Ds Scholarship

Faculty should study video games to improve their teaching (opinion)

The pandemic has forced many of us to transition to technology-mediated hybrid teaching, and as we continue our journey into such spaces, one thing we must remember in higher education is that many students have long been good at navigating hybrid environments. Really, it is finally time for formal education to catch up.

In his historical book 2003 What video games should teach us about learning and literacy James Paul G explained the ways in which video games play a better role in facilitating literacy than educational institutions. After nearly 20 years, his analysis has become incredibly relevant. It seems that the move towards more blended learning environments should have captured the demographic students are preparing for video games. Instead, students – many of whom are video game players – often hate the virtual learning environments at their universities. It is somewhat ironic that the video game industry is experiencing a revival. Gee wrote, prophetically, “Learning theories one can infer from looking at schools today agree very poorly with learning theory in good video games.”

Now is the perfect time to reconsider the principles that make video games so good at teaching and learning in ways that most virtual classrooms don’t. Below is a summary of some of these principles.

  • Story content. Ji discussed meaning as falling into specific contexts. In other words, knowledge becomes meaningful only in certain situations. For example, I might know the nutritional content of eggs, but that doesn’t mean I know how to fry them or even make a nutritious breakfast. In video games, the concepts and skills that the player learns have specific uses at certain moments. Those established meanings require players to recognize patterns that indicate how best to apply the newly acquired knowledge. Usually, topical meanings are created through stories. Within these stories, players assume an identity that motivates them to take advantage of everything the video game has taught them.
  • Apply newly acquired skills and knowledge. Video games frequently benefit from interest-based interaction with knowledge, which promotes self-directed mastery. Video games rarely require players to passively listen to and absorb information—instead, they present information in usable chunks. At each stage, players practice applying their new learning, first to familiar situations and then gradually to new ones, facilitating the transition.
  • Provide timely feedback. Players usually receive information when they need it. Suppose a player in a particular game is threatened by an upcoming storm. At that moment, the game teaches the player how to build a shelter. Other video games may rely on social interactions, which are often facilitated by popular applications such as Discord or Game FAQs. This approach encourages cooperation, allowing players to actively seek information from others when they need it most.
  • Encourage risk taking. Of course, the consequences of failing in a video game are much less than failing in an expensive college semester that might even affect one’s career. Low stakes video game challenges enable players to try out new strategies and discover new approaches to problem solving.
  • The reward for failure. When players take risks and fail, they keep learning. On a metacognitive level, players perceive a gap in ability or knowledge that may motivate them to keep going. On a practical level, they learn not only what does not work but also what may work with modification, which is the basis for self-regulation.

These principles remind teachers that the virtual wheel does not need to be reinvented. We don’t have to be technical experts to understand what grabs and inspires students. We don’t even have to use video games or classroom by games. Here are some practical translations of the above principles that can work in our classrooms right now, even without Zoom.

  • Framework content with culturally relevant topics. If the meaning falls within specific contexts, one way we can engage students is by looking at the stories that interest them. We can do this by activating prior knowledge, such as personal experience, or asking students to share stories of their potential relationships with course content. For example, an economics professor introducing the topic of monopolies might ask students to think about how they would shop for items if they wanted to boycott Amazon. Good video games invite players to shape the story, too. Zoom can encourage collaborative story formation (ie learning) through blended groups or online. The economics professor could pave the way for the narrative: Let’s boycott Amazon. In groups, students can design a plan for Just Consume from markets not affected by Amazon. When they realize the difficulty of doing so effectively, the professor can explicitly explain the principles of monopolies.
  • Take moments for students to use newly acquired skills and knowledge. Active learning has always been a trend, but it is not always understood. To be clear, active learning should not replace direct instruction, which is of course effective. Sure, video games have moments when the action is paused and the information is communicated directly to the player. But it is the two types of learning together – clear instructions combined with opportunities for application – that create the most powerful learning environments. Experience does not need to be taken literally. Fiction, which is a simulation of reality, can also be an experience. By extending the concept of ‘experience’, virtual environments can extend concepts of active learning. For example, students might role-play the imagined experiences. Simulation or role-playing experiences immerse students in the task by motivating them to learn the means to succeed in the task.
  • Introduce brief checkpoints. Students usually have to complete a full assignment before receiving any kind of formal feedback. If tasks are divided into tasks, as in video games ” war and peace– Long epic questions, then teachers can make quick notes of what students are doing, like polling. Depending on what the coach sees, he can adapt the subsequent class activities. This not only helps educate the students but also saves time for the teacher, who then doesn’t have to give detailed feedback on each student’s final major task. Assessment check points can also be social, which can enhance student agency. Just as players flock to Discord for help, students can engage each other in some social setting. These spaces—a padlet with instructions and examples for students—can be organized into open-ended hangouts. Peer review can save time and be more dynamic in virtual environments.
  • require thinking. As students begin to take social control of assessment, they become more reflective of their learning. However, thinking does not always happen on its own. It should be organized as part of the experience. The Low Risk and Learn from Failure approach to video games is one way to encourage this thinking by submitting multiple attempts with feedback from the coach or colleagues. One suggestion for translating this approach into the classroom comes from the Stanford Life Design Lab. In it, students form hypotheses about newly discovered knowledge and then test their hypotheses in an effort to rethink problems and solutions.
  • stay active. There are many ways to incorporate active discovery, but these strategies should again be guided by clear instructions on how to think about and learn from risks and failures. The flipped class is a good model for pairing explicit instructions with virtual experience. Teachers can provide a lot of live instruction via video or the college’s Learning Management System. Then the students can spend their free time in mixed subgroups trying to solve a related problem.

Technology itself cannot improve or harm learning. It is our use of it that is important. There are really bad video games out there, and by bad I mean games that people haven’t played. There are also many good things, and what we need are good course designs so that people want to play and learn from them as well.

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