The Role of Video Games in Schools | Josh Freeman | TEDxUCO


Translator: Rosana Carmona
Reviewer: Sigal Tifferet It wasn’t until advances in PCs
and Internet came along to breathe new life into what had become a distinctly separate
edutaintment industry. Nowadays, the classrooms have access to tons of free
educational internet games, but unfortunately, these games
are often not very well designed. This shift in the market
is something that Gabe Newell, game developer at Steam and Valve, spoke about at the 2011
Games For Change Festival. He said, “It seems like a lot of the software
that’s developed is not very good. I hate that people use the fact
they are targeting the educational market as an excuse for not working as hard. People who make good games
should be thinking harder about the educational capacity
of what they do, and people in the educational space
should be doing everything they can to build better games than we do and marketing those
to the right audiences.” And over the past five or so years, ideas like this have led
to a lot of really great games. Some of them originated
with an educational focus, others with a more commercial focus, but both approaches can be beneficial
to schools when done right. Here’s a short list of some games and the subjects
they’ve been used to teach. We have Portal 2. A modified version of this game
has been used to teach math, physics, even language arts in schools. DragonBox is an app that teaches
young children basic algebra skills in the guise
of an easy-to-learn puzzle game. Scribblenauts teaches students language arts
and critical thinking skills. And of course, Minecraft has been modified
into a platform for education in many different subjects. The list could go on and on,
really, there are tons of them, but the question remains: what are the specific benefits
of these games that put them in schools? Before we look at those benefits, we first need to look
at some of the challenges involved in using games in schools. The challenges come
in a great variety of arguments, but they all tend to focus
around a few central ideas. Unsurprisingly, these same arguments
can be easily redirected at other media types
that are more commonly used in schools. So, we already know
some of the valid counterpoints to make to these arguments. First we have cost; budget limitations
are common in schools. We all know that. But skilled staff gets around this through a combination of fund raising,
grants, and donations. These same methods can be applied
to video game acquisitions. It’s also worth noting that not all games
are as expensive as AAA titles. There are more affordable options, finding the right cost to quality balance
is just part of the job. Then we have the relation
to inappropriate themes and violence. Inappropriate themes
are common in all media types. We wouldn’t expect to see
Fifty Shades of Grey in school, we also wouldn’t expect to see
Grand Theft Auto in school. Then we have the challenge of getting
the media to the students: access. This is a real concern in most schools, and again, it has to do
with the budget limitations. There’s already a strain providing e-readers,
or in our case, game consoles. There’s a further strain on that budget, again those cost cutting methods
mentioned before as good. But there are other options,
PCs are already ubiquitous in schools. It’s a good platform to continue using
for games in education, but we need to again remember to avoid
those free online games that might not be the best choice. And the final real argument is probably
the most important and a bit more nuanced. There’s two sides of it:
the teacher side and the student side. And this is connecting the media
to the actual learning course. On the teacher’s side it’s like choosing
a book that is the right reading level for the subject or the grade level. We wouldn’t expect a kindergarden class to use a college level textbook
about colors, and we wouldn’t expect them
to learn colors from a complicated
turn based strategy game either, despite how strangely interesting
that concept is. On the student side we have
the student’s ability to actually realize what they’re learning in the game. Many games attempt
to address this problem, but often their solution
is so heavy-handed that it completely removes
the fun from the game. This is a lot like comparing
reading a textbook to reading a piece of historical fiction literature. The fiction often comes
with class discussion and teacher guidance. The same should be expected for the games, they take thought
and guidance in the classroom. And the last argument that you hear
more often than you need to is angry parents saying that games,
flat out, don’t belong in schools. And that is wrong. I’ll explain further in a second,
but for now just try to calm down. (Laughter) You’re wrong. So, looking at these challenges we can see
that with the same care and consideration that educators give to other media types,
we can apply those to video games. It’s only when these challenges
are not met well that video games are not successful in schools. Now, I’d like to take a moment to talk about the benefits of games finally. But I don’t want to just talk
about benefits, I want to show you the benefits
of video games in schools. This is Little Big Planet. I chose this game because the level editing tool allows me to practice many of the skills
that educators have identified as important for 21st century learners. Those are: creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication. Here, we start out as the student in a classroom that is clearly boring the whole class to tears. They don’t want to have
anything to do with this. That is until… video games are introduced. Student interest goes up. And we saw it at the pop-up at the bottom and the points awarded are
the first example of responsive feedback. Games offer responsive feedback
to let students know quickly when they’ve done something good or bad,
right or wrong. This helps guide learning. Here we have an example. The robot is thinking,
“How do I get out of here?” This an example of tutorials, which are a great way for introducing new concepts. It’s always good in schools. The next benefit of games is that they allow students to leave the classroom. I mean that metaphorically, but in this case, since it’s a video game, we are literally leaving the classroom. Here we see the second element of agency that was mentioned earlier in the pop-up. Agency is simply the feeling that the student or the player has control and is able to make choices that matter. So, let’s actually make a choice. We can choose our character. Anyone? We have a ninja,
an astronaut, a knight? Ninja it is! This next room represents the passage of time,
with the clock on the wall. Here we see that we are given enough time and meaningful interactions with the character – it’s a small room and we don’t have
any meaningful interactions – but given enough time the student is able to remove themselves from the situation. They are better able to empathize
with the character and become more immersed
in the learning story going on. This next room actually presents our first element of challenge, because it turns out that ninjas can’t breathe in space. Who knew? So we need to get out of here. But, we failed. This is the last element of agency that I talked about. And that is the concept
that your choices actually matter. Because we chose a ninja, this room
is harder than it would be otherwise. But, luckily, video games allow us to reframe failure as just a further opportunity for learning. So we get another try. We get to learn from our mistakes, which I clearly didn’t do. (Laughter) So this is an example of how video games are able to cope with student frustration or our learning curve. If the situation is too difficult, games can dynamically
adjust that difficulty level. Here it asks if I want
to switch to the astronaut. Yes, that will make it easier in space. Here we go! Oh, still failed. But he has a jet pack, that’s OK. (Laughter) This room, as we complete this section, shows us another benefit. The star system is a great way to encourage students to continue to try harder and strive
for improvement in their work. Something we don’t often think about when it comes to games
is tangential learning. And that is that talk bubble
you can’t read is the student thinking about how cool that black hole was. And they want to study it further, like in this library,
where you can go get a book and read about black holes. Yay! Learning archived. When it comes to more direct learning, with video games we have the benefit that they address multiple learning styles. We have visual, auditory
and kinesthetic learning, all right here in the game. And look, there is a video game
in the library. How cool is that? Even when the learning is not directly tied to the curriculum we have a benefit in what is referred to
as systems thinking, which is the ability to work within and work through complex systems, similar to critical thinking. But this can be applied
ouside of games in education in areas like military, business,
government work, etc. And the last benefit of games is something that often happens
behind the scenes and that’s data collection. Games collect data on everything, from simple button inputs to more complex stuff like this. But the true benefit is when games start to measure stuff like
student comprehension of different learning objectives. And in cases when they need
to have intervention, that data can be passed on to the teacher for further intervention from the teacher. So, as we see here, with all these elements combined video games and teachers can make a really great team. So, what we need to do is think more about video games in schools. As we think more, as we use them,
and talk about them more, we become more aware of how we can better address the challenges
and difficulties that they provide us. Then, we are better able to prepare
students for a future that will be different than today. Let me close with – if we try, if we search hard enough or demand it loud enough, we will be able to see games that change our understanding, change what we expect from video games. And then maybe teachers will start to look at games like Bioshock and not just see pointless,
useless entertainment. Thank you. (Applause)

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