Video Games for Fun and Learning

Most teachers would likely agree that the best way to teach students is to keep them engaged. And probably all would agree that video games certainly keep kids engaged. So melding the two seems like a sure way to improve students' comprehension and even eagerness to learn. Can video games change the face of conventional teaching?


A Positive Impact on Learning

Physics. Biology. Literacy. History. Calculus. These are just a few of the subjects students can learn, and in some cases are learning, through video games. While no one is quite ready to say that these games can or will replace conventional learning methods, many are beginning to understand that they can certainly, and successfully, be used as supplemental aids.

While the negative influences of video games have long been discussed and debated, other studies have shown that playing video games can result in improved fine motor, thinking and problem-solving skills. Arizona State University professor James Gee, an expert on video games and learning, states that video games are inherent to problem-solving, decision-making and collaboration. And at a New York University conference in 2010, even violent video games were acknowledged for strengthening vision and memory.

Video games, some say, can help students visualize concepts they might otherwise have trouble comprehending. In one Nintendo DS game in a series called Possible Worlds, for instance, students personify the sun and break apart and re-assemble air and water molecules as a way to defeat enemies and move through levels. This rather simple game can help them to better understand the process of photosynthesis. And middle-school students can develop a better understanding of pre-algebra when they play an online game called Lure of the Labyrinth.

The impact of visual stimulation as a learning method may be difficult to ignore. Online college-level simulations in physics have been used at some middle and high schools for several years, leading to more active learning and participation despite advanced language and other obstacles. New and modified simulations for a younger audience are currently being developed.

Test Runs and Test Scores

In addition to the Possible Worlds series, other games have already been designed for, and tested in, educational settings. The mobile-based UbiqBio, designed by a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was recently tested at a few Boston-area high schools. Biology teachers at the schools used the UbiqBio games as homework assignments, with many students playing beyond the 10-20 minutes assigned. While the jury is still out as far as the game's impact on comprehension, the fact that students found the format appealing was enough to convince some teachers that such an approach to learning would be successful.

When it comes to proving the impact of video games on learning, can the proof be in the pudding, so to speak? Take the eighth-grade Long Island, New York science class that recently played a Possible Worlds game over two class periods. The result? Better scores on end-of-unit tests for those who played the game compared to those who did not.

Perhaps in light of such success stories, some schools are turning to game-based software to help prepare students for tests. Some schools in California, including those in Oakland and San Jose, are designing pilot programs using such software to help students prepare for the ACT and SAT in addition to AP History and Calculus exams.

The bottom line? Video games targeting educational topics combine two things most students might have once thought impossible: fun and learning.

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