I know we usually use this space to preview and review video games; but as gaming continues to grow and permeate even more facets of our culture, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at a different aspect of gaming influence – video games in the classroom. At first this idea might sound ludicrous to some, but the concept isn’t new. Video games have been utilized as educational tools in the past. Does anyone remember The Oregon Trail series, or the Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego series of educational video games? These games were not very sophisticated by today’s standards, but they were widely used to help teach children in classrooms around the world. Obviously kids respond well to video games. If you offer most kids the choice between a game and a book, it is fairly obvious which they will choose. Maybe, however, there is a way for tech companies and educators to use that knowledge to their advantage. In an announcement made last week, it looks like Microsoft is ready to find new ways to bring video games, or “immersive learning technologies,” into the classroom – in a big way. Microsoft has pledged a $15 million contribution towards researching new methods to educate kids through the power of video games. Vice President of Microsoft Education, Anthony Salcito, released the following statement as part of a blog post:
“Around the world, every day, students are engaged in playing games. These digital exercises provide us insight into their motivations and passions. And yet, our classrooms and content take little advantage of this information. With this new investment, Microsoft will support research and development in understanding and creating learning environments that integrate the characteristics of gaming that kids are passionate about. Just imagine…every day a child will fail at a game, and yet keep coming back to try again. But in our classrooms, for most, once a child experiences failure, they shut down. We need to bring the same passion they bring to their digital lives into our classrooms. This investment will help our partners and educators do just that.”
Microsoft has pledged part that of the money will be used to train 150,000 teachers nation-wide, to utilize these emerging technologies for use in the classroom. In addition to the money, research, and teacher training, Microsoft and other industry leaders met with President Obama to discuss education reform (and presumably technology’s role in that reform).
I think this is an interesting concept, but one that needs to be carefully evaluated. Obviously as technology evolves, it is our duty as a society to find innovative new uses and applications for these advancements. Done with care, the rewards can be great. It is also our duty to scrutinize said technologies and protect our children. We must be sure to exercise caution when it comes to pushing new technologies into the classroom, to be sure that the motivation is not an early branding technique with ulterior “marketing to a captive audience” aspirations. It is hard not to foresee parallels between the debate that erupted over Channel One News in the classroom and the upcoming debate that video games in the classroom is sure to inspire. On one hand, these pushes into the education system can provide access to to technologies that underfunded schools may not have been able to afford on their own. On the other hand, young and impressionable children may be subject to unwanted marketing. It is a very controversial concept. I am not a Luddite; I love technology and have been a gamer my entire life. I have also read enough science fiction to approach new technological developments with cautious optimism.
However the debate shakes out, there is no denying the potential of video games as a leaning tool. One doesn’t have to look far these days to find evidence of new applications of technology holding great potential. I offer the example of iPad applications that are currently being used to treat and educate autism and Asperger’s syndrome patients, as a promising new development. Let us as a society hope that, like players of Oregon Trail, technology in the classroom can lead our party to the promised-land, and not down a truncated and dysentery-plagued metaphorical path best left untaken.