Hate them or love them, digital games are here for the long run. It is easy to dismiss these games as distractions particularly when evidence has shown that some children even exhibit addictive behaviour towards computer game playing (Harris, 2001). Since the first commercial computer game, Computer Space, in 1971, digital games now take up a major portion of our children’s leisure time. However, they also play an increasingly important part of our culture, particularly when today’s world is ubiquitous with technology and inter-connectivity – our children are growing up with iPads, smart phones and note books!
Digital games can be a powerful platform to support student learning.
The tools needed for success in life are not just limited to reading, writing and arithmetic but go beyond to include areas such as problem solving, collaboration and communication, skills that are sought by employers. These skills are also required for success in games, as was noted in 2005, when the Federation of American Scientists, the Entertainment Software Association, and the National Science Foundation brought together nearly 100 experts to consider ways to develop next generation learning games.
Pros & Cons of Digital Games in Education
Many believe that digital games complement the traditional learning in the classroom – some advocates have labelled this as potential area as “edutainment”, content with a high degree of both educational and entertainment value. The benefits to having such games to support student learning have been researched and include:
- Aids the learning process. The learning process is a complex cognitive task that students require a lot of effort to cope with.
- Provides interesting and stimulating environment.
- Increases motivation, retention and performance (especially for students who are difficult to focus)
However, there are limitations to using this as a pedagogical tool. Many educators feel that for the digital games to be engaging, they need to be well designed and can be easily tweaked to match the syllabus. A well designed educational game would need animation and gamification elements including, mini-games, bonus points, and a leaderboard. Such customised games would require extensive investment both in time and money, from the schools. Educators could purchase off-the-shelf educational games, but these may not meet the needs of the syllabus or school.
Types of Digital Games & Platforms
How best can digital games be applied in the classroom? Different genres of these types of games can be implemented depending on the learning outcomes. For example, strategic games can be used for projects requiring critical analysis and collaboration. Simulation games, on the hand, allow the students to experience scenarios that would otherwise not be possible in the classroom environment, such as urban planning or scientific experiments in the absence of a laboratory. The technologies that can be used as pedagogical tools range from immersive user-experience for role-play (e.g. Augmented Reality, 3D, Kinect) to simpler platforms such as the iPad.
Research has shown that digital games are effective in enhancing the learning and teaching experience in the classroom. But there are also limitations to its use. For one, schools will be required to invest time and money in developing a good customised digital game that will suit their needs. However, once this is overcome, the benefits are immense.
Harris, J. (2001). The effects of computer games on young children: A review of the research.