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There’s a question caroming off the walls of many teacher lounges, company boardrooms and research centers alike: Do video games belong in America’s classrooms?
For game designers, the answer is clear.
“We feel like that argument has been made and answered—and it’s ‘yes,’ ” says Karina Linch, senior vice president of product management at BrainPOP, a company that produces educational games that are used in almost 20 percent of the nation’s schools.
Game designers see opportunities to help students learn through a medium they love and toward which they naturally gravitate.
For teachers, the answer is mixed. Incorporating games into the classroom isn’t always within teachers’ comfort zones, though a recent study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center and BrainPOP suggests the tide may be turning. While a nationally representative survey of 500 teachers showed that only 18 percent use games in class on a daily basis, 70 percent said that using games increases student engagement. Fewer than one in 10 teachers reported negative experiences with using games in their lessons.
The main question that remains for game designers is how to create games that best enhance teaching and learning.
“It’s really about copious data well represented for teachers and students,” said Jeff Curley, deputy director of iCivics, a company founded in 2009 by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to promote good citizenship through engaging games, at the 9th Annual Games for Change Festival in New York City last week. “And that presents a really great design challenge.”
The data Curley has in mind would help teachers pinpoint their students’ struggles so they can know when and where to provide extra help, among other things.
Dan White, CEO of Filament Games, a studio that produces learning games, said at the festival that another challenge lies in getting teachers, who may not be game-savvy, to accept the value of teaching through games and to learn how to best use games to strengthen their lessons.
In an educational world increasingly focused on testing and numbers, games designers feel that a fundamental draw of using games in the classroom is their ability to reduce the risks associated with wrong answers or failure.
“You’re expected to try and try again. We try to design our games around that,” said Derek Lomas, the lead game designer at PlayPower Labs, a company dedicated to designing educational games that can work on almost any computer. “When the point is to try and not necessarily to succeed, I feel like that’s where we can be successful. I don’t want to see games take on the high-stakes experience that tests have.”