Games Are Effective Education Tools, Says ESA

Games Are Effective Education Tools, Says ESA

Micheal Gallagher
Micheal Gallagher

The President of the ESA testified before Congress that educators are using games to effectively teach.

Back when I was a wee lad, my elementary school teachers used supposedly clever games to get us kids to pay attention to how to multiply fractions or whatever. But these were usually poorly veiled quiz show-type activities and I quickly lost interest despite Mrs. Miller's half-hearted attempt at gamification. But when used more effectively by inserting an over-arching game to the classroom or using videogame play-time to teach specific lessons can be very effective. One needs only look at how the U.S. military has co-opted game simulations in its training of soldiers for proof that games can teach. Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, was instrumental in winning the Supreme Court case that validated videogames as an artistic medium and he this week he took up the banner for game's place in education before the United States House of Representatives' Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

The committee called for ways to increase American students' interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), subjects that the rest of the world's students are exceeding the United States'.

"Our industry's interactive technology provides students with a new mode of learning," Gallagher said in the hearing held in Washington D.C. "With the power to improve critical thinking and problem solving skills, games are next-generation learning tools that have the potential to transform the educational experiences of children across the country.

"We encourage educators and policy makers to take steps now to incorporate these resources into classrooms and ensure that our young people are equipped for success in emerging STEM careers," he continued.

I don't think that Gallagher is suggesting that history teachers make kids play Black Ops to learn about the Cold War or Minecraft to learn about the diamond mining of Africa. Instead, he is calling for games to be used to foster interest in math and science to encourage kids to look for careers in those fields.

The ESA has instituted programs to get kids excited about making videogames in the past - like the First Annual National STEM Video Game Challenge - but I'm not sure that's what is needed here. What do you think? How can games be used to get American kids interested in learning new technologies and building the next great wonders of the world?

I know! Have them play Civ V all day!

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Greg Tito:
Games Are Effective Education Tools, Says ESA

Permalink

Again, they fail to draw the distinction between "teaching" and "training."

The use of video games is fine for "training," which is really just the repeated drilling of a task until it becomes habitual. One of the key features of "habit" is that is, as I say, "routine minus meaning."

I can use "games" to teach my parrot to roll over. Does the parrot understand the significance of this task? Can it apply this knowledge to novel situations? No. It will need a very specific set of given criteria: the same verbal command, the same visual cue, a similar environment, the same reward, and likely even the same trainer.

What's more, the efficacy of this kind of training diminishes over time for more intelligent creatures. They "habituate" to the rewards and tasks, forcing the trainer to escalate rewards to get the same result. When the reward disappears, the trained behavior is eliminated quickly (especially in more highly-intelligent species).

I know I come down on "games as education" a lot, but it's not because I think they're useless. I just hate seeing the education system fall victim to one fad after another. We find something with some value, and immediately begin over-applying it.

Games can be useful to reinforce learning. More specifically, they can be used to drill certain behaviors and basic knowledge, which are then used for more complex tasks. As a motivator, I think they would be a humongous step backward for preparing our students for real life. Sometimes, you do things because they need done, not because you're getting special recognition (for cleaning your own bathroom or paying your phone bill on time).

Work with middle schoolers for a year, and you can see how this over-rewarded culture is eroding motivation during these extremely important formative years. Seriously, a tremendous amount of who a person is and will become is decided by the oft-maligned middle school years. (A quick look around will show you there are a great many adults that are still "middle schoolers," in fact.)

We need to temper this newfound obsession with "gamifying education." It's not a cure-all, because it doesn't address what is fundamentally wrong with the education system to begin with (we can't press parents into handling their kids, and no one making policy decisions is a goddamned educator). It's the band-aid of the moment, and nothing more.

Greg Tito:
Games Are Effective Education Tools, Says ESA

Micheal Gallagher
Micheal Gallagher

The President of the ESA testified before Congress that educators are using games to effectively teach.

Back when I was a wee lad, my elementary school teachers used supposedly clever games to get us kids to pay attention to how to multiply fractions or whatever. But these were usually poorly veiled quiz show-type activities and I quickly lost interest despite Mrs. Miller's half-hearted attempt at gamification. But when used more effectively by inserting an over-arching game to the classroom or using videogame play-time to teach specific lessons can be very effective. One needs only look at how the U.S. military has co-opted game simulations in its training of soldiers for proof that games can teach. Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, was instrumental in winning the Supreme Court case that validated videogames as an artistic medium and he this week he took up the banner for game's place in education before the United States House of Representatives' Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

The committee called for ways to increase American students' interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), subjects that the rest of the world's students are exceeding the United States'.

"Our industry's interactive technology provides students with a new mode of learning," Gallagher said in the hearing held in Washington D.C. "With the power to improve critical thinking and problem solving skills, games are next-generation learning tools that have the potential to transform the educational experiences of children across the country.

"We encourage educators and policy makers to take steps now to incorporate these resources into classrooms and ensure that our young people are equipped for success in emerging STEM careers," he continued.

I don't think that Gallagher is suggesting that history teachers make kids play Black Ops to learn about the Cold War or Minecraft to learn about the diamond mining of Africa. Instead, he is calling for games to be used to foster interest in math and science to encourage kids to look for careers in those fields.

The ESA has instituted programs to get kids excited about making videogames in the past - like the First Annual National STEM Video Game Challenge - but I'm not sure that's what is needed here. What do you think? How can games be used to get American kids interested in learning new technologies and building the next great wonders of the world?

I know! Have them play Civ V all day!

Permalink

I call shenanigans.

Now, who would produce these 'educational' games and how much for? This is nothing more than a another market niche, a loop in the contract to screw us over in the wallet even more.

This would be much easier to explain by linking that episode of Extra Credits. Oooooh wait...

sounds like someone is a fan of EC...

and silly hair.

To teach what is an important stipulation.

Dastardly:
snip

You are completely right. No one seems to realize the flaw of this very thing. It can be used as an aid to learn the more mundane aspects of learning, such as reading and basic math, but it cannot "teach" anything per se.

OT: A common problem is that even with games, unless we are talking engineered games such as what was found in Brain Age, for example, the mind is almost completely passive. It's slightly more interactive than television, which is not interactive at all. If you make a mind read information, it is a lot more active than when you are pressing buttons. The only reason I like to come onto the forums at all is because it's challenging to contribute to a discussion in a meaningful way, and it makes my mind work hard, which makes me smarter. Also, debates can be a lot of fun as well.

Yay, let's let games teach our kids as well as baby-sit them, then blame them for the ever increasing obesity rates in the West (not the lack of physical education in schools, or just general parental neglect).

Baresark:

Dastardly:
snip

You are completely right. No one seems to realize the flaw of this very thing. It can be used as an aid to learn the more mundane aspects of learning, such as reading and basic math, but it cannot "teach" anything per se.

OT: A common problem is that even with games, unless we are talking engineered games such as what was found in Brain Age, for example, the mind is almost completely passive. It's slightly more interactive than television, which is not interactive at all. If you make a mind read information, it is a lot more active than when you are pressing buttons. The only reason I like to come onto the forums at all is because it's challenging to contribute to a discussion in a meaningful way, and it makes my mind work hard, which makes me smarter. Also, debates can be a lot of fun as well.

Absolutely correct -- the right kind of games, the ones that stimulate the mind and encouraging critical thinking -- aren't the most popular sort. And even the old MECC educational games on the Apple IIGS taught us that educational games don't get the same response as mindless "fun" games.

The only game that kids will "love" is the game that doesn't push them to do anything that isn't immediately gratifying. And newsflash to the political bigwigs: Learning isn't always fun. In fact, it's usually uncomfortable and difficult. It requires that you do battle with your own ignorance, admit your own weaknesses, and then strive to overcome them. You can't "make learning fun."

You can, however, push for a cultural change that causes people to feel that overcoming challenges is its own reward. You can strive to foster intrinsic motivation, rather than constantly taking the offer-a-treat shortcut.

Additionally -- is it just me, or does it seem like the work in developing these "educational games" (if they are actually created to foster critical thinking, problem solving, and the application of acquired knowledge) would far outweigh their usefulness in a classroom? What's the current development time on games, even without "critical thinking" components? And how long is it after release that everyone has up a walkthrough that removes all of that critical thinking?

Unless you've got companies creating these games non-stop, and you've got tons of these companies doing that, you're not going to have enough of these to make a difference... at least not in any cost-effective way. You're going to get little throw-away games that maybe nod toward educational content, but really just keep the kid occupied while a few facts scroll across the screen.

You're going to get the modern Oregon Trail or Number Munchers. And it'll be just as "useful."

In school they used to make us play a game like lemmings were you had to guide a group of cute, fuzzy creatures over deadly chasms and through dark forests to safty in their new homes. I think it was called "Futeentees" or something. I was fairly bad at maths so I spent many hours in primary school guilt ridden. Im alright at maths now, so it kind of worked in a way.

TrilbyWill:
sounds like someone is a fan of EC...

and silly hair.

It looks like an egg cup!

They must play Portal....to learn about Physics, with Portals.

once they get the backlog up on PATV go back and watch the gamification of learning EC episode again. i dare ya. then come back here and re-read what you've written. all i've seen here so far is a complete misunderstanding of the concept. greg tito's as guilty of it as the rest of us.

Dastardly:

Greg Tito:
Games Are Effective Education Tools, Says ESA

Permalink

Again, they fail to draw the distinction between "teaching" and "training."

You're missing the point. It's not about what you do in the game, it's what the game is about. Let's say you give some kid a boring history book that he doesn't want to read. And then you give him a story heavy historically accurate video game. He will learn something from that game. He might even get interested in that historical period. It will be much easier for him to pick up that history book after that.

Adam Jensen:

Dastardly:

Greg Tito:
Games Are Effective Education Tools, Says ESA

Permalink

Again, they fail to draw the distinction between "teaching" and "training."

You're missing the point. It's not about what you do in the game, it's what the game is about. Let's say you give some kid a boring history book that he doesn't want to read. And then you give him a story heavy historically accurate video game. He will learn something from that game. He might even get interested in that historical period. It will be much easier for him to pick up that history book after that.

What you're referring to here is called "tangential learning," or "incidental learning." It's when a student is engaged in a non-instructional activity that sparks some curiosity, and they end up looking up a few things later on. It's real, and it does happen. In very, very small amounts.

This phenomenon is well-known, and it's nothing new. It's why some math or social studies classes use Monopoly on a light day near the end of the year. But it's absolutely worthless in developing educational policy, because schools cannot be a place where "learning is an occasional side-effect."

Using supplemental materials to try to increase the relevance of a topic is fine. Watching a Civil War movie might highlight a few issues from the war that you've talked about during lessons, and it might reinforce a few tidbits here and there. Video games are nothing different on that... except that they take far more time and resources to use. A single television and copy of a DVD can show Glory to an entire US History class. But to play some kind of Civil War video game, you'd need a computer/console/controller/copy of the game for each person in the class. But, of course, not everyone will find a particular game equally fun, which means we have to have five different ones available. All that for the exact same benefit (not much at all).

But then there are the side effects of overuse, as with anything. If I overuse caffeine, its effect starts to diminish over time. If I overuse "edu-tainment" materials like this, all it does is create the unrealistic expectations that every lesson can (and indeed should) be riveting fun for everyone.

We don't want an education system that is exclusively boring, obviously. But boredom is a part of life. Some people find Thing A enthralling, others find it dull beyond words and would rather be doing Thing B. But when it's time to be doing Thing A, those folks are just going to need to deal with not every instant of their lives being entertaining. People have somehow become afraid of saying, "Yes, sometimes learning is boring and/or hard. Not everything can be made super-fun."

Greg Tito:
Permalink

Thought about this some more last night, and I think I see what's going on with all of this (from a political standpoint).

For one, folks are thinking they found the magic bullet to "make learning fun." Kids love video games, so if you put the teaching in the game, you've got 'em! Ignoring that we've already seen that this doesn't really work in any meaningful sense for the overwhelming majority of learning, there's still a problem.

We have bred a culture in our children that folds at the first sign of challenge. Too many folks in the business world, the political world, or even just the gaming industry only interact with folks who were in the top 10% of their classes in school and have been to college. They forget that there's still the other 90%--which includes the bottom 50% of the class.

With all the different entertaining diversions available, kids aren't forced to pay attention to anything they don't want to anymore. And strangely enough, when you give people nearly-unlimited options, they tend to choose far less variety. The more choices a person has, the less they're forced to challenge themselves. (Even something as simple as radio: You used to have to listen to whatever was on, but you at least got exposed to new and different music. Now, kids can use a variety of electronic devices to carry the same bunch of songs everywhere.)

Kids that "like video games" tend to like a certain type. Usually, it's the type they're the best at. If they play a game they're not particularly good at, most move quickly to another game. If you're good at FPS games, and you try an RPG, you're pretty likely to back off once real challenge sets in. We choose environments in which we have a higher guarantee of success.

Learning is the exact opposite of that. Learning involves forcing ourselves into the situations where we are not already prepared for instant success. Before you can learn how to multiply, you have to face the fact that you don't know how to multiply. That's getting harder for a lot of kids, too.

For games to get the job done, they'd have to be challenging and promote critical thinking. But when kids already have a hundred other games at home that are easier (and aren't secretly math lessons), this isn't going to motivate them the way we think. Learning will never be inherently fun. Kids have to be taught the inherent value of learning, and how to find the enjoyment in that. And that's far too big a job for games to teach.

But why do we have such a woody over this right now? Here's the big reason:

Politicians believe that, in video games, they've found a way to get around the problem of having teachers. If your curriculum is delivered in video game format, you don't need one teacher for every 30 kids. You might need one teacher for every 300, if even. With the right kind of internet resources, you could make that 3,000! Or so the theory goes.

It's no secret our government wants to stop funding education. They want to privatize the whole system, take it out of the budget, and never deal with it again. Because it's expensive. (Because learning is hard, especially when no one at home is reinforcing what's done in the school.) But they make the same mistake as everyone else by believing that the only value a teacher has is "they know a lot of math/science/music/art/whatever."

Teachers can instantly individualize a lesson. They can identify that Johnny "isn't getting it," but they can also tell why he isn't getting it and provide an explanation or solution that helps him. They supervise and manage giant groups of kids (One of my classes has 46 students in it), without the entire room falling into absolute chaos. They collect, assess, and act upon data in a much faster cycle than any testing program does, and they do it constantly.

The government wants to reduce education to a test. And that test will be the curriculum. And that curriculum will be delivered via a "study guide" that looks a lot like a video game. And they'll call the results "learning," if we let them.

Dastardly:

Greg Tito:
Games Are Effective Education Tools, Says ESA

Permalink

Again, they fail to draw the distinction between "teaching" and "training."

The use of video games is fine for "training," which is really just the repeated drilling of a task until it becomes habitual. One of the key features of "habit" is that is, as I say, "routine minus meaning."

I can use "games" to teach my parrot to roll over. Does the parrot understand the significance of this task? Can it apply this knowledge to novel situations? No. It will need a very specific set of given criteria: the same verbal command, the same visual cue, a similar environment, the same reward, and likely even the same trainer.

What's more, the efficacy of this kind of training diminishes over time for more intelligent creatures. They "habituate" to the rewards and tasks, forcing the trainer to escalate rewards to get the same result. When the reward disappears, the trained behavior is eliminated quickly (especially in more highly-intelligent species).

I know I come down on "games as education" a lot, but it's not because I think they're useless. I just hate seeing the education system fall victim to one fad after another. We find something with some value, and immediately begin over-applying it.

Games can be useful to reinforce learning. More specifically, they can be used to drill certain behaviors and basic knowledge, which are then used for more complex tasks. As a motivator, I think they would be a humongous step backward for preparing our students for real life. Sometimes, you do things because they need done, not because you're getting special recognition (for cleaning your own bathroom or paying your phone bill on time).

Work with middle schoolers for a year, and you can see how this over-rewarded culture is eroding motivation during these extremely important formative years. Seriously, a tremendous amount of who a person is and will become is decided by the oft-maligned middle school years. (A quick look around will show you there are a great many adults that are still "middle schoolers," in fact.)

We need to temper this newfound obsession with "gamifying education." It's not a cure-all, because it doesn't address what is fundamentally wrong with the education system to begin with (we can't press parents into handling their kids, and no one making policy decisions is a goddamned educator). It's the band-aid of the moment, and nothing more.

Most of the complaints you list above only apply to pointification, the bastard child of gamification. It's what happens when untrained teachers think that making things into a game means you "just add points" to every positive action. Unfortunately, that isn't gamification any more than randomly zooming a camera in and out can be considered cinematography.

A truly gamified lesson wouldn't necessarily add new points or achievements, it would modify existing ones to better reinforce goals and give the child better feedback on how they are progressing towards those goals. I dunno if you saw the Extra Credits ep about this, but they had a great example of how you can use gamification without adding any more rewards: simply make your grading scale additive rather than giving specific A, B, C grades for each test. In other words, the A, B, C grade for the whole term is the end goal, and all activities up until then are progress towards that goal rather than evaluations in their own right. This way a student that receives 90, 85, 82 scores respectively would see that they are actually gaining more knowledge over the semester (which they are) rather than assume that they are slowly doing worse and worse (which isn't necessarily true).

And as far as games only being valuable for mindlessly drilling tasks, I find the opposite to be true. A carefully planned game essentially requires kids to learn by doing, which nearly all educators agree is more conducive to deep learning than more traditional methods like lectures.

Also, your later posts make a number of other claims that I just don't see to be true, namely:

Kids only want to play "fun" games with instant rewards --- Then why do many MMO/RPG playing students participate in "grinding", which is notorious for having long boring hours of work for very little reward?

Gamer kids don't like to be challenged --- This is just my own observation, but gamer kids are more likely to experiment possible solutions in unfamiliar situations. Non-gamers are more likely to give up when they don't see a clear solution.

Gamification requires more expensive resources --- Who said the games have to be digital? My classroom uses less technology than most of my peers: I've never even used anything more high-tech than a CD player in class (yes, not even a DVD or VHS player. No rainy day movies here).

I also have to say I'm a little surprised to see a fellow teacher say "learning isn't fun"...

 

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