Case Study Learning With Video Games Education Essay

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We live in a technological-focused world in which out-dated educational theories are in dire need of adaptation in order to reach a generation of students for which technology and videogames are constant elements of their everyday life. These new media could be the key to evolve and create innovative educational settings to teach better and improve motivation in the classroom.

Since the early 80's video games have been steadily conquering and becoming the leading form of entertainment for the Net Generation (Appendix 1).

"Today's schoolchildren bear the label Generation N or The Net Generation because they have grown up in a networked world where technology is not a novelty but normal in everyday life." (Leonard A. Annetta, 2006)

As many as 97% of American adolescents, males and females, within the age group of twelve to eighteen, report that they play video games regularly. These games are any type of interactive entertainment software; using the term "video game" to mean any type of computer, console, online or mobile game. (Lenhart, 2008).

The nature and learning styles of the Net Generation are being shaped by the rapid advance in information technology, all this lead today's student to a learning experienced based on seeking, sieving, and synthesizing (Dede, 2005). Rather than being passive subjects, these individuals learn by interacting and there is a clear tendency to actively seek out the cognitive challenges presented in video games.

In the light of all this changes educational institutions must reconsider their approach to enhance learning. (Steinkuehler, 2005). 

Embracing the change

The conventional academic approach to theories of learning is obsolete and far away from reaching and motivating "Net Geners", because these individuals are fundamentally different from those who grew up without the input of hours spent playing video games, as Foreman points out, "Games expose players to deeply engaging, visually dynamic, rapidly paced, and highly gratifying pictorial experiences that make almost any sort of conventional schoolwork (especially when mediated by a lecture or text) seem boring by comparison".

According to Foreman (Foreman, 2003) there are five ideal marks to achieve in modern education:

Customized learning situations, targeted at specific needs of the individual.

Immediate feedback.

The learning situation is constructive and interactive.

The learning situation engages students fueling intrinsic motivation.

Students learn to apply their acquired knowledge to real world situations, building enduring conceptual structures.

These features can be found in well designed video games like Deus Ex, Fallout 3, Lineage, etc. The success of good computer games partly relies in the appeal to internal motivators, players influence the content by means of interactivity and in that way they feel part of the process, they are not merely consumers anymore. Good games present challenges that target the competence of the players; games creates a form of continuous evaluation, in the sense that, in order to advance a level, the player must master a series of skills by solving the same type of problem before moving on to the next, gradually learning their way up. Also in contrast with traditional classroom practices, information is offered in-context and when needed, and humans do much better at understanding and remembering information when the application is immediate and the purpose is clear (Gee, 2003).

So video games are efficient learning machines that can be used by middle school students to learn mathematics (Keith Devlin), they teach the essence of the scientific method (Constance Steinkuehler) and they pretty much tap into the Darwinian principle of "play" that we find across different species of animals, humans included, that help in the developing of the brain (Kevin J. Brehony).

Despite the obvious benefits of the emergent structures created by harnessing the power of video games, it is wise to analyze the current status of the gaming industry and the trends in video game design, as well as how playing video games might be negatively affecting academic markers, hampering reading and writing skills and creating pathological behaviors.

Several studies are showing that gaming is interfering with academic functioning because students put of their homework to play video games, and they are not managing their time accordingly to what it's being required in order to get a better performance at school, because they indulge in gaming as a form of procrastination (Cerankosky, 2010), (Hope M. Cummings & Elizabeth A. Vandewater, 2007). There is also evidence of pathological behaviors similar to those present in compulsive gamblers and drug addicts (Ricardo A. Tejeiro Salguero, 2002). This kind of addiction is associated with levels of animosity, and negative social skills and academic achievement (Hauge M.R. & Gentile D.A., 2003); which correlates with other some studies that are even pointing out that playing video games might be bad for the brain altogether. [1] 

A close evaluation of the currents trends in the game development industry shows a clear inclination to consciously design games specifically made to keep people compulsively playing, performing meaningless and repetitive tasks for random rewards.

John Hopson, a game researcher at Microsoft Game Studios uses words like contingency, arrangement of time, activity and reward to produce predicted patterns of activities in players; recurring to behavioral psychology tricks to stimulate specific behavior (Hopson, 2001).

Developers are using cognitive and behavioral science to maximize consumer use, increasing the reinforcement contingencies through operant conditioning techniques, transforming the gaming worlds into a Skinner Box [2] of sorts.

Braid creator Jonathan Blow, says that this is unethical and a form of exploitation. Games like Wow appeal to natural hoarding and gathering instincts in humans to keep players endlessly "grinding" [3] (Blow, 2007). The "Variable Ratio Reward" system that is present in many MMOs, follows exactly the same principle that is being applied to slot machines, and it is addictive for the same reasons.

Leveling treadmills, as dull as they might sound, are incredibly effective at shaping and conditioning players to keep them addictively playing.

The same trend is true for social games like "Farmville" and the likes, they tap into inner human instincts and evolutionary traits, and beyond anyone's expectations, proving to be incredibly successful (Jesse Schell, 2010).

The industry is relying its economical structure around these methods, the more addictive the games, the bigger the profit. So instead of original tittles more sequels are being produced, honing the addictive formula with every release:

"Australian game developer and educator Paul Callaghan presented an analysis of 107 videogames developed by Melbourne studios between 2000 and 2009.(...) The sheer volume of unoriginal games being produced indicates publishers and developers are focusing on low-risk titles in the videogame marketplace"


At the core of good video game design lays the elusive key to human motivation, the same one that cognitive scientists studying human thinking and learning, have been trying to establish for more than five decades.  Adapting these underlying principles to pedagogical strategies in schools could grant educational institutions with the necessary means to do things in new ways, more accordingly with the reality that, teaching methodology is also an evolving process in a rapidly evolving technological world.

Video games offer scholars a new set of possibilities worth exploring even though, at present, the "serious game" movement and the game industry itself isn't quite ready for the shift (Wright, 2010), many promising and successful initiatives have been steadily emerging in the past few years. Wright asserts that games and play could benefit education by changing perspectives and maximizing motivation. Fueling intrinsic motivation, enables learning in a much more engaging way.

Scholars from different fronts and disciplines are aware of the need for a change in the methodology and are focusing their pedagogical strategies in game-based learning.

A paper published by EDUCAUSE Quarterly in 2006 summarizes the opinions about incorporating game theories in the classroom from several researchers in the following paragraph:

"Neal and Prensky believe game technology will replace classrooms, lectures, tests, and note-taking with fun, interactive learning environments. Averill supported Neal and Prensky by stating that computer games have the potential to instruct students about what they know and assess their recall of what they have been told." (Leonard A. Annetta, 2006).

In 2002, the "serious games" movement prompted partnerships among educators, the military, corporations, medical fields, and video game designers. This movement embraces the power of video games to attract, engage, connect, and teach game players critical content in the games' respective focus area. [4] 

In 2009, The Quest to Learn (Q2L) school, was launched in New York, a public school with a curriculum based on playing video games [5] . Harnessing the underlying form of games into a powerful pedagogical model for its 6-12th graders: "Quest is designed to enable students to 'take on' the identities and behaviors of explorers, mathematicians, historians, writers, and evolutionary biologists as they work through a dynamic, challenge-based curriculum with content-rich questing to learn at its core."

At Indiana University, professor in game design Lee Sheldon has structured his grading method to emulate the leveling up system we see in games, assigning XP (experience points) instead of traditional grades. His methods include clearly defined goals, incremental rewards and balanced ratio of effort and reward. [6] 

Game designers have the tools to integrate playful experiences in the New Media Literacy education; however, to successfully bring games into the classroom, institutions must adapt to these educational technologies and educators need to improve Net Geners critical thinking skills and information literacy.

Appendix 1