Popular Press Impression of Video Games and Learning – A Scholarly Critique

In my pursuit of further education I am enrolled in a course on games and learning. Part of the expectations for this course is to take ownership of my learning and explore the connections between games and learning for myself, this blog post is a continuation of the documentation of my learning.

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I have been struggling in my games and learning class to find connections between the theories I have been exposed to and finding tangible connections to my real world teaching practice. I know the direction of the course is to first introduce the qualities of good video games and games design. Our readings have already shown that good design make video games compelling for users to keep playing and mastering in-game skills, called pleasurable frustration, and that games with good design motivate discourse between players about the game and how to be a better player. This discussion of how game design supports these higher order thinking skills will lead into discussions and readings about how to employ games in an educational setting, both traditional and nontraditional.

I know myself as a student,  however, and I am impatient and want to start finding examples of how these concepts are being applied by others now. To start this investigation I looked to the popular press to see how games and the thinking skills they foster are being reported to the general public.  I wanted to also find an article that spoke, now only, generally about gaming and thinking skills, but that also provided ideas about possible directions to take my individual investigation in the next few weeks.  I found a list style article by Huffington Post blogger Kara Loo, called “7 Ways Video Games Will Help Your Kids in School”, this post not only connects seven distinct ways that video games foster 21st century thinking skills but also does a great job of linking to the studies and articles that Loo researched to support her claims.

Of the seven reasons that Loo claims video game play supports today’s learners three strike me as concepts that bridge the theoretical learning I have done in class and the practical real world applications I am looking for, these three are:

  • For most gamers, gaming is a highly-social activity
  • Games teach new technical skill sets
  • They offer a fluid and literary-like engagement with ethically- and morally-complicated situations (Loo, 2015)

“Their teamwork abilities are put to the test, and they must hone their communication and interpersonal skills in order to progress” (Ibid.)

The need to master communication and for proactive teamwork comes from intrinsic motivation to be successful in the game. The games that are well designed to promote motivation though engagement provide a platform to show students what is possible when communication and teamwork are applied properly.  This experience can be used as an exemplar for students when working in teams in different contexts.

“Video games are a powerful way to get kids interested in technology from an early age, and teach them basic technical skills that will reap rewards down the road” (Idib.)

Video games are increasingly empowering users to make changes to aspects of the game, these could be the customization of characters to the design and creation of new levels and worlds within the game platform. There is even a segment of the market that creates games (or activities) around employing user friendly coding languages for users to develop their own games from scratch, including the aptly named, Scratch program from MIT. These experiences let learns see what is possible and open imaginations for what could be created next.  I have always believed that new languages give new perspectives and problem solving avenues and a programming language is the same concept, a tool used to make sense of the given environment and solve challenges to mold that environment.

“Empathy . . . is not something that can be instilled from a book or verbal repetition. It emerges in emotional situations, which video games can simulate” (Idib.)

Multiplayer video games give students a chance to interact in a simulation of life and rehearse roles that they could eventually fulfill in life.  What a player does well in-game, be it communicating, creative strategizing, or giving directions, are areas that can understood as strengths in the real world. Conversely prosocial collaboration skills that learners do not possess yet can be promoted and practice in a virtual world. Knowing their strengths and developing other prosocial skills helps a learner understand themselves and solidify their personal identity.
I am quite pleased with the connections Loo helped create, for me, between the theoretical qualities of good game design that supports learning, and the directions she has pointed me in to continue my self inquiry are great.  My next steps will be to try to look deeper into each of these connections between 21st century thinking skills and games to find what evidence has been collected to support these claims, which, because of the great reference links provided by Loo, I have a head start on for my next critique.

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Popular Press Impression of Video Games and Learning – A Scholarly Critique

5 thoughts on “Popular Press Impression of Video Games and Learning – A Scholarly Critique

  1. Your post made me think that the reason games can be effective learning environments when it comes to social and collaborative skills, is that the game acts as a go-between–a proxy environment where failure is expected rather than graded. Also in-person anything than be intimidating to some where in a game the learner can distance themselves a bit and speak through the game. This can build confidence that can then be transferred to real world situations.

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    1. Thanks for the comments, I know that I have been coming around to the idea that the games themselves are not the learning tools but how they game is approached and what reflective thinking takes place after the game is where there is meaningful learning.

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      1. Along these lines I think it was interesting that you had a quote in there about empathy. I choose Minecraft as my affinity space. They have a whole educational “package” for Minecraft that teachers can use in the classroom. (https://education.minecraft.net/) I have never thought about how to teach children about something like empathy. Minecraft has various lessons pertaining to specifically this. Thought it was interesting you hit on this topic as well. Gaming really is able to teach some things more effectively than traditional classrooms!

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