Ed Note: Do videogames embody the best in cognitive theory? In Part 2 of his series on educational video games guest blogger NT Etuk explores the work of James Paul Gee. Part 1 is here
By NT Etuk – CEO Tabula Digita
Why do videogames work? Why are gamers so willing to learn in these environments but so unwilling to learn in school?
Fortunately, some of the answers lie in the research of an extremely well regarded literacy professor. Dr. James Paul Gee is the Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State, and the author of the book “What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Second Edition”
Dr. Gee as an educator was curious about why videogames were able to do so much that our education system was having trouble doing – continuously engaging students, making students feel safe failing (not silly), unafraid to ask questions, and providing contextual learning that makes the learning relevant to the learner.
So he set out to answer these questions. His book is an excellent read and I encourage everyone to read it, but for the sake of brevity, I will pull out a core part of his findings.
Dr. Gee found that commercial videogames are built on a set of design principles, and that these principles translate into some of the more fundamental learning principles that cognitive theory has validated.
Among them are:
1. Active, Critical Learning Principle – [In a videogame] all aspects of the learning environment are set up to encourage active and critical, not passive, learning.
2. “Psychosocial Moratorium” Principle – [In a videogame] learners can take risks in a space where real world consequences (i.e. grades, risk of looking silly) are lowered.
3. Achievement Principle – [In a videogame] there are intrinsic rewards from the beginning, customized to each learner’s level, effort, and growing mastery and signaling the learner’s ongoing achievements.
4. Practice Principle – [In a videogame] – learners get lots and lots of practice in a context where practice is not boring (i.e. in a virtual world that is compelling to learners on their own terms and where the learners experience ongoing success). They spend lots of time on task.
5. Multimodal Principle – [In a videogame] – meaning and knowledge are built up through various modalities (images, texts, symbols, interactions, abstract design, sound, etc.), not just words.
These are principles built into all good videogames. I have listed 5, but there are 36 that Dr. Gee documents.
As you read through them, hopefully it becomes clear how videogame systems can actually translate into tremendously powerful and flexible learning systems. Tabula Digita [link] and other companies pioneering this arena embrace these principles and look to embed as many of these principles as possible in the design of our games.
The good thing is that school systems are beginning to realize the inherent power of simulations. I can only speak from our company’s experiences, but Tabula Digita games and simulations have been accepted in some of the largest and sometimes most conservative school districts in the country, including Plano ISD, Orange County – Florida, New York City Public Schools, Forsyth County, and Chicago Public Schools among others.
Educational gaming methodologies and pedagogical approaches have been accepted as superior by some of the most rigorous judges out there. Orange County educators published a list of 54 intervention products that they recommend their teachers use. Tabula Digita simulations received the highest Rubric score of ‘A’ and the highest educator recommendation rating of 4 stars. Only 4 other products were rated so highly. Two were non-computer based.
And students are singing the praises of educational games and simulations, with approximately 88% of the students who have used our software recommending it to other students and over 90% saying they wished more simulations were in their classrooms.
There is a paradigm shift that is occurring in education and it’s being forced by our industry’s ultimate customer – the student. Today’s child demands immersion. They demand experience. They demand engagement. And their expectations of how they receive, interpret, and absorb information are growing more sophisticated every day. As educators, if our methods don’t adapt to their needs, we run the risk of irrelevance. And if we’re irrelevant then we run the risk that we can’t talk to them. And if that happens, then how will they ever hear what we have to say …. ?
About Tabula Digita:
Tabula Digita is the award winning publisher of the DimensionM series of educational videogame titles. DimensionM titles encompass action and non-action titles and allow students to play other students within classrooms, across schools, and across the country, all while learning and increasing achievement.
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Link to Part 1 in this series.