A New and Improved Classroom

I just recently read an interesting article that discussed the effect that video games has had on students interest in certain topics. The article, “Let the Games Begin: Entertainment meets Education” written by Jenn Shreve, begins with an anecdote of a western civilization class in which many of the students had to repeat due to prior failure. This new class, however, students were coming in “armed with strategies to topple colonial dictators” and “kids who didn’t know Pompeii from Plymouth Rock were suddenly mapping out the borders of the early Roman Empire.” The teacher notes that the reason for this newfound interest and success is directly due to Sid Meier’s Civilization III, a best-seller in the computer game industry.

The article then dives into what we have already spoke about in class, that there are not many, if any at all, truly successful video games that can be used to direct a class. There are software programs available, but a majority of those programs are unsuccessful and are very costly.

How to approach this problem?

One way researchers decided to approach this issue was not to develop games for students to use in the classroom, but instead have those students design the games themselves. One might see this as an extreme tactic, saying “how can you ever expect a student to design their own game unless they have background in that field.” Interestingly enough, this method was used on a fourth grade math class. The students were provided with some basic design software, and were told to develop a program that would help solve fractions. What the students didn’t realize was that an underlying motive of this method was that multiple skills were being developed. Those students were not only learning about fractions, they were also developing their computer skills.

River City

This article continues on to talk about something called River City. What River City is is a “Multi-User Virtual Environment for Learning Scientific Inquiry and 21st Century Skills.” In other words, River City is a simulation, with a video game feel, that incorporates information from many prominent scientific resources.

Quite simply, River City is a town that has been plagued by illness. The way the simulation works is students are broken into teams and are sent to explore, interact, and create hypotheses as to why the illness has occurred. Each time the simulation is run, it is followed by a teacher led discussion and therefore students can analyze what they experienced in a more formal setting. Eventually, at the conclusion of the simulation, the groups will present their hypotheses to the class, of which there are multiple correct answers (similar to Scot Osterweil’s reward for effort).

In conclusion, this article emphasizes the necessity for video games in the classroom, but not as a complete substitution. Like River City, video games that are educational should supplement traditional teaching methods. An important aspect of these games, as we’ve discussed before is used to close the article:

“And if everyone has a little fun along the way, better yet.”

Sources:

http://www.edutopia.org/let-games-begin

http://muve.gse.harvard.edu/muvees2003/index.html

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