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A new vision for video games in education

A new vision for video games in education

I initially became interested in Educational Technology because I was frustrated.  I was a high school history teacher, working at an alternative school, teaching low motivation, disinterested students.  Every day, I would go through the same routine: arguing with students about the importance of history… hoping some of my enthusiasm would rub off on them.  I tried all the techniques I had learned during my B. Ed.  But they just didn’t care.

The thing that really irked me was that these same students would go home and play computer and video games until 3 a.m.  While the game titles varied from student to student, in general they all had complex story lines, integrated video, maps for users to explore, strategy, etc..  Students were ultra engaged, and strangely could tell me the entire history of the Great Conflict in Diablo, or all the different alien races in Starcraft.  Students even learned some real world history through games like Age of Empires.

We live in a golden age of gaming.  The games being produced are of high quality, stunning, engaging and downright addictive.  They are also easily accessible and available.  Many educators condemn these games as a major distraction and themain contributing factor to student’s lowered attention spans.  School curriculum cannot compete, no matter how enthusiastic or creative the teacher.

This was what made me decide to go into Education Technology.  I questioned why I should fight this trend.  Instead, why not work with it?  There has been a lot of research about the benefits of gaming as well: you are free to fail, you get immediate feedback, you can experiment, interpret. They test your working memory and problem solving skills.  Now if only there were high level games that complemented academic curriculum.

Many role playing games follow a pattern: you start with an explorer, uncover a map, build a colony, fight neighbours, trade, industrialize.  How is this any different from real life history?  My dream is to have computer games that follow the same structure, only be historically accurate.  The Quebec history curriculum is an ideal example: you discover the land with your explorer, meet the native groups and see how they live (sedentary? nomadic?), trade for beavers (learn natural resources), set up a fur trade, get attacked by the Iroquois, gradually build your colony…  It’s got all the makings of a great game! Why doesn’t this exist?

Prior to entering the Ed. Tech program (when I still had free time), I actually wrote a script for the first few modules of this pet project.  Unfortunately, once I  started the program, I learned that game developers seem to have little interest in producing this type of educational material.  High level, complex computer games seem to be reserved for the realm of entertainment, while gamification in learning refers to arcade type games, badges, etc.  Fun, but not the same at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m loving Ed. Tech and switching was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done, yet I feel there is a real disconnect when it comes to the possibilities of high level gaming in education.  I believe that if marketed properly, these games could become a crucial component of school curriculum and a really great way of teaching students.  This could also translate into big bucks for game developers.  As for teachers, what cooler way to integrate blended learning into the classroom than by having students play computer games?  I’m looking forward to a future where this actually happens.