Video game technology in the classroom has the potential to engage the least motivated students, according to participants in a recent live webcast held by EDC’s Center for Media and Community (CMC). The event is part of a series of webcasts on thought-provoking subjects that will continue throughout the fall (see box below).
The one-hour webcast, “Kids, Video Games, and the Classroom,” featured presenters Christopher Dede, professor, Harvard Graduate School of Education; Michelle Halsell, CEO and founder of Missing Pixel and Marc Prensky, CEO and founder of Games2Train. In a maximum-capacity webcast (55 participants) that attracted educators and practitioners from across the nation, the panel discussed research and current debates about the use of video-gaming technology in educational settings. “This topic reflects CMC’s principal focus: How to use new technologies and media to enrich communities and to nurture lifelong education,” said CMC’s Cedar Pruitt, who moderated the webcast.
The panel discussed students’ varying learning styles and zeroed in on the usefulness of video game technology for unmotivated students.
Games show promise for learning because they feature “situated learning,” said Dede, where students learn by doing, as in an internship. “These games give educators a chance to take advantage of the power of situated learning,” Dede added. The pedagogy is radically different, he noted, from the traditional classrooms in which teachers present predigested information. “In a game, students are dealing not with information, but experiences from which information can be extracted. That’s more complex, but it’s often more engaging for students,” he said. He and his team are studying mechanisms to help students take knowledge from game situations and apply it in real world.
Failing, unmotivated students, who often get increasingly simple assignments, are very responsive to game-style learning, said Dede. “These students are often bored. If you give them something more complex, their educational outcomes improve,” he said.
In the classroom, motivation equals learning, according to Prensky. Video-style games can motivate students and teach them important skills like estimating, imitating, listening, predicting, and reflecting. “Customized, complex educational games motivate learners to employ learning methods on their own,” said Prensky. It is notable, he said, that students are drawn into video-style games by activities that are typically absent from classrooms—frequent decision making, continuous self-assessment, adaptability of the material to each individual, and meaningful goals (e.g., defeat the enemy, save the world).
In addition, most video games have a compelling story line that involves a role for the user. “If you have an emotional connection, you’ll retain more,” says Prensky.
If gaming is brought into the classroom, a key step will be to prepare teachers to integrate or feature the technology in the classroom, noted Halsell.
Halsell noted that teachers will need special preparation to learn to integrate video game technology effectively in the classroom. However, several speakers commented that even if playing games in the classroom isn’t convenient or practical, video games can be the source for fruitful discussions. Teachers can pose questions about violent or controversial games and encourage students to reflect on the relationship between the imaginary worlds of video games and the complex world in which we live.
“Webcasts are a venue that represents CMC’s entire mission,” says Pruitt. “We promote the use of new media to encourage communication between communities. A webcast is a way to showcase thought leaders from all around the world.” CMC is planning future webcasts to promote debate and discussion, including one in the fall the paucity of people of color in the sciences.
“This webcast was a record for us in terms of participation,” says Pruitt. “Enrollment was at capacity, and some people shared computers. One woman projected her screen onto a wall so that her entire office could watch and listen. We’re glad this topic struck a nerve and caught the attention of such an enthusiastic audience.”
Originally published on August 1, 2005