Imagine if we could place students into animated worlds that present accurate legal, social, scientific, historical, geographical, mathematical concepts, where they were free to explore, discover, and collaborate with one another. But not only that, what if these worlds also tested a student’s knowledge in an enjoyable and rewarding way, increasing their motivation, ambition and drive. Of course, this technology already exists, and it’s right under our noses, in our homes, on our mobiles and in fact, it’s in the palm of our hands. Video games.
I’m sure you’ll all agree that there’s one thing all well designed games have in common. It’s part of what drives us to master the task at hand and complete the quest. Some would call it an ‘addictive’ quality. I prefer to call it ‘engagement’. Funnily enough, engagement is also what educators have been striving to generate since the dawn of time. It’s what inspires and facilitates understanding and retention, it’s the very foundation of teaching and learning. Games have the ability to transform how we learn, it offers simulated experiences, and breaks things down into small tasks, rewarding effort effectively, intermittently and consistently – and focusses on positive achievements. Which is precisely why we enjoy playing them.
Of all age groups, its toddlers and early primary school children who are most engaged in interactive educational mobile apps. There’s also a number of educational games and apps built for children, between kindergarten and year six to accompany in-class learning. Of course, as children progress into their teens, their curriculum becomes more complex, making it difficult to simulate academic learning concepts. In saying that, we’re currently producing a game for ABC Splash, targeted at early to mid high school levels, Zoom.
There’s a bunch of positive research out there about video games increasing motivation, heightened levels of engagement, particularly in students who are usually disinterested, but setting engagement aside, how do video games actually test a player’s understanding? What is it that makes them different to the more traditional teaching and learning assessment methods.
Terry Heick, author at edudemic says, “Because (a video game) is so unique compared to traditional learning tools, it lends itself quite well to transfer tasks.”
A transfer task is when a student (or player) uses strategic thought and judgement to solve a problem, it’s when they apply a piece of knowledge in a particular circumstance, when they action it, without being prompted, and without being shown how to do so. While a lot of traditional multiple choice and short answer exams are actually recall based, video games add an entirely different dimension.
To me, the concept of transfer that Terry mentions sounds a lot like how a video game works. The player is given tools, much like a student is given mathematical equation, they are then told what they mean and what they’re used for. The difference is, that in a game, the player is thrown into a scenario, they’re not asked to use a specific tool to solve a problem, but they’ve got to figure out the best tool to help them progress. This is application of knowledge.
Furthermore, if they get it right, they’re given a pleasurable reward – an unlocked level, room, power or object – or in traditional learning, a ‘mark’… (I’ll take the new super power thanks!)
It gets better. In virtuality, absolutely everything is able to be measured. We can predict particular points of enhanced engagement within a game – we can pin point windows of time when people are more likely to remember something or when they are more confident or willing to take risks. This means we can produce games that react to an individual’s moments of strength or comprehension, understanding and retention, creating a more specialised learning experience.
I could go on and on, highlighting the proven benefits of producing educational video games, but when it comes down to it, the fact is, there are currently millions of two and three your olds accessing more and more educational games via their parents’ mobile and tablet devices.
Won’t they expect to learn in a similar way when they start school?