The students in Tim Rylands’ class at the Chew Magna Carta School in Bristol, England are playing computer games.
Far from punishing his pupils for surreptitiously button-bashing Nintendo GameBoys under their desks, Rylands is encouraging them to play out in the open. Some would argue that this kind of tom-foolery with potentially-dangerous interactive entertainment is an irresponsible use of classroom time.
The results of Rylands’ game-related efforts, however, are positive: his students are gaining top SAT scores and are excelling in creative thinking.
Indeed, his award-winning method is making headway with learners, engaging and motivating kids at a time when school drop-out figures are alarming. Kids report leaving because traditional subjects don’t “speak” to them or are irrelevant in their increasingly tech-centric lives.
Even those students with top marks in applied areas like physics and biology find they have the proclivity to pass tests, but experience difficulty putting their classroom knowledge to use in solving any practical problems in the real world.
“What stands in the way is what I call the ‘fact fetish’,” explains James Paul Gee, author of What Video Games Have To Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. “For me, learning an area like biology should be about learning how to ‘play the game’ of biology, that is, learning to think, act, and value like a biologist.”
The appeal of computer gaming is the personal involvement the students have in the tasks on the screens. Results such as Rylands have encouraged other techno-savvy teachers to incorporate computer gaming into their curricula.
Governments, cautiously optimistic of the positive results such as Rylands’, are testing the waters to see if video game entertainment in schools will to persuade an apathetic generation to embrace learning.
Federally-supported research in this area ranges from specialist content development in the United Kingdom. to inclusion strategies in Canada to knowledge transfer in the United States.
American studies in particular have been supported by grants of over $1 million from bodies such as the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education.
Currently, most of the games in classrooms are simplistic, quiz-based interactive toys explicitly intended to support the curriculum. Sonica Spanish, commissioned by the U.K.’s Department for Education and Skills (DfES), is one such product which encourages students to learn while playing games, singing songs and dancing on electronic floor mats.
Many video games deal with the sway of epic battles and real-time administration of resources, the very ideas that teachers hope to impart on their students. So, teachers have been incorporating commercial games Into their classrooms.
Rylands has adapted the role playing title Myst for creative writing. Others champion Microsoft’s historical real time strategy simulation, Age of Empires, to teach the mechanical and social processes which led to the Bronze and Iron Ages. Some have even enlisted soccer management simulation Championship Manager into learning activities..
Gee argues that the learning supported by computer gaming could replace traditional teaching models – where teachers speak and students take notes – with arenas in which students are active consumers who are engaged by simulations that literally allow them to interact with and manipulate virtual worlds.