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Why The Future Is Bright For Video Games in Education

Posted on Tuesday, December 13 @ 08:04:25 Eastern by Stanley_Jackson
It's 2004, and a younger me sits in a math lesson. But this is a special occasionlaptops are coming out. Talk of laptops back then were filled with a dreamy mystique; using computers in school lessons was not a normal occurrence. These phenomenally budget computers were handed out, one each, and the class was told to log on. We were instructed to visit Coolmath4kids, which took about 10 minutes to load. For the next 45 minutes the class was better behaved and more focused than ever. The hyper younglings with boundless energyand even more boundless scorn for dividing fractionswere sedated as we mastered Lemonade Stand and Chopper.

We didn’t learn anything, reallyit was just a bit of fun and not at all related to math. But the experiment, as far as the school was concerned, had failed. Games are fun, but you can’t learn with games, concluded the stony old math teacher. But he was wrong. With the perseverance and concentration that gaming encourages, combined with a good teacher, in the right setting, the possibilities are very excitinggaming and education are starting to look far less like the foes some parental groups and sections of the media propagate, and more like an incredible partnership.



The above video shows children in Pender, North Carolina, making things in Minecraft for a project. One girl is building a church, another a toy store.

So what are these kids doing that I wasn’t during my schoolboy afternoons in London playing Chopper? Well, problem solving is a brilliant example: One of the children has to mine cobblestone to make his construct, so he needs torches to enable him to dig the minerals. Instead of making just a few torches and adventuring below the surface intermittently, he builds up a store of torchesfantastic time management skills that some University students and professionals would do well to take note of!

Then there’s the obvious creation element that comes with such an open-ended game, along with the thrill of starting a project from scratch and being able to show it to people all over the world. Imagine a segment of a lesson about ancient Egyptians consisting of building model pyramids, or imagine an introductory electronics lesson centered on making simple circuits with Redstone and then replicating them in real life—these eventualities are becoming more frequent with the growth of websites like www.minecraftedu.com and
minecraftinschool.pbworks.com leading the way. And Minecraft is just the tip of the iceberg.

Very recent studies have shown that the format of some games enhances learning. Jose Luis Gonzalez, in research entitled "Using Videogames in Special Education" published by the University of Granada, argues that the nature of games "ease the assimilation of new concepts that improve the learning process". He goes on to say that "in games, a player’s error is not greeted with sadness or discouragement due to the use of a character, which mediates the player’s actions and acts as a guide".

This resonates strongly with me; during my school years I was quick to feel dejected by algebra and felt the failure was my own fault. However, when I played Crash Bandicoot, the motivation to carry on with my little furry avatar and defeat Cortex (you know, the evil guy with the giant head) meant I kept trying, reloading saved games over and over again to complete the game. I’m sure that many other gamers will have a similar level of perseverance to keep going until they master whatever skill is being required. Failure in games is a small barrier because you know you will get another chance.

More research, this time into television, found that Sesame Street had an uncanny ability to hold a child’s attention. The times during an episode of Sesame Street where children were most likely to lose interest with Big Bird and company was when they didn’t understand what was going on. And as playing games is the number one use of technology for children over eight, why not teach with games? It is a medium that children clearly understand and love.

Franky Fox Academy is just one of the new games which are educational and actually fun. When I say fun, I don’t mean those terrible PC games that say "The FUN way to memorize the multiplication tables!" on the back of the box, which were used to trick parents into buying what was all work, no game. I mean, Franky Fox Academy is actually not bad; the snowball level in particular is quite challenging and a definite step up in terms of action. And in a bizarre coincidence, Franky Fox looks a lot like Crash Bandicoot.

Another area where games are making huge strides in the quest for a reputation beyond pleasure is as educational assistants in the special needs arena. While mainstream students can use gaming education to benefit with quicker reaction times, higher concentration levels, and excellent problem-solving skills, the potential success in educating those with special needs is an even more astonishing prospect.

This is best demonstrated by a new gaming system called ‘Timocco’. The game, which is the brainchild of Israeli Therapist Marit Stresser M.Sc, involves children using motion-sensor technology to control the hands of a monkey named Timocco. The players must complete tasks such as catching falling fruit, hitting kitchen utensils, and popping bubbles in the bathbut it's not just about playingbecause without even realizing it, children with ADD, Developmental Coordination Disorder, or Cerebral Palsy, absorb the cognitive and coordination abilities that they find so difficult to learn using traditional methods.

"For the children, it is very fun, they are demonstrating important skills, working very hard and concentrating enormously without realizing it," says Dr. Stresser.

Timocco has won huge praise from therapy experts: It has become very clear in recent years that for movement to evolve and rebuild, the brain requires training which is voluntary, intensive, and speed-sensitive. "Video-game technology in general is very effective in providing such training," said Dr. Natiy of Rehabilitation Canada. And what is more, there is evidence to suggest it works. During a pilot study, 90% of children showed a consistently improved concentration and 79% improved coordination. Games have become considered as extremely useful therapy for those with ADD, of which 10% of American children have been diagnosed. Because of the frenetic nature of games and the requirement to maintain concentration, they allow children to be able to go at their own pace.

Doug Goldberg, whose son was prescribed a Nintendo GameCube by his therapist to improve his manipulation with his fingers, noticed a huge improvement. However, due to his condition, Doug’s son had trouble fitting in at school. In an attempt to induce socialization, Doug arranged play dates for the boy, and found that when he was playing games with other children, he was a completely different person, opening up and interacting extremely normally because he was in contact with something familiarnamely, Mario and the gang. After this, he started to be able to socialize without video games, going swimming or wrestling.

In the future, success stories of games aiding socialization will become more common.

We can all admit that the education system as it stands in the US and the UK is lacking ideas, as most of us have been through it. And as America sits 19th out of the 21 industrialized countries of the world in the education tables (‘stagnating’, according to the report) – it is stale, lifeless and we all just go through the motions – there is too often a dull aura which resonates from bored teachers to even more bored students. The use of gaming can invigorate a dead system, it can inspire, encourage and challenge students – if the evidence keeps amassing, and the technology keeps advancing, then the future is indeed bright, for classroom gaming.


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