Interested in using serious games in the classroom? You need to head over to Games for Change and check out the over 60 games in nine different categories.
Founded in 2004, Games for Change is a non-profit which seeks to harness the extraordinary power of digital games to address the most pressing issues of our day, including poverty, education, human rights, global conflict and climate change. Games for Change serves as a platform for organizations, individuals, government agencies, academics, journalists and the game industry to share best practices, exchange knowledge, incubate new projects and provide access to those seeking to use digital games to positively impact society.
Some of my favs?
The iCivics collection and Oililgarchy.
Yesterday I mentioned an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education that highlighted five ideas teachers can steal from video game developers as they create lessons and units.
As I’ve worked with teachers over the last few years, we’ve been able to put together a few other teaching tips that teachers should use based on the work of video game research.
Win the “game” by achieving engaging goals
- All great video games have difficult but clear and achievable targets. We need to do the same as we design problem-based learning units with interesting and engaging problems. One example is a western Kansas government teacher who asked her students to solve the problem of a diminished Ogalla Auquifer. Throughout the semester, the students task was to research the problem and then deliver a solution to the District Water Board.This sort of work requires kids to work through a series of levels to achieve a final goal, just like a video game.
Allow cheat codes
- The word cheat instantly sends up a red flag to most teachers but to a gamer, a cheat code is simply something or someone who helps them solve problems. We need to use the same philosophy when designing lessons by building into the process a more collaborative feel. Allow kids to work together, especially in the earlier “levels” of the unit, encourage the use of online experts and create student experts that can help with instruction.
- Most games offer ways for players to “level-up” their character by offering extra lives, additional special powers and new tools or weapons. We can do the same sort of thing in our unit designs by intentionally including different types of scaffolding through the use of graphic organizers, Web 2.0 tools and differentiated instruction.
- Modding is short for modifications. Most games allow the user to modify the game or create additional scenarios and settings through the use of in-game editors. We can do similar sorts of things by providing choices to students. Giving kids the opportunity to design their own end product or travel a different path of research encourages higher levels of student engagement.
Include visual and auditory stimuli
- All modern games include visuals and auditory components specifically designed to enhance the experience. Some game systems, such as the Wii, even include tactile stimuli. Future games will surely include some sort of smell-o-vision. We need to do the same by purposefully planning for the use of multimedia in our instruction. One teacher I know even set off a bunch of fireworks in a metal can and then brought the remains into his classroom during a discussion on the Battle of Gettysburg. It provided a very specific smell that helped kids connect emotion with content.
As teachers, we need to constantly be looking for ways to hone our skills. And the brain research used by game developers to engage users is the same sort of research we can use to design high-quality lesson and unit design.
Curious what works for you? How have you used game theory to design instruction?
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.
- 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
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.
Get more tips here!
Okay. Be gentle. We’re gonna get better.
Together with Jaime Hendricks, I’ve started a semi-regular video cast called Great Games, Better Brains that talks about video games and how parents, families and teachers can use them appropriately.
The idea is that we create and post five to six minute clips online that people can access whenever / wherever. Our target audience right now is parents and grandparents who have questions about how games work, which games to play and how to monitor what their kids are doing. Great Games, Better Brains is part of larger effort to connect with parents and teachers called My Kid’s Turn.
It’s still very rough. Jaime and I are slowly getting used to the idea of the whole video thing but we’d like some useful feedback. You can check out a single episode we did on Wii games and setting parental controls here but be sure to browse around and see what else My Kid’s Turn has to offer.