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Gaming Gains Respect | District Administration Magazine


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The idea of learning through games isn’t necessarily new. In fact, over the past decade, researchers such as James Gee and David Williamson Shaffer of the University of Wisconsin have been espousing the use of games to help both children and adults learn. But it’s only been recently that games have begun to make serious inroads into classrooms. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, which aims to advance children’s learning in the digital age, conducted a study of over 500 teacher’s attitudes toward digital games in classrooms from across the United States. The findings, released in May, revealed that 32 percent of teachers use video games every week, while 18 percent use them every day. Seventy percent of teachers found that digital games increase motivation and engagement, and six out of 10 say that games “help personalize instruction, better assess knowledge, and collect helpful data.” Interestingly, 95 percent of teachers using games in their classrooms use ones that were created specifically for educational use, mostly having to do with reading, literacy and math.

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Which games are better for learning and what exactly students learn when playing them are still topics of debate among educators and game developers alike. Some, like Sylvia Martinez, a former game developer and now president of Generation YES, which aspires to teach and empower students to use modern technology to solve problems in their schools and communities, feels that most games being used in schools are really just digitized versions of curriculum that is already in classrooms.

“Many games designed for the classroom are ‘game-like’ in that they borrow the vocabulary and graphics from games, yet the experience of the ‘player’ is no different from using and working on a paper worksheet, Martinez writes on her Games in Education Resources wiki. “Calling a 10-question multiple-choice test ‘leveling up’ does not change the fact that it’s a multiple-choice test.”

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“Games are such an important part of learning for 3- to 8-year-olds outside of school, but play just vanishes from elementary school to high school,” Klopfer says. “We need to bring play back into the learning process in schools, and well-chosen learning games are one important way to do that.”

Either way, there’s no question that the world of game-based learning has come a long way from the Oregon Trail adventures that many teachers went on when they were students themselves in the 1970s and 1980s. And we’re well past the days of sitting in front of old VGA monitors tethered to slow, bulky computers playing games limited in scope and scale. This new world of gaming is decidedly high-definition, engaging, mobile and personal, all of which suggests some amazing things to come for learners of all stripes.

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