Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Games in education

Computer games are becoming more and more popular in the educational world. UNICEF has just released Ayiti - The Cost of Life (via Water Cooler Games), a simplified 'Sims' style game where you assign tasks to family members living in Haiti. Even playing for just a few minutes communicates how difficult it is to balance health, education and finances when you are affected by poverty. Although I enjoy games, and see that they have some classroom uses, I think there's a lot of hype around them at the moment.

Obviously games have a lot of potential:
  • creating innovative interfaces for accessing educational content - mashing up Moodle with Second Life (SL) in Sloodle, so that content can be transferred and published on both platforms (more info on SL & education here)

  • increasing student motivation - using a new kind of interface can stimulate students' enthusiasm

  • improving hand eye coordination and reaction time - these are particularly crucial in fast-paced games.

I don't subscribe to the media hysteria of 'games are evil' (check out this interesting article on the topic from the Wilson Quarterly), I do see a number of issues in using games in education:
  • gender - navigation in virtual spaces has some gender issues; often boys find it easier to navigate due to more experience in game environments. Representation of gender roles in games can also be highly stereotypical, presumably because of the skewed gender representation in the technology industry

  • hampering creativity - some innovative games such as Sims and SL allow users to transform and create during the game. However, most still rely on users following one of a number of pre-determined paths, thus reducing creative opportunities.

  • difficulty and expense of game development - commercial games are now often more expensive to produce than Hollywood movies, and thus to produce an educational game of similar quality to the entertainment sector is prohibitively expensive.

More info about games in education:
Report from the Summit on Educational Games
University of British Columbia's virtual campus on SL
A collection of research papers on games in education on Citeulike
DoomEd - a first-person shooter game for science education.