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Using & Teaching Educational Technology

Video Games: School Practicalities
By Mechelle de Craene
Created on Wed, 13 Sep 2006, 13:49

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In this article, teacher and researcher Mechelle De Craene discusses the learning benefits that some types of game can provide, along with practical suggestions for adopting them in your classroom practice.

There are a few gamer teachers exploring video games in the classroom. As such, we do not have much previous data to glean from and are writing it up along the way -- such as in our teacher-reflective research logs,and those handy classroom post-it notes. Hence, we are starting to collect classroom-based data and are organizing the unexpected to make sense of it all.

First and foremost, remember best practices with video games. Best practices are practical strategies (based on shared wisdom) that effective teachers use to optimize learning opportunities. Good & Brophy (2002) contend there are three characteristics of effective teachers: (1) they have postive expectations for student success, (2) they are extremely good classroom managers, and (3) they know how to design lessons for student mastery.

Effective teachers can and do incorporate video games in the classroom successfully by remembering that best practices are proactive, rather than reactive. As such, here are the subjects that I wanted to touch upon today gleaned from both articles and my experiences exploring video games in the classroom:    

     1. Realize that all games are not created equal.
     2. Identify clear learning objectives before choosing a game.
     3. Use advanced organizers.
     4. If you don't already, keep student portfolios.
     5. Correlate standards with the game when approaching administrators.
     6. Send home permission slips.
     7. Establish parameters.
     8. Expect the unexpected.
     9. Realize that culture affects the curriculum.
    10. Share classroom-based insights with communities of practice. 

Please note, when I am referring to video games I am not referring to the games included in prescribed educational software packages. Many teachers have been using these games in the classroom for years because they were bulk-purchased by their school districts often times regardless of what the research or if there is any third-party ( i.e. non-company) research at all.

Hence, it is important for teachers to write up their classroom-based case studies when exploring video games in the classroom. Think of it as an inquiry project. Even if things do not go according to plan, sharing such information will be valuable for the pedagogy as a whole.

With that, here are some teacher tips and from the outset for any teacher who may want to venture in video gaming in the classroom.

To start, realize that all video games are not created equal.  A recent ISTE article addresses this (that Robert Banning brought my attention to via comments to David Warlick's blog, Thanks kindly again gentlemen. : )

The article is titled Can Games Be Used to Teach? This is a counter point by Alix E. Peshette and David Thornburg (2006).

Peshette points out the following:

"Are all games created equal? No, certainly not! Think about the differences between he perennial favorites Trivial Pursuit and Clue. One is a game of memorization and recall; the other is a game of deductive reasoning. Consider the most common genre of computer games in schools and up pops the old drill-and-kill remedial software program; a low life form on Bloom's Taxonomy of learning objectives. Wonderfully educational computer games are available in which students must collaborate to compare and contrast data, develop generalizations, make predictions, draw conclusions, test the validity of an assertion by examining the evidence, and understand multiple perspectives and view points. Doesn't that sound a lot like the real-life workplace we strive to prepare our students to enter?"

Thornburg also comments on low-level drill games (e.g. shooting alien spacecraft by knowing the multiplication tales). He contends in his counter point to Peschette in the same article mentioned above:
"Now, add the fact that such games feed right into the hands of anti-technology folks who (correctly) see this approach as abuse to good practice. They are too quick to lump all technology use into this pot, with the results that technology advocates like myself have to defend good uses against this muddled backdrop. That said, there are "gaming" environments of value -- simulations of real-world phenomena. I gladly recommend SimEarth and other programs of this kind to educators. But these high-quality simulations are few and far between."

Both Peshette and Thornburg make good points and the common theme which teachers can glean is that not all video games are created equal.

Secondly, identify clear learning objectives before choosing a game. Once you've done that, have your students start with a K-W-L (see below) advanced organizer. Keep these in student portfolios and/or efolios. Ausubel (1960) posited that advanced organizers help students link their ideas with new materials or concepts for meaningful learning.

Additionally, advanced organizers help teachers see a baseline and help students to eventually reflect of learning and growth. For example, I had my students start off a K-W-L on character development with regard to writing. I wanted to assess if my students knew what a protagonist vs. antagonist is etc. Thus, they filled out the following:

K: What do I know about character development?
W: What do I want to know about character development?
L: (after the project is complete at the end of the school year) What have I learned about character development?

One of my students replied, "I want to learn how to make my story people come alive like on the movies to learn to write like that." I picked The Sims for several reasons (e.g. The Sims creator Will Wright based the game upon Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, etc.) which I will write up later. As such, there are several K-W-Ls that will go along with other data to evaluate the process and to measure learning outcomes. Complex learning is being evaluated. More on that later.

Next, look at your yearly standards for learning and align those benchmarks with the learning opportunities of the game. Students with special needs have additional social-emotional goals that are included on the Individual Education Plans (IEPs).

Bring a list of standards and how it correlates with the learning opportunities of the game when approaching your department chair and then an administrator about your hopes to include a video game as a learning media within your curriculum. Since video games are a nontraditional learning media for schools, it is advised to go through the chain of command while in a school setting.

Also, send home a permission slip to parents and additionally include standards and learning objectives here. Video games are not included in school acceptable user policies (AUP) forms. Therefore, explain your parameters. Like blogging in school, the kids themselves usually know what and what is not acceptable in a school setting. Discuss the parameters with your students and reiterate choices and consequences in a school setting are often determined beyond your classroom ( i.e. at the school level).

Expect the unexpected: Realize that you may have a student come back to school and say they are not able to play the game anymore. Hence, one student's family ideologies can affect their entire classes curriculum.

This happened before when I read Harry Potter with the kids at a different Southern school when I worked in a rural area. One parent complained that Harry Potter was evil witchcraft. Therefore, I was not allowed to read Harry Potter with that class anymore, despite the fact  that I had students with special needs who were previously unmotivated readers who finally became engaged with a story  -- especially when I showed how the stories are links to Greek Mythology, of which they did not know about.

Hence, culture affects curriculum and living in the Southern US may eventually change the dynamics of my study. Even though the world may be flat (as Thomas L. Friedman proposes in his awesome book "The World is Flat ") culture is not flat. Indeed, the reality is that  geography often determines the classroom curriculum and how the daily lessons are expressed (i.e. the learning landscape). Yes, the internet is starting to globalize and democratize the pedagogy, but we are not there yet. Something to keep in mind.

In sum, it is important for teachers to maintain best practices when exploring innovative technologies in the classroom (including video games which are not common practice...yet) and to keep and share detailed case studies with the teaching community, for, we can all learn together and contribute to the pedagogy as a whole .  : )

An additional valuable resource for teachers is The Handbook on Games and Learning from Future Lab. Check it out! 

Ausubel, D. P. (1960) The use of advanced organizers in the learning and retention of meaningful verbal material. Journal of Educational Psychology, 51, 267-272.

Friedman, T. L. (2005) The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, Farrar, Staus & Giroux, New York, NY.

Good, T. & Brophy, J (2002) Looking in Classrooms, Allyn & Bacon, Needham, MA. 

Peshette, A.E., Thornburg, D. (2006) Can Games Be Used To Teach? Learning & Leading with Technology.

Mechelle De Craene loves being a special education teacher in Florida. She is also a MirandaNet Scholar researching child development and ICT (i.e.Cybernetic Developmental Theory) with the MirandaNet Academy. She has an undergraduate degree in psychology and a Masters Degree in Special Education with a Gifted Education endorsement.

What do you think? Please leave a comment.