Learning Through Gaming: A Useful Approach
For gaming to have an impact on education, it has to have both an “institutional” and a “personal” footprint. One of the ways it does that is by creating a unique way for users to engage with a community. Although most of us don’t have the option to take time off of our standard work routine, it’s possible to find a system that allows for the extension of play to an effective learning environment for students.
First, a little bit of a background…
My wife is an English teacher at a high school in NYC and one of her students, no relation, was very excited to learn that his favorite video game was being adapted for the classroom. The school was taking a “good work/good play” approach to their gaming endeavors and so the class was being recognized for being involved in one of the most popular online games in which a community of young people discusses societal issues, shares experiences and engages in other interesting activities.
Between class time and weekend gaming sessions, the classroom teachers could feel confident that they were continuing to get the support of students outside of class in order to foster social connections, gain appreciation for the value of learning and develop the students’ critical thinking skills. They were encouraged to dive deep into gaming and let the teachers (and students) help them understand the dynamics of the social, professional and political issues in games that tend to occur and have an effect on real-world events.
These lessons were added to the curriculum to promote community integration, not just off-campus gaming. It gave students a chance to experience how playing a game helped them see how an off-campus community could be supportive, in spite of the fact that they had already mastered the classroom. And, it opened the door to help guide students in their views, motivations and options, no matter how young or young at heart they might be.
Developing a Game To Feed Learning
In most cases, schools begin one of two paths as a virtual gaming space; either a school-sponsored gaming room of sorts or as part of a gaming center. While there is nothing wrong with the former, the latter is almost as beneficial and is a great place to begin as some type of educational game where the learners may also play as the developers. The second approach entails setting up gaming stations in areas of the school where students may be more comfortable using the machines.
To draw students to these gaming environments, schools may partner with companies that are already in the business of creating these types of games. Indeed, many schools’ gaming room is already fully virtualized with games built on platforms like Unreal Engine by developers who typically pursue students of color. For example, the Forest School of Chicago had an extensive partnership with Imaginova that resulted in the completion of a STEM-based, educational free-to-play game, Forest Magic. Through the collaboration, Forest Magic was built by the students with one of their teachers supervising the process.
While the district was a strong proponent of the project as a possible means to introduce STEM into schools that had not previously been exposed to this type of programming, the students wanted to participate in providing a live “play-by-play” experience. In other words, they wanted a means to have some input in creating the game, in terms of its artistry, strategy and game play. And, they wanted to have their voices heard for its evolution.
Once the students and the teachers decided on their priorities, they then divided the project into stages where those teachers would help the developers build the games. They needed to articulate their individual needs in order to determine the goals of the game and to gain a larger view of what the student’s voice as the creators was attempting to accomplish.
It’s clear that one of the primary purposes of using gaming for learning is to foster educationally appropriate social interactions and to provide opportunities for people with diverse interests to come together and play a game together, without any expectations of gaining a competitive edge.
Learning from the best gaming software out there is not a bad endeavor, but it can also be an emotional process as students explore their dreams, challenges and concerns. When done in a respectful way, with a variety of factors, from the product to the narrative itself, gamers have the opportunity to create games that are developed from their own experiences. Games can also offer examples for how people can learn about how the world works and what challenges that could exist in their own community.
Game Problems? Use a Game to Solve them
One of the most exciting and gratifying aspects of gaming is the chance to play a game in which players face and resolve real-world problems. This kind of engagement yields some of the highest scores because the learning is embedded in play. Games have a clear purpose and they tend to be better designed to balance