Thursday, January 19, 2012

Games in Education

Photo provided by Bjorn Hermans.
This semester I'm taking a course on educational games and simulations from Boise State University. I'm excited about this course for many reasons. The first is obvious. I'm a game lover. Some of my best memories from growing up is playing games with my family. And I still love gathering with friends, both on and offline, to play games.

As a tutor first, then as a teacher, I incorporated games in my teaching. I just knew that they would encourage even the most reluctant student to just try. In the classroom, there's a fear of being wrong, of failing. That doesn't exist in games. If you lose, you aren't a failure. You can try again and you might win the next time. Removing the fear of failure makes students more likely to participate.

I have known the value of games just by experience. Now I want to learn more about what the research and the experience of game developers tells us. I want to be able to create educational experiences that utilize the best games have to offer.

Image provided by Fantasy Art.
Besides my love of games and wanting to know more about how to utilize them to improve education, there's one more major reason I'm excited about the course I'm taking. This course is set up using a gaming structure. Instead of having assignments, I have quests. Instead of earning a grade on class activities, I earn points. My goal is to "win the class" by earning 2000 XPs.

The logical side of my brain is fighting against this concept. It feels like putting a game shell on top of a class. I'm doing the same things I would have done in a regular class. The only difference is that I earn points towards leveling up. Will that game shell really make a difference?

At the same time, the game-lover in me is curious. Will this gaming format engage me in a way I haven't been engaged in a class before? Will I do more work just to earn more points? Will I feel in competition with my classmates and be driven to earn more points so that I can outrank them?

One of the quests I selected today involved watching this TED talk.  I have seen much better videos about gaming and how to use their mechanics in education. But this video is a good introduction if you haven't read much about gaming. It starts with some staggering statistics on how much we are spending on games. The speaker, Tom Chatfield, eventually explains 7 ways in which games engage us.
It's a bit dry, but informative.

During the video, I found myself musing about creating a game-based learning math course. There are so many resources on the web (mostly low quality, but there are a few gems) that it seems like it would be easy enough to pull together a set of activities to create at least a mini-math quest. Without creating a few of my own tools or using offline materials, I could not cover all of the skills expected by the Common Core State Standards for any grade. But I could definitely create a game that could be used as a component of a math course. The teaching would happen offline, in the classroom. The game would be a way for students to maintain math skills they had learned. It would be the "spoonful of sugar" that would make homework more enjoyable.

Eventually, it is my goal to create a math game that does teach, in addition to provide practice, in a game-based format. This game will engage students, put them in the drivers seat of math in way that helps them understand it in a meaningful way, not just a memorization of rules. Students will learn math by doing math in situations they find interesting. Doing so will require a team of software developers, math education whizzes, and all sorts of creative types, just as game developers do. I am certain my ideas for this game will continue to morph this semester. I'll be throwing out what doesn't work and pulling in more of what works. It'll be an interesting process of refinement that I am curious to see develop over the coming months.
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