Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Dynamic Learning Environment/Edutainment

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What is the role of edutainment?
Once a new technology rolls over you,
if you're not part of the steamroller,
you're part of the road.

—Steward Brand

Little Johnny comes home from his third grade class with a note that he needs signed by his mom because he failed this week’s States and Capitals quiz. He knows that his mom is going to be furious; but, he cannot seem to remember all 50 states and their capitals, even though he studied the list and maps for two hours the night before the quiz. Finally, after several minutes of hiding in the downstairs playroom, he confronts his mom and asks her to sign the note. Johnny thought she was going to be furious; however, she instead went into the living room and came back with a DVD case. She told him to use the downstairs playroom DVD player to watch the show over and over again until he can remember all of the states and their capitals. Reluctantly, Johnny returned to the playroom to watch the DVD. Sadly, he feared his sanctuary had become a torture chamber for his mom’s cruel and unusual punishment. Two hours later, he came back up to the kitchen, singing a catchy song about all the states and their capitals. The next week, Johnny came home with an A+ on his States and Capitals Test. Johnny had learned all of the states and their capitals in less than two hours thanks to a unique form of teaching called edutainment. Edutainment is defined by Merriam-Webster as entertainment (as by games, films, or shows) that is designed to be educational. With that said, what exactly is edutainment? More importantly, what is the role of edutainment in a classroom?

You Say Education, I Say Edutainment[edit]

Edutainment is any form of entertainment that is educational. It can be a show that teaches the order of the planets or a video game that teaches rapid typing skills. Most teachers already use edutainment, whether it is watching an old video or film reel or using a new SmartBoard, or electronic, interactive, blackboard. A teacher can hook up a SmartBoard to a computer so that it will display PowerPoint presentations, quick videos, or even full-length films. A teacher can also use a SmartBoard to show a class how they proof read a paper. The students can see everything the teacher does as he or she proof reads the paper.

Repetitive tasks can become dulling on the student's mind. Education need not just be writing definitions and reading endless sections. Edutainment gives a change of pace as well as an opportunity for the student to enjoy learning. Students can become engaged in the subject and have motivation for learning and memorizing new information. Writing a “Know-Learn-Want to Know” (KWL) doesn’t help the students if they fill it out every time they start a new section.

Cut! ...It Out, Seriously[edit]

A very common form of edutainment, that has been used since the invention of film, is educational movies. While some can be interesting and fun to watch, most tend to be dreary and boring. The movies that require the student to be interactive tend to be in the “good movie” pile, while movies that have the same narrator drone on about WWII and its effects on the Middle East are moved to the “bad movie” pile.

Edutainment is supposed to be entertaining. A black and white film portraying a culture that is many decades old is no longer interesting. However, a host dressed in a funny-looking lab coat that makes cheesy remarks about the molding process can teach more science in thirty minutes than the students have learned all week. A poorly-drawn cartoon that sings about words that connect ideas, phrases, and clauses, uses a catchy tune that stays with you for life. My mother, to this day, can still be caught singing “Conjunction, junction, what’s your function?” while folding laundry or surfing the web.

How likely is it that a student is going to remember the industrial revolution after watching low-quality, black-and-white film about factors that led to the revolutionary era? A lot less likely than if they watched a film where other students their age acted like adults during the industrial revolution, if it were to happen in today’s society.

Let's "cut" out the boring old films of yesteryear. If we want students to learn anything from videos, it won’t be from the ones I watched when I was a kid.

The World of Gaming[edit]

Video games are another form of edutainment. The educational video game market has been steadily increasing over the last five years (Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2007). This past year alone has seen a great deal of edutainment games similar to some original edutainment games like Brain Age and Big Brain Academy by Nintendo. In Brain Age, kids and adults perform simple tasks such as, adding numbers in quick succession, reading comprehensively, and telling how much time has past on a analog clock, among other tasks, to give your brain a “workout” and determine a relative age for their brain’s reflex ability, the younger – the more reflexive. Big Brain Academy focuses on five categories: think, memorize, analyze, compute, and identify. When the game starts, activities are completed at a fast pace and in quick succession to determine your "brain weight", areas of strengths and weaknesses, and which occupation or famous personality best compares to your brain weight score. The faster and more accurate you complete the activities the "heavier" your brain weighs (Nintendo, 2007).

Video games that fall in the educational genre are not the only video games that can be labeled as educational. Most video games require the player to think critically. In strategy games, you handle resources and personnel to achieve a specific objective. This can teach the player about basic economic principles. In fact, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro offer an economics class for college credits that is a full-fledged video game, simply called ECON 201. Through the challenges the game presents, students learn to deal with economic principles that range from scarcity to sustainable growth. ECON 201 also integrates a variety of interdisciplinary subjects that go beyond economics – such as biology, history and anthropology. For example, students must make ethical decisions as they play the game. They can, when poor actions call for it, face disease outbreak. They can also review historical examples of how the earth faced similar problems before, and apply the researched information to how they will fix their current problem (, 2007).

A lot of games are being engineered to include an aspect of learning. Reid R. Frazier wrote, “Instead, Marinelli [Don, Director or Etcetera] and other faculty at ETC [Etcetera] want video games to teach, inform and inspire thought.” He also pointed out that games are being engineered specifically to teach. “Students at the ETC have designed games that simulate hazardous material spills for emergency workers, interactive theater for children with life-threatening illnesses and museum displays that teach American history. Current projects include games designed to teach negotiating skills to Girl Scouts and immunology to junior high students.” Edutainment in the form of gaming is on the rise.

Physical Edutainment: Joining the Dance Dance Revolution[edit]

Imagine walking into the gym and hearing “OK kids, it’s time to exercise, so get off your butts and turn on the video games!” Yes, video game edutainment has even infiltrated the ranks of Health & Physical Education. West Virginia, which has been saddled with the unenviable title of having the worst childhood obesity rate in the nation, has purchased and placed Konami's wildly popular Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) video game in every single one of its public schools after a 24 week study found that overweight/obese students using the game regularly halted weight gain, were healthier, more confident, and more willing to try other exercises. (Dancing video game...2007) The DDR game pad is about 3ft x 3ft square and has pressure sensitive arrows on it. To score points, players must step/dance on the pad in rhythm to the corresponding arrows scrolling on the game screen. In the wake of West Virginia's pioneering use of video games in the "battle of the bulge," insurance giant Kaiser Permanente released a free health video game, "The Amazing Food Detective," which can be found at . The game teaches about healthy lifestyles and shuts off after 20 minutes of play, and will not let a player log back in for at least an hour. (Video game teaches kids about diet...2007)

Classroom Implementation[edit]

But, how can a teacher implement edutainment into an average classroom setting? Although some teaching should be left to books, pencils, and paper, any teacher can implement fun edutainment into the average classroom setting, even if just for a change a pace. Teachers can assign analytical assignments for video games already played at home, research good websites for educational games online, or even motivate students by planning a field trip to a LAN (Local Area Network) center for a team building day. Video games do not have to just teach history, math, science, or english to be educational. Video games can also teach art, music, social skills, team work, strategy, and planning, among other skills used in everyday life.

Teachers can encourage their students to write descriptive paragraphs about the video games they play at home (Hutchinson 2007). The teacher can ask the students to review the games they play in their “off-time” for valuable educational material. This asks the students the think critically and be analytical. For example, the student can take the average Mario Brother’s game (the premise being to run right and jump when needed) and turn it into a lesson about timing, patience, and motivation.

Teachers also have the option to research the World Wide Web for online games that can be played in the computer lab at school., for instance, caters to many age groups and subjects. It has a math-focused board game, Sudoku, and fun-to-read stories. It even has a Mad-Libs section that focuses on parts of speech! Students can have fun with out even knowing they are actually fine-tuning their brains.

Something that is a little different, however, completely workable, is scheduling a field trip to a LAN center. A LAN center is a building where many computers are hooked up, or networked, in order to specifically play together. Students would be motivated by the trip for the same reasons they are motivated to go on any other field trip- just to leave the school building. There are many angles from which to promote a LAN center field trip. Many LAN centers already have games to pick from to be played on a LAN (Local Area Network), the hard part will be picking a game appropriate to the skill or subject you are attempting to teach. Team Building is always an easy, but good, skill to work on in a LAN center. Many of the games require strategy, alliances, tact, and timing. However, teachers would have the option to have the class play Oregon Trail if they so desired.

Game Over[edit]

Let’s face it, edutainment is being integrated into culture. The best way to approach the catchy form of teaching is through direct embrace. Become a developer of new ideas to implement video games and other forms of edutainment into the classroom. Encourage students to seek edutainment outside of the classroom! Invite a comical guest speaker to get the students interested in a new subject. Comedy is still considered a form of entertainment!

While it’s a ways off from implementation, hand-held systems today have many games that warm the brain up for intense absorption. There are also games that increase focus, teach and practice methods for memorization, and lay the foundation for organization. One game for the Nintendo DS asks the player to visit at least five times a week in order to keep the brain “young.” This will help students learn to keep a schedule.

Education has its pros and cons. The pros speak for themselves. The cons… are the time and effort needed to achieve even the slightest amount of success in education. A lot of subjects can become boring rather quickly. Edutainment allows all the boring time and effort spent on education to be turned into a fun experience that will leave you singing, “The leg bone’s connected to the knee bone,” that is right, you said knee bone.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

Which of the following is stated to be most effective for memorizing new information?
A. Repetitively re-writing the new information until it sticks.
B. Watching a digitally re-mastered film made in the 1950s.
C. Having the students write a KWL.
D. Teaching the students a catchy tune made from the new vocabulary.

D. Teaching the students a catchy tune made from the new vocabulary.

Using edutainment, which of the following is likely to be the most appealing way to introduce the new subject, marine biology?
A. Inviting your next door neighbor that majored in marine biology to make a thirty minute speech about the negative effects of littering.
B. Inviting the local fisherman to talk about why sea kelp smells bad.
C. Splitting the students into groups to each research a specific aspect of marine biology and to present it in the form of a play or skit.
D. Inviting your son to come in to play the video game, "Ecco the Dolphin" while you explain the educational points of the game.

C. Splitting the students into groups to each research a specific aspect of marine biology and to present it in the form of a play or skit.

What is a LAN center?
A. A place that holds many networked computers structured to play together
B. A museum that has computers from every decade
C. A building that hosts computer networking for local news companies
D. An arcade

A. A place that holds many networked computers structured to play together

Which of the following cannot be taught in a video game?
A. Music
B. Art
C. English
D. Spanish
E. Scheduling
F. Reading
G. All of the above
H. None of the above

H. None of the above

Which of the following is false about edutainment?
A. Edutainment is helpful with teaching any subject or skill.
B. Edutainment should be used in small doses.
C. Edutainment utilizes entertainment to be educational.
D. Edutainment can be used with any basis of entertainment.

B. Edutainment should be used in small doses.

Which of the following is going to be your number one resource for ideas for edutainment?
A. The Principal
B. World Wide Web
D. Any video game store

B. World Wide Web

Why is having students write comparison essays about video games they play at home important for education?
A. Students should have a lot of writing assignments.
B. Students should play video games at home.
C. Students should use their analytical skills regularly.
D. Students should have fun homework.

C. Students should use their analytical skills regularly.

West Virginia has begun using edutainment in the area of health & PE because of its:
A. Desire to be on the cutting edge of edutainment.
B. High child obesity rates.
C. Desire to keep using coal as a healthy energy source.
D. Relationship to the insurance industry.

B. High child obesity rates.

West Virginia has placed __________ video games in every one of its public schools.
A. No, WV has banned video games in school because of their obesity rates.
B. Boogie Oogie Oogie
C. Move It and Shake It!
D. Dance Dance Revolution (DDR)

D. Dance Dance Revolution (DDR)

Insurance giant has ________ created a health related video game called ________.
A. State Farm; The Big Apple
B. Anthem; Get Healthy…FAST!
C. Kaiser Permanente; The Great Food Detective
D. Optima; Veggie Attack!

C. Kaiser Permanente; The Great Food Detective

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal sample responses.

Why do you think comedy is or isn’t a good form of edutainment? Cite your proof with examples from the section.

I think comedy is a good form of edutainment. Rarely do you see people sleeping at a good comedian’s show. Throwing comedy into education lets the students have fun and learn at the same time! Personally, I can remember all the funny, quirky teachers I had, their names, and a lot of what they taught me that year. Comedy causes smiling and smiling just…sticks with a person.

In Section 2.4 there are several references to comedy being a good form of edutainment. In Cut! …it out, seriously, the writer refers to Bill Nye the Science guy and how is quirky behavior helps teach students concepts of science. Even in the closing paragraphs the writer refers to comedy as "a form of entertainment."

Comedy is a very good form of edutainment. The students are interested in hearing the jokes, and the way educational comedy is usually structured, the student has to understand the concept before the joke is funny. It’s a win-win situation!

I think comedy is a great form of edutainment. In some cases, sensitive subjects that need to be addressed are delivered better through comedy than any other medium. I am an Elementary/Middle school Health and P.E. teacher, and the number one issue I have to deal with is the crisis of proper diet among American children. I say "proper diet" because this phrase covers the two extremes of obesity and eating disorders. These are both sensitive subjects that deal directly with a child’s self esteem, which in turn can affect their entire life, not just their academic performance. I happened upon a goldmine of comedic edutainment dealing with both of these issues in episodes of two extremely popular Disney Channel shows: "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody" and "That's So Raven." The "That's So Raven" episode deals with eating disorders among models (and of course the runway gets trashed in true comedic form). "The Suite Life..." episode follows an overweight chef and a youngster battling a sugar addiction, and in a separate storyline follows two teen girls; one overeating because someone called her skinny and one starving herself because she was called fat, all to get ready for a modeling show (that of course gets trashed, but with a twist, when the curtain comes down, the antagonist is caught stuffing her bra with tissue). By screening these episodes for Health class and putting a comedic face on a very serious issue, the students are more apt to internalize and “get the message.” It’s a great tool. As mentioned in the “Let’s cut it out” section of the article, "Let's 'cut' out the boring old films of yesteryear. If we want students to learn anything from videos, it won’t be from the ones I watched when I was a kid." —Mike Hancock