May 15 2019

K–12 Schools Find Educational Benefits in Cloud-Based Gaming

As educators embrace video games as a learning tool, schools look to the cloud to improve streaming and downloads.

Six years ago, mixed reality game designer Jane McGonigal’s keynote at the 2013 ISTE conference focused on how video games can boost resilience in real life. She referenced about 1 billion gamers worldwide

When the crowd groaned, McGonigal said, “Maybe we think of gaming as a waste of time ... but I am here today to hopefully persuade those of you who think that way that 1 billion gamers is maybe, actually, the best news you will hear all week.”

Since then, research has shown that video games offer a wealth of benefits, from increasing creativity in children to helping people heal faster in hospitals.

A majority of educators agree that video games can help K–12 learning. In a recent study from educational nonprofit Project Tomorrow, nearly 62 percent of teachers reported using video games in their classrooms.

MORE FROM EDTECH: Check out how K–12 schools are building their esports programs.

Gaming Enters a New Era: Cloud Streaming

Today, according to gaming analytics firm Newzoo, the number of gamers has increased to 2 billion worldwide. Video gaming is becoming a $140 billion-a-year business.

On the cusp of this burgeoning industry is cloud-based gaming, which TechCrunch calls the “new frontier.” Traditional tech giants, along with gaming startups such as Steam, are rapidly developing platforms and content to gain a foothold in the market. Cloud technology allows video game streaming on nearly any device, from smartphones to traditional game consoles.

Among the tech behemoths, Amazon and Google are forging inroads in cloud-based gaming. Google is testing Project Stream, and Amazon is reportedly leveraging its massive cloud presence to develop its own service.

But Microsoft’s Project xCloud may be the furthest along. With its deep roots in gaming via Xbox and its recent purchases of Minecraft and cloud-gaming platform PlayFab, Microsoft has the greatest potential to break into the education market before its competitors.

esports infographic

Why Cloud Gaming Is Taking Off Now in Classrooms

The time is right for cloud-based gaming in schools. Today’s educators who want to implement digital gaming in the classroom face major barriers.

“Until recently, gaming in education has been very propriety in nature,” says Ryan Schaaf, assistant professor of educational technology at Notre Dame of Maryland University and co-author of the book Game On: Using Digital Games to Transform Teaching, Learning, and Assessment

“School technology typically moves slowly,” he continues. “If a school adopts iPads, teachers can only use games that work with the Apple operating system. The same goes for Chromebooks. You have access to a limited library of games.”

At the same time, there’s little financial reward for developers who focus on instructional games. As recently as 2017, educational technology experts expressed frustration at the lack of options to market and distribute educational offerings. 

“How does the developer who is interested in making a phenomenal learning game and whom I want to make 10 learning games work out a way to make games two through 10?” said Mark DeLoura, senior adviser for digital media at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, speaking at the 2017 Games for Change conference in New York. “Because if they make one and go out of business, we are all at a loss.”

Cloud-based gaming can solve these challenges. “Platforms like xCloud and Steam are trying to make online catalogs that are open to any device, with games that are easier to download,” says Schaaf said. “This also provides an opportunity for smaller, educational game development companies to put their offerings in the cloud, and all of a sudden they’re seen by millions of people.”

A small investment for schools will make it easier to download and try appropriate games. 

“It’s a smart model,” said Schaaf. “If I want a kid to learn about the Civil War, I’ll be able to find and stream it within 15 minutes. That dream’s not 10 to 15 years away — it’s much closer.”

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