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Game On: Powering Up Learning with Digital Games


Using games during the learning and assessment process can add high levels of motivation, engagement, and fun for learners.


This article was originally shared through the FETC blog. The original source was here.


Gaming and the Digital Generations


Have you ever observed a person playing a video game? Have you ever witnessed the intense range of emotions, extreme task commitment, engagement, and focus players experience as they smash buttons and hold on to their game controllers for dear life? Personally, I do not have to look very far to witness such a scene. My two sons love to play video games and passionately tackle the many storylines and challenges they experience on a minute-by-minute basis.


Each year, the gaming industry breaks all of its own records and metrics. From the broadening of its players’ demographics to its steady growth in sales, digital games have become a ubiquitous part of today’s world. The members of the always-on generation are growing up with literally hundreds of ways to consume and produce information using media. The digital games of today are visually appealing, contain immersive stories, and encourage both single and team gameplay. Today’s digital games are products of an incredibly powerful and flexible market that have helped spawn a gaming culture. Today there are roughly 2 billion people in the world that play games - 2 billion people with something in common and that see some sort of benefit for spending hours upon hours engaging in their digital experiences.


Gaming’s Potential for Deep Learning


Digital games are an integral part of the lives of so many people. Whether we observe a dedicated gamer spending 20+ hours a week playing Fortnite or Minecraft; or a casual gamer playing Clash of Clans or Candy Crush in their spare time, games are a prevalent form of media. Now, many researchers and practitioners have identified the use of digital games as powerful virtual learning environments. Digital games are highly interactive forms of media that put players in control of their own experiences. The subject matter and storylines presented in games are quite diverse; allowing virtually any academic content to be explored or skill to be mastered. They also provide constant feedback and allow players to learn through both their successes and failures. As gaming evolves, its purpose is changing. Games are no longer considered just an entertaining pastime. A growing body of research is identifying games as compelling tools for modern-day teaching, learning, and assessment.


Finding Possible Games


Many educators and parents struggle with finding high-quality learning games. At present, the digital learning game market relies too heavily on word of mouth. It is imperative for educators, parents, and even learners themselves to know where to find good learning games in a vast sea of available game titles and determine if these games are useful tools for learning. First, there are tens of thousands of digital learning games available online at this very second. Educators can perform a simple Google search for content-specific games to infuse into their lessons. For instance, imagine a group of science students learning about life cycles. A teacher simply Googles Interactive life cycle games for kids to find hundreds of potential games. Next, large online collections of browser-based digital learning games exist, which are often referred to as game hubs. These sites house many different types of digital games tailored to specific content areas and ages. Some examples include ABCYa, BrainPOP, PBS Kids, and Prodigy. Another option is Steam - an online-gaming platform that hosts a massive online catalog.


Vetting Learning Games


Not all digital games are created equal. Although the gaming market is saturated with potential titles, many fall short in quality or academic rigor. After all, game developers are not educators. Educators must always begin with their curriculum and find a game that covers the required content. Next, they should play the game and even pilot gameplay with a small group of colleagues or learners to determine if it is the right fit for the intended learning experience. Finally, educators must consider how they will disseminate the game during the learning experience. Will the experience be at a learning station for one learner at a time? Will it be a whole group game, or will there be teams? The type of game and available resources will determine the best delivery method.


The Right Balance


Using games during the learning and assessment process can add high levels of motivation, engagement, and fun for learners. The number of digital games will no doubt continue to grow, their quality and design will improve on a daily basis, and more and more people will adopt gaming as a pastime. As for the field of education, game-based learning will continue to seep into the cultures of our schools as more educators realize their remarkable potential. A word of caution—digital games should never be over-utilized in schools. If used too often, they will lose their appeal for both students and teachers. Instead, educational gaming should become another approach for educators to consider adding to their toolbox of teaching strategies—pulled out at the right time.


For more information, strategies, and resource associated with gaming and learning, Game On: Using Digital Games to Transform Teaching, Learning, and Assessment is available at Solution Tree Press or on Amazon.

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