Why use video games in the classroom as teaching tools? Let’s be clear—we’ve come a long way from Asteroids and Space Invaders. The modern capabilities and designs of computer games provide endless opportunities for meaningful learning experiences. Used appropriately and effectively, technology can make a difference in students’ lives and affect their attitude toward school in a positive way. So ditch the old stereotypes and misconceptions you may have about the ill effects of video games. It’s time to reframe our perception in the light of using them to enhance learning.
Gamification of classrooms isn’t a new idea. The components of gaming lend themselves well to self-directed learning, because it taps into the variables which inherently motivate a desire for progress. In fact, using a set of constructs called game mechanics, one could conceivably create situations that enhance learning by incorporating the strategies found in today’s video games.
Whether you choose to “gamify” your physical classroom all the way or only use video games as an occasional learning enhancement, making learning fun will positively reinforce students’ experiences of school. Here are some suggestions on how to successfully use video games in the classroom.
1. Consider your set up. What have you got—a desktop computer lab with one station per student? Only a few computers, or even one for a group of students? Portable laptops for all? Tablets? BYOD? If your workstations are limited, you’ll have to consider a strategy that allows for dividing the class into groups that alternate between computer use and non-computer work. This is difficult, but it can be done with careful planning.
If necessary, you can pair students together rather than having one on a computer. It’s best to have two so they can collaborate and learn together. There is more of a challenge with BYOB setups, as you try to navigate many different platforms and hardware. Your game of choice will need to work on all devices.
2. Go all in. Be unapologetically sold on video games. Embrace the world of gaming as a legitimate way for kids to learn. In the report Gamification in Education: What, How, and Why Bother?, Joey Lee says this:
“Gamification offers the promise of resilience in the face of failure, by reframing failure as a necessary part of learning. Gamification can shorten feedback cycles, give learners low-stakes ways to assess their own capabilities, and create an environment in which effort, not mastery, is rewarded. Students, in turn, can learn to see failure as an opportunity, instead of becoming helpless, fearful or overwhelmed.”
3. Have a template letter to send to parents. Sell them on the idea with your enthusiasm for video games in the classroom and their benefits to learning engagement. Here’s a good example.
4. Consider NOT tying scores to grades. Instead, you might consider a “leader board” which shows the top scores. When game success is not tied to grades, students will be willing to self-motivate to move up in status.
5. Set concrete ground rules for when it’s appropriate to power on, log in, and move ahead. Set a routine for getting student attention off the screen and on to you, and then back to the screen. A hand signal or bell could be used to get their attention. In MinecraftEdu, teachers can actually freeze student progress temporarily to give instruction and then allow them to continue play with just a simple click.
6. Set clear objectives so students stay on task and do not wander.
7. Badges can be printed out and given to the students so they have something tangible to show.
8. Find and use a rubric to vett games. Don’t just use any app—make sure it’s in line with your objectives, appropriateness, and ease of use.
9. Notify your tech support staff what you’re trying to do. More often than not they will be more than willing to help you achieve success in implementing your innovative use of technology.
A Fine Line
Outside the realm of technology we want our students to have tangible sensory experiences with other human beings and with the physical world. Often when it comes to “screen time,” less is better. The computer screen is not so much an object in front of us as it is a portal to a global and participatory society. It has the capability to transform lives for the better. With that said, we have to walk a fine line between using the computer as a teaching tool and using the computer as a babysitter.
Indeed, with proper guidelines in place, teachers don’t need to let this happen to them. Circumnavigate the classroom and be aware of what the students are engaged in; be on the lookout for understanding and application, and appropriate and meaningful collaboration. Armed with these perspectives, you’ll experience good fortune in gamifying your students’ learning experiences.