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Five Teaching Tips . . . from Video Games

For the last few years, I’ve been pushing the concept of using video games as part of instruction. And I’ve been especially interested in talking about how teachers can integrate game development concepts into their lesson and unit designs. The brain research and instructional theory used to develop quality games are often the same sorts of things that teachers should be using to develop quality lessons.

Recently the Chronicle of Higher Education published an interesting article targeting college professors that outlined similar thinking. It documents some of the conversations that the Games, Learning and Society researchers at the University of Wisconsin are having about the use of video games.

And while it’s written for higher ed, the article contents are very applicable to K-12 teachers. So what can we take away from video games?

Give frequent & detailed feedback

  • Most games provide immediate feedback in a variety of ways – tactile, help screens, suggestions from in-game mentors, displayed data in addition to trial and error. Most teachers are not in the habit of providing the rich sorts of feedback that games do.But we know that immediate feedback is a vital part of the learning process. We need to use more rubrics, more sub-scores instead of a generic grade and employ more assessments that provide kids with specific information about their progress.This doesn’t mean more grades – it means more information.

Beta testing

  • The article talks about having more user input before a online course is actually deployed. Is the course easy to move around in? Do the instructions make sense? Is there alignment between content and assessment? I think we can do similar things with K-12 lessons and units – asking former students and current colleagues to critique the design.But I think the idea of beta testing can also be employed in our lesson / unit design by purposefully allowing students multiple attempts during longer projects. We need to encourage kids to be creative and train them to take risks, knowing that they have the opportunity to correct mistakes and learn from them.

Game narratives answer the question “Why are we doing this?”

  • Games like World of Warcraft, Rise of Nations and Legend of Zelda all employ different types of story lines that drive inquiry and decision making. As teachers we often get questions from students who don’t see the relevance of our content. This happens when we focus more on details rather than the big picture of history.Stories can be incredibly engaging and motivating when used to provide the foundation for specific details. Textbooks like Joy Hakim’s History of US do a great job of telling stories rather than recounting events. We need to use these sorts of tools and become better story tellers ourselves.

Don’t be afraid of fun

  • There is a traditional belief that having fun while learning is a bad thing. And for whatever reason, it seems like the higher the grade, the more ingrained this belief becomes. Elementary kids can enjoy learning but at the high school, we have to be very serious for “real” learning to happen.Brain research seems pretty clear – the brain learns best when it’s having “fun.” The skills learned while playing in a rich-environment like World of Warcraft are exactly the type of skills required to succeed in the current business world. We need to be more willing to build fun into our instructional design.

Not all content works as a game

  • In many video games, players must go through basic tutorials or data collection before actually “playing” the game. Players understand that they need to go through this low-level processing so that they can be successful later on in the game.As social studies teachers, we often focus just on the low-end data collection (when was Lincoln elected sorts of things) rather than how that data helps us understand the past and present. We need to design instruction in the same way that games are designed – go beyond low level Bloom’s and incorporate high-end kinds of thinking in our lesson designs. And, more importantly, we need to let students know that the low-level data collection are the building blocks needed to think critically at high levels.

    This can also help with the question – “Why do I have to know this?” The answer? Because it helps you be successful later in the game.

More and more of you are using video games as actual instructional tools. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But the next step is to go beyond simply incorporating games as teaching tools and begin using game theory to help us design more effective lesson and unit design.


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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. evan #

    I have never thought about the creation of a lesson or unit using the format of a video game. It does make perfect sense. Good video games do include all of the necessary components of a creative lesson that includes specific boundaries and applications that are easy to navigate. I need to use this idea when planning my new units. Thank you for the idea!

    June 14, 2010
    • glennw #

      Glad you enjoyed it! It is a bit of a different way to think but it seems to me that the research about how the brain learns is the same whether it’s a game or classroom instruction.

      Posting some ideas today, more to think about.


      June 15, 2010

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  1. Even more teaching tips from video games « History Tech
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