Using video games in a formal learning environment isn’t an entirely natural concept–using them in pursuit of global learning initiatives only adds to the seeming complexity.
Judging by the feedback from the presentation TeachThought and Edutopia received during our 2012 Global Education Conference presentation, a significant issue is reconciling the notion of “whimsical” video games in a high-stakes, high-pressure learning environment.
Why video games work in learning isn’t easy to answer. Some of it has to do with their engaging characteristics and their natural interdependence with other media, while the inherent gamification elements and diverse selection also factor in as wall.
But a powerful concept to consider is transfer.
Video Games and Transfer
Transfer has to do with knowing when and were to use knowledge.
When it is assessed, learners are asked to apply what they’ve learned from one familiar set of circumstances to one unfamiliar. Grant Wiggins describes the ability to transfer as the ability to “apply (an understanding) in settings where it is needed without being prompted to do so or shown exactly how to do so.”
The ability to transfer knowledge is a marker of understanding, and understanding is exactly what standardized tests are designed to measure. (Whether they do so or not is another topic entirely.)
Video games are excellent starting or ending points for such transfer tasks. If the bulk of your instruction involves test-prep and you’d be embarrassed to have students playing Portal 2 while other classrooms “cram for the test,” think backwards from the standard itself. Unless the standard specifically identifies the medium you are to study (e.g., a novel), a video game is every bit as capable of implying tone, using symbolism, promoting bias, demonstrating social injustice, underscoring the benefit of a certain geographical area, or re-enacting a historical time period for close study. In fact, because it is so unique as a medium compared to traditional learning tools, it lends itself quite well to transfer tasks.
Perhaps more so than traditional media forms such as books and even film, due to their scope, scale, duration, and user interaction/engagement patterns, video games aren’t just “engagement tools,” but actuators of learning.
So, start with the essay, shift to the video game. Start with the video game, end with the documentary. Use both the website and the gamified app, then end up in the scientific process. Take advantage of the interdependence of all media forms.
Assassin’s Creed re-creates 12th Century Jerusalem for students to explore, while The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Lands provides significant non-fiction context, while other Crusade literature fleshes out the event in a way that makes sense to the academic standards you’ve chosen. These media forms work together to highlight the learning standards your classroom requires.
Video games represent a medium that can be as simple or complex as the teacher would like them to be. Like any poem, novel, speech, scientific discovery, or math formula, the complexity is more or less adjustablebased on the teacher’s–and learner’s–needs.
The Challenge of Integration
While they work on paper, actually implementing them in the classroom is another matter entirely. We’re going to explore this issue in-depth in the very near future, but for now our presentation below includes specific strategies for doing so built-around three approaches:
1. Direct Access
3. Media Interdependence
In the presentation below, we provide ways to implement each of these three approaches. (linked back to the post)