Venturing Into Games
Games are among the oldest forms of entertainment in the world. In addition to sporting games, board games, and social games, newer kinds of video and computer-based games can be used to support meaningful learning in classrooms. In this brief section, we describe how different kinds of computer games can be used in classrooms.
Among the oldest forms of computer-based educational games are quiz games, where quizzes are embedded in a quiz show context. For example, Games2Train (http://www.games2train.com/games) produces a game maker called Pick-it! for teachers to construct quiz games. The game maker resembles the television quiz show Jeopardy, allowing game players to select topics and values and play against others. The degree of meaningfulness of the learning from these games depends on the nature of the responses that are required. More often than not, quiz games require only memorization performance. While memorization of domain content may be important, these games do not readily engage students in deeper-level, meaningful learning activities (e.g., application and synthesis).
More complex games, such as the different versions of Sid Meier’s Civilization (http://simcity.ea.com/), engage students in complex problem solving while trying to manage their civilization. Students can select different civilizations to explore, from Sumerians to the mystical Mayans. In the game, students can map the world using satellite images. They can form armies and attack other civilizations or forge alliances with them. They can choose the form of government they wish to impose on their civilization (e.g., fascism, feudalism, tribal council, or imperialism). They can also use a well-developed trade system to manage resources, trade routes, and the spread of technology. Civilization is obviously appropriate for social studies classes in which the teacher wants students to understand the political, military, social, cultural, and historical complexities of the world.
Games, especially complex, interactive games such as Civilization interactive, can engage learners in very meaningful learning. Gee (2003) has identified a number of principles that underlie modern game design that can teach us a lot about learning. We list some of them here.
Active, Critical Learning Principle
All aspects of the learning environment (including the ways in which the domain is designed and presented) are set up to encourage active and critical, not passive, learning.
Semiotic Domains Principle
Learning involves mastering, at some level, semiotic domains and being able to participate, at some level, in the affinity group or groups connected to them.
“Psychosocial Moratorium” Principle
Learners can take risks in a space where real-world consequences are lowered.
Committed Learning Principle
Learners participate in an extended engagement (lots of effort and practice) as extensions of their real-world identities in relation to a virtual identity to which they feel some commitment and a virtual world that they find compelling.
Learning involves taking on and playing with identities in such a way that the learner has real choices (in developing the virtual identity) and ample opportunity to meditate on the relationship between new identities and old ones. There is a tripartite play of identities as learners relate to and reflect on their multiple real-world identities, a virtual identity, and a projective identity.
Learners get lots and lots of practice in a context where the practice is not boring (i.e., in a virtual world that is compelling to learners on their own terms and where the learners experience ongoing success). They spend lots of time on task.
Learning is a cycle of probing the world (doing something); reflecting in and on this action and, on this basis, forming a hypothesis; reprobing the world to test this hypothesis; and then accepting or rethinking the hypothesis.
Situated Meaning Principle
The meanings of signs (e.g., words, actions, objects, artifacts, symbols, and texts) are situated in embodied experience. Meanings are not general or decontextualized. Whatever generality meanings come to have is discovered from the bottom up through embodied experiences.
Meaning and knowledge are built up through various modalities (e.g., images, texts, symbols, interactions, abstract design, and sound), not just words.
Overt telling is kept to a well-thought-out minimum, allowing ample opportunity for the learner to experiment and make discoveries.
Not all computerized games represent these principles. Many games expose students to competition over an uninteresting task that may also engage only recall or memorization. These are good for filling classroom time, and it is likely that the students will even enjoy them. As with any technology-based activity, you must examine the nature of the task that you are engaging students in.
© ______ 2008, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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