Compare and contrast – Video games as educational tools

Dr. Jim Gee notes:

If learning always operates well within the learner’s resources, then all that happens is that the learner’s behaviors get more and more routinized, as the learner continues to experience success by doing the same things. This is good … for learning and practicing fluent and masterful performance … but is not good for developing newer and higher skills. However, if learning operates outside one’s resources, the learner is simply frustrated and gives up.

Good video games … build in many opportunities for learners to operate at the outer edge of their regime of competence, thereby causing them to rethink their routinized mastery and move, within the game and themselves, to a new level. Indeed, for many learners it is these times … when learning is most exciting and rewarding. Sadly in school, many so-called advantaged learners rarely get to operate at the edge of their regime of competence as they coast along in a curriculum that makes few real demands on them. At the same time, less advantaged learners are repeatedly asked to operate outside their regime of competence.

[Video games] build into their designs and encourage good principles of learning … that are better than those in many of our skill-and-drill, back-to-basics, test-them-until-they-drop schools.

Gee, J. P. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. [pp. 70, 205]

In contrast, here are current teachers’ beliefs (click on graph for full report):

Thoughts on Gaming Block Grid

10 Responses to “Compare and contrast – Video games as educational tools”

  1. There is a marked difference between these US opinion stats and those that have just been published about the UK in the Byron Report. Here, nearly two thirds of parents believe that games have an educational benefit to youngsters. I wonder how much of this change is down the work of our Scottish Centre for Games and Learning? ;-)
    http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/ICTineducation/gamesbasedlearning/index.asp

  2. I’m no apologist for either side of this debate but I am awfully glad the dichotomy between these competence-expanding video games and “test-them-until-they-drop schools” pushed by the author is a demonstrably false one.

  3. I couldn’t agree more with the assertion that video games offer a unique opportunity to individualize instruction for our students. I also believe that many teachers would get onboard with this idea as well if two things could happen.

    1. Video games need to be designed with education and curriculum in mind. That is currently happening on a very small scale. It is not realistic to think that teachers have the ability to design their own games. It would be nice to see teachers serving advisory roles for companies designing these games however.

    2. Access to computers needs to be increased significantly. In our district, we have two labs per school at the elementary level and 8-10 labs at the high school. Still, with testing and keyboarding instruction and ongoing research and curricular projects, there is little time remaining for the kind of access necessary to use video games on any regular basis. Our new language arts curriculum has some good online resources, including ongoing formative assessments that are instantly graded and recorded in a data mining software. Our teachers are crushed that we don’t have the kind of access necessary to take advantage of these features. I have to believe this is a pervasive issue in k-12 education.

  4. I’ve been tempted to try out Orbiter in class, but I’m not sure that qualifies as a videogame in the sense most people think. (It is a spaceflight simulation with realistic physics. In other words, nailing a landing on the moon requires working on the equations first.)

    For an interesting recent experience, look up the blog “The Stack” and its recent account of playing through “Typing of the Dead”. (By the end, the author has learned touch-typing.)

  5. The collective unconscious was in high gear these last few days. As you posted this, I was reading about Plato, the philosopher, encouraging games in education. It’s at http://tinyurl.com/67qyn9. The 15% stat fits right in. There’s still lots of work to do, lots.

  6. Wow, that 15% is a little scary. I totally understand that many teachers are a long way from actually using video games as a tool in their class, but that so few can see the potential is quite disapointing. Good to see that opinion is a little higher in the UK – I wonder what it would be overall here in Oz?

  7. I think this is apples and oranges.

    Teachers answering this question are obviously thinking of whether video games have a lot of educational potential — in school. Of course people learn things as they play video games, just not things school values. And it’s not going to be solved by trying to cram school curriculum into a video game-like form. These teachers are simply being realistic, if not optimistic.

    As school currently exists, with segregated subjects, artificially short periods that deny any chance for intense engagement or flow, and reliance on fact-based content and assessment, there is zero chance that video games can be used in schools in any significant way.

  8. Hmmm, It seems to me we’re missing the forest for the trees. Look at the reason video games are successful (and addictive). They operate at the edge of the players competency. Success is just within reach. Players are challenged to continue because they know they can conquer the next level with a little more effort, or practice. Then, the game moves to a greater level of difficulty. Isn’t that how we would like all of education to operate? The reasons why it isn’t happening are complex, but learning doesn’t have to involve a computer game to be fun and challenging.

  9. Kia Ora Scott.

    Jim Gee spoke of “opportunities for learners to operate at the outer edge of their regime of competence”. It is very rare that I find practitioners refer to this theoretical area of learning correctly.

    Lev Vygotsky, in his posthumously published work Mind and Society, coined the term zone of proximal development. He defined it in terms of the learning development of a child who, with the help of another more experienced, was able to learn to do something that the child became able to do unaided the next day.

    Vygotsky’s zone of development, however, is what Jim referred to when a learner “always operates well within the learner’s resources”. The learner rarely progresses outside this zone unless extended either by help from outside or by initiative from within.

    Games developers have known about this for decades, as you are probably aware. It was for this very reason that the “games levels” that were a design feature and that propagated the progression of games ability in so many games, were so successful – as in the exemplary Mario Bros.

    Lev Vygotsky died in 1934.

    Ka kite
    from Middle-earth

  10. I use a lot of Jump Start games in the classroom and with my children and I have to say that it does work. Now, personally, I would much rather they go out and play but it would be stupid to ignore the importance of technology these days. If kids are going to spend that much time in front of their video games and computers, might as well use that as tool for learning, right? I wonder how long before there’s a huge educational revolution and the whole classroom becomes technology driven.

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