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Serious Gaming With COTS: What Children Learn!

Via: Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS) - Games-Based Learning

One of the main problems associated with the perception of games as learning tools is that observers generally do not look past the surface content of the game, the graphics, the animations and the sounds.

As a result people fail to see or become aware of the rich learning environments and experiences that game play can offer.

In order to try and identify what learning takes place when children play games Marc Prensky developed his What kids learn that's positive from playing video games. Consolarium, the LTS's Scottish Centre for Games and Learning, interprets his model so that relevance to teaching and learning can be made more explicit and accessible to teachers.

One of the ways the Consolarium is using games in teaching and learning is to ‘retro-fit’ commercial off the shelf (COTS) games to help create motivating contexts that will engage learners.

Be it using a narrative driven interactive story such as Hotel Dusk to focus on what is required when writing a mystery thriller...

...using a sandbox game such as Viva Pinata to explore how living things interact with their environment...

...or by using Rollercoaster Tycoon to model management skills in a dynamic business setting, there are many and varied ways that these COTS can be used.

Much of the recent research and practical application of games-based learning in classrooms identifies a number of benefits game-playing in schools. These include:
  • motivating learners to succeed and to continually improve
  • fostering self-esteem, self-determination and enhancing self-image
  • facilitating collaborative learning
  • Implicitly develop learners ability to observe, question, hypothesise and test
  • facilitate metacognitive reflection
  • develop complex problem-solving skills
  • make school an exciting place to be
  • offering inroads into other curricular areas
Digital Natives

The society and culture of young children is awash with technology. Mobile phones, computers, digital interactive TV, the internet, email, instant messaging, webcams, games consoles and digital cameras are just some examples of the range of information and communication technology-based consumables that help to form the fabric of the environment of learners.

Learners who grow up in this environment will naturally accommodate the ‘language and grammar’ of the technology and of its place in their world, and in doing so become native in understanding and using it. They are comfortable with it because it is, and always has been, part of their reiterated experience.

Marc Prensky suggests that cognitive development is greatly influenced by learners’ interaction with the ‘trigger speed’ nature of their ICT-rich world because as digital natives interact with technology:
  • they become used to receiving information at high speed
  • they develop the ability to parallel process/multi-task
  • they develop a preference for graphics before text
  • they prefer random access (such as hypertext)
  • they work very well when networked
  • they thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards
  • they prefer games to ‘serious’ work.
Digital Immigrants

In contrast he argues that adults who ‘arrive on the digital shores’ of society much later are new to this language and as a result he calls them digital immigrants.

Generally these immigrants are people like you and me, established professional adults. Even though we, as digital immigrants, develop an awareness of and high level of competency with ICT they still retain what he calls an accent.

Examples of this accent are: printing out e-mails, the 'did you get my e-mail?' phone call, and referring to the manual first.

The Implications For Education

One area that Prensky believes is very important in relation to learning is the significance of the computer games to digital learners. He argues that the designers of these games have a greater appreciation of how to create engaging and motivating learning environments and that the education world would do well to consider how this could be exploited in order to enhance teaching and learning experiences of learners from the ‘Playstation Age’.