As new teachers enter the workforce with greater technology familiarity than their predecessors, a wider margin of accepted teaching methods has developed, changing the way in which educators are able to form successful instructional relationships with their students.
Many districts, in order to help faculty keep pace with their rapidly changing and technologically capable student bodies, are attempting to alter their most well established modes of erudition (namely lecture, discussion, co-operative group, and hands-on learning); as a result, there has been a continuing trend in the reduction of teacher reliance on textbooks and an upswing in the incorporation of classroom media across all levels of the education system.
These changes, primarily serving to accommodate the vast increase in computer reliance for day-to-day tasks and the need for students to develop team-based collaboration skills, have led educators to begin more deeply investigating the potential benefits of video game-based pedagogy.
Games, unlike textbooks and more traditional forms of direct instruction, may more thoroughly afford students the opportunity to integrate their learning of subject matter with the 21st century leadership skills necessary for success in academia, law, the armed forces, and private industry. However, as video games are examined with increased scrutiny, there remains little consensus on the benefits and detriments of applying them to the classroom environment.
In some circles, games are seen not only as a useful tool in encouraging student motivation to learn outside of the academic environment (Coller & Scott, 2009), but also as a means to increase student engagement during in-class learning sessions (Annetta et al, 2009), foster valuable skills with respect to finite tasks or jobs (Duque et al, 2008; Coller & Scott, 2009; de Freitas & Griffiths, 2007), and improve upon visual acuity, spatial recognition, contrast sensitivity, visuomotor coordination, and general intelligence (Spence & Feng 2010; Caplovitz & Kastner, 2009); Achtman, Green, & Bavelier, 2008; Quiroga et al, 2009).
Conversely, detractors contend that games, at best, produce no statistically significant change in skill acquisition (Annetta et al, 2009) and, at worst, produce negative effects on academic motivation and success with relation to several common measures of learning (such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), student grade point averages (GPAs), and academic testing of both reading and writing skills) (Anand, 2007; Weis & Cerankosky, 2010).
There has been ample demonstration, too, that addiction tendencies have a consistent, negative correlation with the implementation of game-based learning due to select groups of students developing a compulsion to obsess over games themselves (Skoric, Teo, & Neo, 2009). The schism in understanding video games and their role in education, broadly painting them as both aids and distractions, indicates that the usefulness of this media will ultimately rest on how parents and educators utilize it in a scholastic context (Gentile, 2010).
The most succinct way to frame this muddled amalgamation of perspectives on educational gaming comes from Robert Gentile’s 2010 work, in which he described the influence of gaming on student learning as “not an either-or proposition; games can haveboth positive and negative consequences, and which consequences researchers find depends on what they are testing” (pp. 71). The major discrepancy in the educational literature seems to lie within the definition of what constitutes a video game and how any one game’s effectiveness can be accurately measured compared to another.
Not surprisingly, this miscommunication has led designers and educators to often take for granted the notion that students will enjoy a video game purely because it is called a game, unintentionally ignoring or overlooking the elements that make them educationally useful to begin with (Bourgonjon et al, 2010). Fortunately, after more than two decades of mounting commercial video game popularity, a substantial core of data is beginning to highlight precisely how video games can serve as a positive influence on the education system rather than a negative one.
Most prominently, video game play (unlike many types of traditional pedagogy) appears to augment student self-efficacy through the elimination of many stigmatizing cultural differences between various ethnic and gender groups, enabling students of all backgrounds to share equally in the education process without fear of exclusion by their peers (Browell, 2008).
While this may only seem to be a tangential advantage for the majority of students, researchers have found that the free collaboration of students through the sharing of game-based learning outlines a direct correlation with the development of vastly improved 21st century occupational skills, including team-building, group management, and individual persistence (Browell, 2008; Gentile et al, 2009).
World of Warcraft in particular, the leader in massive multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs), has been developed with these desirable occupational skills at the forefront of its game objectives, forcing its players to hone their group and inquiry-based learning abilities through the rigorous process of peer-to-peer meta-cognitive analysis (Schrader & McCreery, 2008).
Other, more pro-socially constructed MMORPGs have even displayed a reversal in the learned aggression long attributed to violent video games, implying that games may act as vessels for delivering specific types of knowledge and skills (whether they be violent, helpful, or educational by design) in addition to providing subtle learning cues for leadership and group management (Gentile & Gentile, 2008; Greitemeyer & Osswald, 2009).
To that end, teachers and school administrators need to identify how engaging narrative objectives may be gainfully superimposed over the state and national learning standards such that forthcoming educational games mimic the intellectually useful elements of privately produced games and incorporate positive social training measures. Game designers, unlike educators, function with the knowledge that their products are not essential to consumers, meaning that the games they release must have such widespread entertainment appeal that players will voluntarily pay for the ability to interface with the narratives being presented to them.
Survival-horror and war games, for example, have become highly profitable to game designers because their well-designed learning affordances (those that compel players to continue playing despite high levels of violence) are well masked by narrative and problem-solving elements presented throughout each game (Kearney & Pivec, 2007). This economically valuable instructional strategy (scaffolding learning through enjoyable, visually stimulating, community-based play) has already proven to be extraordinarily helpful in training military and medical personnel (de Freitas & Griffiths, 2007; Duque et al, 2008).
Rather than finding themselves bored with the subject matter, students reported that game-based simulations granted them the opportunity to practice skills in a far more engaging, entertaining way, fostering ownership over the course work and intrinsic motivation to succeed (Annetta et al, 2009; Duque et al, 2008). If such a strategy could be adequately implemented in a school community (thereby challenging, encouraging, and upporting students in their individual learning), struggling learners could potentially develop lasting, positive relationships with the subject matter being taught, thereby increasing academic performance in the long term (Dickey, 2007). When applied appropriately, video games seem to offer greater affordances to students than their non-digital instructional counterparts. Despite their apparent efficacy, however, the chief obstacle to the widespread implementation of scholastic gaming remains the need for more substantial research in this area of study.
Thus far, there has only been enough educational data collected to make limited recommendations as to which gaming elements are the most effective and important for successfully transitioning video games into the classroom environment (namely: intriguing stories, appealing characters, a sense of urgency, life or death decision-making, opportunities for the player to make predictions, and distinct, purposeful goals) (Browell, 2008; Becker, 2008; Mooney & Kirshenbaum, 2010).
Not surprisingly, this has directly limited the quantity of research projects using game-based narratives as the basis for entire courses, signifying that much more work must be done to establish the effects of teaching specific academic knowledge, evaluative techniques, and skills through the guise of video games.
Before any long-term pedagogical recommendations can be made, educational researchers will have to establish how the aforementioned gaming components can be successfully bound to state and nationally mandated standards in a robust way that moves beyond a series of capricious musings and into the realm of being both practically applicable and academically useful in a functioning classroom.
Ideally, continuing investigation on the effects of video gaming and learning (specifically in merging established curricula with game-based learning elements) will provide the information necessary to aid educators in their mission to bridge the ever-widening rift between student engagement levels and an increasing number of government mandated learning objectives.
Contemporary educational literature suggests that video games themselves, despite their conditional short-comings, can indeed be a useful means to improving classroom climate, creating situated learning affordances, and increasing assessment granularity, inherently providing students with the skills necessary to succeed in 21st century careers (Kearney & Pivec, 2007; Foster, 2010; Charsky, 2010).
As such, it falls to educational psychologists to continue designing inquiries that encompass video game-based learning so they may eventually parse the underlying principles of what makes games effective teachers and reconstruct content curricula in a more engaging and entertaining game-like context.