and potential will be too powerful to ignore for much longer, particularly as we move closer to every student having some kind of computing device with him or her 24 hours a day. Also, educators are starting to recognize that the ability of computers to facilitate students’ self-paced learning can free up teachers to spend more time with students who need extra help or who are ready to move ahead. One of the biggest challenges for K-12 teachers is differentiating instruction for a classroom of students with greatly-varying ability levels. Computers running educationally-valuable electronic learning environments can help immensely with this issue and can be powerful tools for savvy educators.

As the educational and/or ‘serious’ games movement grows, we will begin to see complex, realistic, accurate simulations of ancient civilizations (e.g., Colonial Williamsburg, the Maya, Great Zimbabwe), historical events (e.g., the Pelopponesian War, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Long March), scientific and mathematical processes (e.g., space exploration, Archimedean physics, Euclidean geometry), and the like. I am looking forward to this day. Right now even the most popular education-oriented games (e.g., Reader Rabbit, JumpStart, Oregon Trail, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?) have been notably simplistic compared to commercial virtual worlds such as Second Life, EverQuest, and World of Warcraft. I believe that education-oriented simulations will be much better at stimulating deeper, richer learning than the textbooks, videos, and learning games of today. It’s hard to argue that making authentic decisions in the role of a pharaoh or a slave or a farmer, while immersed in the realistic sights, sounds, and activities of ancient Egypt, wouldn’t be a better, more meaningful, and more permanent learning experience than merely reading a few textbook pages, seeing a few pictures, answering some “drill-and-kill” multiple choice questions on the computer, or watching a short video on the subject.

To facilitate easy dissemination to teachers and administrators (hint, hint!), this 8–page PDF document contains the text and hyperlinks from the week-long series:

If you’d like to share the series with educators but would rather send them a URL, send them to this post. Here are links to all six posts:

If you liked this series, please share freely and encourage others to do the same. In addition to the document and links above, here is another tool to help educators think about the cognitive and educational aspects of video games (any feedback you have on this would be welcome). Note that the spreadsheet can be initially completed by individuals or in small groups but must be done on a computer with Microsoft Excel.

2 Responses to “Gaming, cognition, and education – Wrap-up”

  1. Dear Dr. McLeod,

    I am currently in a MA in Secondary Education Program at the University of Michigan and have just started exploring ways in which we can use technology in our teaching to enhance students’ learning.

    From blogging to Wikis, thus far, I have been able to see the various ways and reasons why educators are using technology for educational purposes.

    One area that I was most skeptical of its educational benefits was related to gaming. Your posts highlighting powerful learning principles presented by Dr. Jim Gee placed my conceptions in a new light. Taking these principles, I would support further development of educational games to the point where parents and teachers are no longer concerned that the amount of time young people spend playing video games are negatively affecting school-related activities (not to mention to the point that students are choosing to play them over commercial ones). I am amazed to discover the potentials of gaming and the movement of technology in education.

    Thank you for enlightening me in this area.

    Sincerely,
    Allison Park

  2. Thanks, Allison, for the kind words. In addition to Gee’s book, check out the other resources I highlighted and also David Shaffer’s book, How Computer Games Help Children Learn. Good luck with your studies!

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