Classroom Gaming: What It Isn't, What It Is, and How to Do It Right

Classroom Gaming: What It Isn't, What It Is, and How to Do It Right

Image Credit: Lorelyn Medina / Shutterstock

In his TED Talk exactly six years ago, American video game designer Jesse Schell predicted a future in which games would rule everyday life. The government would hand out experience points—aka tax relief—for making “right” decisions, such as paying off your credit card bill or saving more in your retirement fund. Companies, too, would use gamification to collect data and reward you based on what you buy, eat, and even how long you brush your teeth. 

Well, the future has arrived—at least in China. Using a unique database of consumer information, a gamified social credit system compiles individual social credit scores. Introduced in a government-approved pilot project from the world's biggest online shopping platform, it’s said to be a test-drive of sorts for a similar program that will be mandatory for all Chinese citizens by 2020. (Imagine a score based not just on purchases and credit payments, but also on traffic violations and social media behavior.) 

Although this may seem drastic to many Americans, we believe everyday gaming is here to stay. In the U.S., where its applications aren't nearly as extreme, digital gaming is already making headway in education. In fact, it's become widespread in K-8 classrooms—and has garnered critics as a result. As a Taiwan-based social gaming company with eyes on both China and the West, we know that gaming can have a significant and positive impact on education—while steering clear of Jesse Schell's most severe predictions. Below, we 1) correct the most common myths about digital gaming, 2) outline key benefits of bringing games into the classroom, and 3) point teachers toward specific games that benefit different types of learners.

What the Cynics Say

These are the myths about classroom gaming that most frequently pop up on teachers’ forums, along with our responses:

Myth: Students today are turning into zombies, glued to their games 24/7. 

Truth: Children and teens are drawn to novelty and technology, especially when their peers are interested as well. Instead of trying to dissuade them, we can make the most of students’ passion for and easy access to gaming. For example, some developers are creating apps that encourage social and emotional skills such as empathy and cooperation.

Myth: By promoting virtual reality, gaming shortens attention spans. 

Truth: Instead, games may actually increase our ability to focus and be attentive. Recent research has suggested that video games, for example, may boost multi-tasking skills, activate neurons, and increase brain connectivity responsible for tasks such as planning, memory formation, and spatial navigation.

Myth: Gaming encourages rewards-based learning instead of learning for its own sake. 

Truth: With U.S. students in big-city schools expected to take an average of 112 standardized tests between preschool and 12th grade, it’s clear that the education system’s widespread focus on extrinsic motivation is not due to gaming! While many games do involve rewarding players with badges and points, there are alternatives. Our own multi-player social gaming platform, for example, lets a teacher limit the amount of time that students can play—without requiring the teacher’s constant supervision.

Four Reasons to Gamify Your Classroom

We believe digital gaming can be an asset in many learning environments. Here's why:

1. When playing games, it's okay to lose. Gaming provides a safe way to explore, try, and fail repeatedly, without the stigma or anxiety attached to botched exams or bad grades. Game playing also offers educators a unique view of how students approach problems, deal with frustration, and brainstorm solutions. 

2. Game playing encourages collaboration, peer validation, and a different kind of teamwork than is often found in traditional group projects. Teachers are able to prompt more introverted students to speak up, and to connect with students who are otherwise difficult to engage.

3. Digital classroom games are especially helpful for students who struggle in school. In one recent study, nearly half of teachers surveyed reported that gaming can significantly motivate low-performing students and improve their mastery of both academic content and skills such as critical thinking and communication.

4. Classroom gaming has never been easier, as teacher-to-teacher sharing of lesson plans has made educational gaming resources easier to come by. Sites such as Khan Academy and OpenEd now feature content with at least some elements of gaming. PaGamO, for instance, allows teachers to create custom games and share them with other educators.

Games to Reach Every Learner

In the end, the only way for teachers to know if digital gaming will benefit their students is to try it out in their own classrooms. But determining which games to use with which students can require a lot of trial and error—and late night research. That might sound fun if you're a gamer, and tedious if you're not. To lend a hand, we've put together a gaming playlist. Below, we recommend specific games suited to seven learning styles popularized by renowned Harvard professor Howard Gardner in his landmark Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Good luck and game on!

Intelligence Games
Visual-Spatial LittleBigPlanet 2 and MinecraftEdu  
Bodily-Kinesthetic JumpStart and National Geographic Challenge!
Musical JoyTunes and Meludia
Interpersonal Classcraft
Intrapersonal PaGamO
Linguistic Newsela
Logical-Mathematical matific and Logic Roots
This article was sponsored by BoniO Inc. and not written by the EdSurge editorial staff.
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