Pedagogy And Gaming: Getting The Controller In The Classroom - Birds are dumb Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Pedagogy And Gaming: Getting The Controller In The Classroom

When we think of the tools we use to get through our education, what comes to mind? Books, calculators, computers, paper, writing utensils? The fundamentals of acquiring a standard education change perpetually; what your parents needed to learn about the world should be considerably different from what you needed. Fifty years ago, a computer in a classroom would have been unheard of. Now, however, I don't think I've seen a class presentation that didn't rely on a PowerPoint or some other computer software.

Most kids hopped on the Oregon Trail. I was always more of a Number Munchers kind of guy.

Our tools change as our world changes. With video games becoming a norm in our culture, why don't we see more joysticks in the classroom? Why are there no classes where students are encouraged to use their Game Boys rather than have them taken away? When will video games be integrated into our pedagogy?  

We already play games in school

In a sense, the fundamentals of video games are already implemented in the classroom.  We play games to learn all the time. In fact, many lesson plans are constructed to entertain students just as much as to inform them. There's an intelligent reason for this practice; retention is better served through keeping people interested and engaged rather than bored and asleep.

If you were getting most of your secondary education at the turn of the century like I was, chances are you ran into a few different games while you learned. Anytime your teacher was able to construct their course content around the engaging fun of a game, that teacher took that opportunity (assuming he or she was a good teacher.)

You've probably even ran into video games at school, too. Most of us are aware that the dangers of the Oregon Trail and how awful the 19th century must have been. These games, though they may have been presented as a less-than-educational activity, did have a purpose in the classroom. Otherwise, they would not have been allowed in schools at such high quantities. Think about what you're really learning when you play Oregon Trail. Topics of history are certainly prevalent. You're also honing in on your typing skills, and I'm sure there's an educational value in learning how to avoid dysentery.

Using what students use

One of the most important aspects of modern education is constructing a curriculum to be relevant to the student. The more relevant an assignment is to a student's life, the more likely he or she will be able to comprehend, apply, and enjoy the knowledge gained. On paper, it sounds like an easy thing to do. Just make the topics connect to their world, right? However, in practice, it's incredibly difficult to gauge an relatively unknown generation's culture and schemas.

Perhaps some of you have translated Shakespeare into your own language before. It's a common teaching strategy; have students absorb a text that is far removed from their experiences and attempt to express meaning and understanding through their own words. The tool of relevancy in this example is that of language. Allowing students to use something they understand (their own day-to-day language) to tackle a subject that isn't part of their culture (Shakespeare) gets them far more engaged in the material.

Language is an important tool for breaching this gap of understanding. Why stop there, though? Students use a ton of valuable instruments in their daily lives, and the key to relevancy in a classroom is to foster the use of these tools. You don't need to read any statistics or articles to know that young people play a lot of video games. They understand how to use a controller just as well as they do a pencil. Instead of seeing the time people spend with video games a waste, educators should try to utilize this background knowledge in their classrooms.   

Cooperation and problem solving

School isn't only a place for formal and traditional learning. Important social skills are sharpened during primary and secondary educational years. Many curriculums are constructed to foster student learning through cooperation and group work. Learning how to work with others and understanding the dynamics of groups is an important part of anyone's education.

The current generation of games has a strong emphasis on the same idea; more often than ever, video games are tasking players to work with other players to accomplish an objective. We've all had an engaging co-op moment in a game. Think of the massive amount of effective communication that is required to properly tackle cooperative gaming objectives. You're not just yelling at your mic when you play Portal 2 with a friend. You're using complex language skills to communicate with your partner.  

I'm pretty sure I could write a hefty thesis paper on the educational benefits of Portal 2, but that's another discussion for another time.

These skills are incredibly important for students to grasp and utilize. They will be tasked with expressing thoughts and ideas to other people through their entire lives. This aspect of education is so crucial that in my home state of Virginia, the educational standards of almost every grade level mention and place weight onto oral language objectives. Plenty of video games force people to work together to solve problems. Including these games into a lesson plan that wants students to take away the benefits of oral communication would be engaging and educational for any student.

Process over medium

Many language arts classrooms are instructed through a canon of works determined by the community in which that educational setting exists. This essentially leads to most English classes relying on the scholarly approved classical novels, plays, poems, and nonfiction works that have conducted our classrooms for decades. I'm not challenging the use of our educational canon; these are (for the most part) essential reading materials for any class. However, I am suggesting that it is possible for education to branch out a bit when it  comes to the medium choice.

When a classic novel or play is being taught, it isn't because it is art. You can't actually teach art as it's subjective, making perception the key of validity. With that in mind, it would be difficult to make a sound argument against including video games into academia citing the ideal of high art (plus, the argument of games as art is an old and tired one-particularly in our discourse-as art is not exclusive to nor completely defined by medium.)

Often artistic expressions act as a vehicle for a larger purpose in the classroom. Recalling and remembering events of a story are not of the highest levels of learning and thinking. Though these steps are crucial in acting as a foundation for higher acts of thought, students get far more out of analyzing, interpreting, creating, and evaluating during their class time. As such, I argue that the medium of the vehicle driving these modes of higher thinking is not nearly as important as the processes themselves.

Satire and "The American Dream" are styles and themes that are consistently covered in language arts classrooms. It would be difficult to play through GTA IV and not gain an understanding of both of these ideas.

When you really break it down, gaming is just a new type of literacy for students today. Students play games. I'm willing to bet a considerable amount of educators even play games. Why avoid a potential tool for learning because of a social stigma placed on the medium? The sooner educators begin embracing the new rather than distancing themselves and their students from it, the more diverse and relevant our classroom tools can become. So what do you guys think? Do video games have a place in the classroom? Or is our favored form of entertainment strictly that: entertainment?

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