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Saturday, 20 June 2015

Do students learn from computer games, outside of school?

Computer Games have been a staple part of my life since I was the size of Mario (before he'd eaten a mushroom), and originated from my father purchasing a Spectrum ZX computer. The power supply made it overheat constantly, The rubber keys lacked the satisfactory tactile feedback of a decent click, Loading the programs from cassette tape was an assault on the senses, complete with seizure-inducing, horizontal loading lines and a screech from -what sounded like- the death throes of a digital banshee. However, it was worth it to pilot a spaceship and blast aliens in Mooncresta or navigate a boxing-glove-wearing egg man (Dizzy) through a fantasy world. Equally exciting, was purchasing Spectrum magazines, which contained reviews, a demo tape with new games on it, and sections showing you how to create your own, inspiring children and adults to actively understand how computer programs work and encouraging them to experiment with code. 

Nearly 30 years later approximately 33.5 million people in Great Britain play computer games regularly, averaging 14 hours per week across computers, smart phones, games consoles and tablets (IAB, 2014). Research from Von Ahn and Dabbish (2008) shows that the average gamer spends approximately 10,000 hours playing computer games before the age of 21. McGonigal (2010) offers an equally phenomenal statistic, that since World of Warcraft by Blizzard was released, gamers have collectively invested 5.93 million years solving problems in the virtual world of the game, further stating that 5.93 million years is the equvilant time it has taken the human species, since walking upright on two feet, to get to this point in time. Collectively, we are evolving digitally, more rapidly than we ever have done as a species.

But why have we invested so much of our time in the pursuit of pixel pleasure? According to Squire (2010) the reason for playing computer games is to find enjoyment in being challenged, exercising curiosity and escaping the real world -to some degree- in fantasy (Malone, 1981). Bruckman (2011) recognises having the power to create or be creative within a game leads to an enjoyable experiences.McGonigal (2010) agrees with SquireBruckman and Malone by saying that gamers have a greater image of themselves and what they can achieve in virtual worlds, feeling as though they are equal amongst their peers, that their goals are purposeful and aimed at the right level of difficulty for them to better their skills, that instant feedback regarding their success through points, tokens or levelling up a character is given regularly and players work together, forming friendships whilst doing so. In summary, if a player experiences: challenge, curiosity, escapism, better self-esteem, equality, belonging, a strong sense of purpose, praise, recognition for hard work and  a greater belief in what they can accomplish then it is easy to see why so many play for so long. Feeling good about yourself and what you do is pretty addictive...the real question might be 'Why would you want to stop?' (I just want to make it clear that by no way am I condoning non-stop gaming, as sunshine, relationships with people, and the big wide world are pretty darn wonderful.) However understanding the reasons why people enjoy gaming so much may indicate why some (children especially) have a reluctance to enter back into the real world.

Interestingly the benefits mentioned by these theorists are similar to the responsibility of teachers under the Teacher Standards (DfE, 2013).

This table indicates a link between the expectations of a learning environment within schools, the responsibilities of the educator and the reasons behind why people play computer games. Such a similarity suggests that there is potential for computer games to not only meet the aims of the DfE but also engage children to enthusiastically access education through the software, using their expertise, which they have built up in their time outside of school. However it must be acknowledged that not all children are computer game players and that the ability between a gamer (who plays 14 hours per week) and non-gamer may be extensive. Also, it must be recognised that not all children like computer games, and that their individual preference may mean that this medium is a less successful tool for them to access learning; much as perhaps a reluctant reader would be to studying from a wordy textbook. Additionally, at the other end of the scale, there may be individuals who have a genuine difficulty in prying their nimble fingers away from keyboard, gamepad or mouse; having a negative behavioural reaction to being jettisoned back to reality, in which case computer game usage will need to be monitored and adjusted accordingly to support the emotional needs of the student, as well as their learning requirements. Despite these considerations, the positives of using computer games as a tool to teach, are many, and if harnessed correctly, could motivate students to enjoyable and rewarding educational experiences.

Bruckman, A. (2011) Can Educational be Fun?, Georgia Institute of Technology [online] Available, URL: http://www.cc.gatech.edu/~asb/papers/conference/bruckman-gdc99.pdf [Access Date: 04th June 2015].
Department for Education. (2013) Teachers’ Standards, London: Department for Education.
IAB (2014) Gaming Revolution [online] Available, URL: http://ukie.org.uk/sites/default/files/cms/Infographic%20IAB.png [Access Date: 4th June 2015].
Malone, T.W. (1981) Toward a theory of intrinsically motivating instruction. Cognitive Science, (4), 333-369.
McGonigal, J. (2010) Gaming can make a better world, TED. [online] Available: URL: http://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world?language= en#t-552334 [Access Date: 04th June 2015].
Squire, K. (2010) Video games in education, MIT [online] Available, URL: https://webertube.com/media/document_source/4681.pdf [Access Date: 04th June 2015].
Von Ahn, L. & Dabbish, L. (2008) Designing Games With a Purpose Communications of the ACM. [online] Vol. 51, (8) Available: URL: https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~biglou/GWAP_CACM.pdf [Access Date: 4 th June 2015].
HonoredShadow (2012) Dizzy, image, viewed 20th June 2015, <URL:http://forums.guru3d.com/showthread.php?t=371412>
Novis, J. (2015) Teacher Standards Theorist Table, image, viewed 20th June 2015, <http://www.jamesnovis.com/research/minecraft/reluctantwriters/HTML/3_computer_games_outside_of_school.html>
Walmsley, K. (2012) ZX Spectrum, image, viewed 20th June 2015, <URL:http://through-the-interface.typepad.com/through_the_interface/2012/10/my-new-zx-spectrum.html> 

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