Friday, February 8, 2008

Video Game Curriculum?

Radical Unschoolers have known for years what mainstream educational researchers are just now discovering: video games are more educational than traditional teaching methods. James Paul Gee, a reading professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is the author of 'What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy'. In a gamezone interview and again in Wired Magazine, he explains "why games, not school are teaching kids to think." However, he feels parental control also presents an obsticle to realizing the full educational value of video games. "People will object to games that have a variety of choices because they can't limit the choices their children make. However, if you remove that type of ambiguity, you've removed any sense of morality from the game because there are no consequences to bad decisions." In life parents may ask little Sally, "Do you want your red coat or your blue one" while patting themselves on the back for being good parents who allow their child to make choices. However, they never allow "no coat" to be an option, thereby eliminating the potential for real learning. In this way, video games, which show how choices affect future outcomes, are more like real life than the sheltered, consequence free, environment many parents have created. Then again, these same parents use the word "consequence" as a euphamism for punishment.

Several research studies have been conducted on the relationship between video games and education. In one study, "Psychologist Dr David Lewis discovered more than three-quarters [of 13 and 14 year olds] absorbed facts contained in a historical video game as opposed to just more than half who were presented with the same information in written form." Another study, using 7 to 16 year olds, "concluded that simulation and adventure games - such as Sim City and RollerCoaster Tycoon, where players create societies or build theme parks, developed children's strategic thinking and planning skills." Parent and teachers of the children in this study also noted improvement in math, reading, and spelling skills. Contrary to the popular belief that video games are socially isolating, the children in the study felt that team work was the most important aspect of video games. "Negotiation, planning, strategic thinking and decision-making" were also found to be important skills involved in gaming.

With a plethora if information emerging on the benificial aspects of video games, many indviduals in government and education are starting to examine how this information can be used to their advantage. They are looking into the feasability of using video games in the classroom. However, as with so many other potential learning tools, they are gravely in danger of missing the boat. "What's needed, one researcher said, is research into which features of games are most important for learning--and how to test students on the skills they learn in games." This statement underscores all that is wrong with traditional education and the mentality that children must be fed information and then tested to make sure they swallowed it properly. They are looking to glamorize the dysfunctional teaching methods they are already using. Their goal is still to shove a bunch of facts down the throats of captive children who will in all likelyhood never need most of those facts. This is evident by the concerns some of these educator have over the accuracy of the information in games like Age of Empires III. We must re-examine the definition of "educated". Does one define "educated" as the ability to recall facts or, rather, the ability to learn. If you, too, favor the second definition, then I invite you to join me in a resounding chorus of "Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!"