Aug 29 2013

There’s More to Game-Based Learning than Meets the Eye

As schools evaluate how games can be leveraged in the classroom, it’s important to gain deeper understandings of game mechanics.

Discussions about video games can often fall into two very distinct and opposed camps: Games are seen as either “good” for children or “bad” for young minds.

While it’s tempting to get sucked into this circular debate, the truth is that notions of good or bad don’t have much meaning in the ongoing discussion of gamification in education, argues Tony Wan, a writer for EdSurge.

Wan took a look at a study that examined the available research on games and learning and found that while interesting trends were identified, conclusive and concrete observations were difficult to make.

One of the authors of the study, Douglas Clark, associate professor in the department of Teaching and Learning at Vanderbilt University, highlighted the problem with simplifying game-based learning as either “good” or “bad”in the EdSurge story:

Clark hopes these meta-analyses will drive future research to be more consistent and transparent when explaining both the methodology behind the experiment and the design of games themselves. "It's no longer useful to ask, 'Are games good or bad?' Rather than looking at media comparison studies, we really need to focus on the value-added designs and features."

As we seek to understand game-based learning, the discussion around its use in the classroom needs to evolve beyond one of allowing or banning it from the classroom. After all, game-based learning is booming. Recent estimates pegged the industry at $1.5 billion. And as education moves from strict lecture and memorization models of the past, educators are striving to cultivate engaging, thought-provoking experiences.

Silvia Bunge, associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley is working to build a crowdfunding platform to further invest in game-based learning, according to a report from The Daily Californian.

“You could always sit a child down and try to teach them the principles of deductive logic and all that, but the thing is that the brain is wired up to learn when it is motivated,” Bunge said. “When you are interested, when you are having fun, that is when you learn the most.”

Bunge’s points about understanding motivations for learning are key. If games can inspire students to learn — especially in areas such as computer science, in which they traditionally haven’t learned easily — then understanding how they can be meaningfully leveraged becomes more important than engaging in the false good/bad dichotomy.

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