Educational Games Empower Students

Genomics Digital Lab from Spongelab InteractiveAs schools search for ways to strengthen their student’s knowledge, they can no longer deny that video games can convey all kinds of information in an attractive and inspiring format to children, teens and adults alike. These innovative tools are bound to become a staple of our education systems as we move forward.

An example of this undeniable paradigm shift is the recent unanimous approval by the California State Senate of a proposal making it easier for high schools to use electronic instructional material. This measure opens the door for more electronic learning tools in the classroom, such as educational games. Read More...

"People are looking at the positive side of video games and realizing that there's a lot of potential in the medium," says Danielle Parr, executive director of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, which represents computer and video game producers. "We're seeing more and more of these kinds of games coming out and they're really popular."

Pilot programs are popping up in schools across North America, with games with varied focus like science and math, reading, general knowledge and problem solving. For example, Baltimore County launched such a pilot at Chesapeake High School so students can develop the problem-solving skills employers will be looking for.

"We wanted students to have an experience that would be more typical of what they'd have, hands-on, in the real world," said Maria Lowry, principal of the school. "We're trying to bring the outside in."

"Using 3-D simulation technologies that are common in more technical fields, and bringing those technologies to kids, we just think that will provide them so many new opportunities to learn things in ways that professionals are learning them," said David Peloff, program director for emerging technologies at Hopkins' Center for Technology in Education.

Several post-secondary institutions are also looking to video games as a complement and even a replacement to traditional campuses. As previous reported by Game Forward, Manchester Metropolitan University is set to offer its Film and Media course through Second Life in the fall of 2009. Other institutions, such as Texas State University have also created a campus in the Linden Lab virtual world, allowing faculty and staff to use it as a learning tool.

“One of the most educationally beneficial things about Second Life is that it not just real life simulated in a 3-D environment, but its unique aspects allow us to change the way we interact,” said Emin Saglamer, a member of the Texas State Instructional Systems Design team.

But the main attraction of these games remains their immersion power and educational game developers have come a long way to grab students’ imaginations.

"We're interested in capturing people's attention, capturing their minds and getting them focused on the topic," says Jeremy Friedberg, co-founder of Spongelab Interactive, which developed Genomics Digital Lab, an animated game focused on cell biology. "Games do that very effectively — it's why games have become one of the leading forms of entertainment, it's because they are so great at capturing you and engaging you."

Dr. James Gee, Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State University and author of What Video Games Have to Teach us About Learning and Literacy as well as Why Video Games are Good For your Soul, agrees.

“Video games offer people experiences in a virtual world (…) and they use learning, problem solving, and mastery for engagement and pleasure,” explains Dr. Gee, in a 2008 article titled Learning and Games (PDF). “People primarily think and learn through experiences they have had, not through abstract calculations and generalizations. People store these experiences in memory and use them to run simulations in their minds to prepare for problem solving in new situations.”