I love video games. I think I’ve learned a lot from them. I think everyone could learn a lot from them. I learned around 1984 from Zork I that video games can engage your imagination as powerfully as fiction, and that success often depends on trying every combination of items and verbs you can think of, no matter how improbable. From Zelda and Metroid I learned that progress is all about exploring every avenue, then returning to where you’ve been before when you’re more experienced. From Harvest Moon I learned the importance of saving money and keeping up with daily chores (I didn’t say I practice what I’ve learned). I could go on all day. I think video games have shaped my life as powerfully as literature or poetry has, which is to say that I can’t imagine life without them.
As a teacher, while actual game-playing hasn’t been a huge part of what we work on in class, I think I’ve tried to incorporate a sense of play and game-like fun into projects wherever possible. One of my favorite projects in G6 involves inventing a fictional civilization, which involves the type of world-building that game designers need to excel at, from alphabets to temple architecture. Some students made models of their civilizations in SketchUp or Minecraft, and I want to push even further in this sort of direction with projects next year. On a smaller scale, I am constantly using examples from games to make points about history, architecture etc…. earlier today I discussed the history of the Hagia Sophia while we watched this video.
When it comes to the subject of “gamification”, “badges”, etc. in education, however, I get a little more cautious. I think that certain skill areas, like touch-typing, airplane piloting and mole-whacking, are probably better served by practice through games than any other instructional technique. I’m trying to learn more Japanese kanji, and the site I’ve been practicing on lately has a lot of badges and statistics and timed events. I’m not sure they’re helping me learn, but they certainly aren’t hurting.
However, I’m worried about the rush to talk about things like badges and achievements and “game-based learning”. Most gaming activities, however much I might love them, are what I would call formative work, and in many cases Bloom would probably barely even deign to taxonomize them. More meaningful work in a game environment would definitely be possible in something like Minecraft, or SimCity, or some simulated situation that allowed for creativity rather than jumping through virtual hoops. I’m worried, though, that this isn’t what a lot of people are trying to sell as “game-based learning”, and that what they’re envisioning is just an electronic version of worksheets. But maybe this isn’t being fair to the game-based learning crowd – maybe I’ve set up an idea of badges and achievements in my head that isn’t true to what people are actually trying to move towards. I’ll have to do some more research. And play some more games.