Games in Education

Video Games Find a Growing Place in Classrooms

A Student With a Nintendo DSVideo games are gaining a larger place in American schools as a useful and exciting tool to help students acquire knowledge. Though some educators still question the best method to introduce these games in the classroom, one professor at Parsons School of Design in New York is proposing the creation of a new public school whose curriculum would be entirely based on games.

The proposed school, which would be named Quest to Learn is the brainchild of Katie Salen, associate professor of design and technology at Parsons. If the project is approved, the school which would be part of the New York public school system will teach students grades 6-12 though exploration of various educational-themed video games. Salen hopes the school will be open in time for fall 2009. Read More...

“The school is designed around the way games work,” said Salen, in a news report. “Kids are challenged to step into identities – mathematicians, scientists. They are immersed in an interdisciplinary [setting], and instead of completing units, they go on a series of missions or quests, each of which has a goal.”

The project is receiving support from the Institute of Play in New York, a non-profit group that promotes collaboration between the gaming industry and educators, specifically in designing the school’s curriculum. It is also working in collaboration with New Visions for Public Schools, a not-for-profit organization working in partnership with the New York City Department of Education to improve academic success in the City's public schools.
Ideally, Quest to Learn would see its teachers interacting on a weekly basis with game designers, and having a group of game developers on site during school days. This constant brainstorming would give teachers a direct input in shaping the games according to the needs of their students. Salen does not believe that this will create a new workload for teachers, since students will be doing most of the learning on their own, through the games rather than through the teacher directly.

“Games work as rule-based learning systems, creating worlds in which players actively participate, use strategic thinking to make choices, solve complex problems, seek content knowledge, receive constant feedback, and consider the point of view of others,” explains the project website. “As is the case with many of the games played by young people today, [Quest to Learn] is designed to enable students to “take on” the identities and behaviors of explorers, mathematicians, historians, writers, and evolutionary biologists as they work through a dynamic, challenge-based curriculum with content-rich questing to learn at its core.”

According to Scot Osterweil, creative director of the Education Arcade, a games and learning research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, games should incorporated into classrooms in manageable ways and must be more than just “automated tests tricked out as games.”

The real hurdle, Salen believes, is convincing educators, parents, and even students that “something fun can be serious.”

“If you, as a teacher, are satisfied with engaging only 15 percent of your students, then you’re failing the majority,” says Mr. Dubbels, a teacher at the Seward Montessori School in Minneapolis who uses games in his class. “The big idea is to identify what students are already invested in, and that’s video games.”

The real hurdle, in Salen’s eyes, is getting educators, parents, and even students to acknowledge that “something fun can be serious.”

Fewer than one per cent of schools teach through video games, according to Marc Prensky, the author of Don’t Bother Me, Mom – I’m Learning. Those who do find games to be ideal in helping students develop 21st century skills, such as collaborative problem solving, multitasking, and networking.