Video Games in the Classroom?
I am a gamer. I am also a teacher for the Minneapolis Public Schools, and have been working with students on issues of Language Arts, Reading, and Video Games. I also offer a class called “Video games as learning tools.” This course is for teachers and people who are interested in games and education.
You are probably asking yourself, “Do these things go together?”
Isn’t that like drinking paint thinner to become a physicist?
There is a general buzz that video games are causes for illiteracy and bad behavior. And I am hoping that I can shed some light on this, because the idea that games are the root of our problems couldn’t be further from my experience teaching reading and writing. In fact, using video games is what helped me to engage and extend the learning of my students in middle school and high school, and to connect my classroom with my students’ lives outside of the classroom.
I am sure you can imagine what happened when I told the kids we would be doing a six-week unit on video games. They flipped. You probably would have too.
But wait. Step back a moment. Would you have?
These are not the games your father bought you.
Are you my age? Have you have ever used a type writer for writing a paper?
If so, we missed the whole video games experience together. I am not talking about Pong®, PacMan®, Frogger®, Asteroids®, or Space Invaders®. I am not talking about your old Atari. Kids are playing new worlds of games that we could have only imagined from reading science fiction. It is more like playing in a rich movie environment that reacts, responds, and waits for you to talk, build, and act. And many kids today have this capability with game systems and computers at home. Many young people play Halo and other games on Xbox Live in their living rooms; they play and learn with kids from all over. This kind of mediated play over a distance has not been seen before.
We have tried to mediate in the classroom, using tools like radio, filmstrips, pictures, television, books on tape, conversation, print, and video. We use media to bring the experience of places and things into the classroom so that our students can get closer and have a more tangible experience. In the best of worlds, we would take them on field trips to see the ancient cave paintings in Lascaux, to view the aftermath of Mount Vesuvius, and to experience the richness of the Amazon Basin—to see and feel the things that are the basis of our science and stories –to embody the learning experience.
But since money, travel, and signed release forms are significant barriers to direct learning experience, we might consider games. Games can provide much more interactivity and experience with objects, places, people, and ideas by providing process, performance, and context.
They can help us with Time, Space, and Experience, which are still considerable barriers for the classroom; with game environments we can begin bridging the gap with the potential embodiment that current game technology provides our narratives. Imagine that you can have students interact in visually rich and interactive environments where they can communicate with voice and text, as well as non-verbal communication with avatar actions and facial expression! I know it is hard, but just try to visualize it. It is possible now.
I hope you keep reading. The next few entries are going to explore how they can be used, how I have used them, and what outcomes I have observed.
For more information on games in the classroom, you can contact me: