Gaming the Way to Learning


I’m getting deep into the process of writing my thesis, and part of it concerns the use of technology in teaching physics, be it the use of PowerPoint, clicker questions, demonstrations, and so on. One thing that I have come across as a potential way of helping students learn their subject material is by having them play games, namely video games.

Obviously we aren’t talking about having children play Super Mario rather than understanding how to read and write, let alone do math, but there should be ways to make games that encourage students to try and absorb what we want to teach them. I came across this video on the subject (from ExtraCreditz).

I think for the most part it’s a good idea, but a lot of thought needs to go into the pedagogy and implementation. I also worry that there can be issues that students spend more time on an obstacle that isn’t important to the content you want to teach, be it a glitch in the game or some task that is just too difficult to be done by the students. There can also be the problem that the game is too easy for some and too difficult for others, so you would need to make sure that the best level of difficulty can be achieved for everyone while also not making people feel they are left behind if they are not on the hardest levels of the game.

There are a lot of dynamics to consider, including ones related to gender. For example, in one of my classes we wanted to come up with game ideas which would help students interpret graphs and slopes better. My idea had spaceships and firing at things, and that may put off part of the demographic we have. Of course, the gaming world itself has this problem, and who knows how well it can get past that any time soon.

Nonetheless, this is a method that deserve attention, and fortunately there are groups working on that. Hopefully I can find some studies to show how effective it is so we can do some cost-benefit analyses.

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