Tidbits in Tech: Integration in Education/Video Game Integration in Education

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Think of your favorite video game. Perhaps you might be imagining an old computer game you played as a child or maybe you are thinking of a game you purchased just yesterday for your Xbox 360, Playstation, or other gaming system. Whatever the case, most people have had countless experiences with video games and recollect these experiences with excitement and interest. Today's students spend a great deal of their time outside of the classroom participating and playing video games either on a console or via the internet. According to a recent survey conducted by the market researcher NPD group, hours spent playing video games both online and on consoles has increased 6% and 9%, respectively, since 2009 (NPD 2010). Children over the age of 2 are spending, on average, 13 hours a week playing video games. Others, who the NPD group classified as "extreme gamers" are spending upwards of 45 hours a week playing video games!

While many may be shocked by such statistics, it is important for educators to realize the appeal video games have to many children, accept that gaming has become a cultural phenomenon, and take advantage of the fascination that video games can bring to the classroom. Video games are no longer "for after school hours only." In fact, the use of video games in classrooms, as a learning or supplemental tool, has been a growing trend in recent years, specifically in the sciences. Video gaming in the science classroom has the potential to deeply engage students, said one study, and consequently, educators should carefully consider their use in the classroom (Annetta et al 2006).

Definition[edit | edit source]

Think of your favorite video game once more. Would it be useful for teaching academic content? Chances are that it is not "plug-and-play" ready for the classroom. The vast majority of video games are generally "fun" focused instead of learning centered, although this does not stop them from being educational in many aspects, as we will discuss. Because of the myriad of video games available, it is important to know the basic difference between what is deemed an "educational video game," and simply a "video game" before considering using either in a classroom environment.

A game, according to a study in 2005 (Juul), adheres to these criteria:

  1. A rule-based formal system
  2. Variable and quantifiable outcomes
  3. Different outcomes are assigned different values (valorization)
  4. The player exerts effort in order to influence the outcome
  5. The player feels emotionally attached to the outcome
  6. The consequences of the activity are optional and negotiable

A video game, then, is any electronically viewed and controlled object that adheres to these standards.

An educational video game, also known as a Serious game is defined as "...designed to teach people, typically children, about a certain subject or help them learn a skill as they play." (wordiQ.com) This means that an educational video game is designed with specific learning in mind, rather than simply within the "fun" framework.

It is the opinion of the authors of this chapter that a third category of video games exist, which we will call "Incidentally educational" video games. These are video games that, when used properly, can supplement, enhance, or facilitate student learning in content or skill areas, despite not having been designed and/or marketed with education in mind. These games may be as popular as World of Warcraft (abbreviated: WOW), or as unexpected as Halo, and may be used (with care) to teach content, teamwork and skills in a dynamic and engaging manner.

History[edit | edit source]

Video games designed for educational use began being created around the 1970's. The time period surrounding the 1970's and 1980's has been referred to as "The Golden Age of Arcade Games" and household names such as "Pong", "Space Invaders", "Pac Man", and "Frogger" were created during this time. With the growing success and sophistication of computers and free-standing consoles, video games increased in popularity. As the popularity of entertainment-based video games grew, educational video games soon started appearing in classrooms.

Perhaps one of the first educational video games, one designed with intentional educational outcomes in mind, was Oregon Trail. Developed by history teachers Don Rawitsch, Bill Heinemann, and Paul Dillenberger in 1971, Oregon Trail allowed students to lead a Oxen-pulled wagon from Missouri to Oregon in a "realistic" journey set in the 19th Century. In the game, students were faced with issues such as broken wagon axles, hunting for food, and having to safely cross rivers. Students came to dread the tag-lines "you have died of dysentery" or "Johnny has died from a snakebite," as they navigated their way along the Oregon Trail; all while intuitively learning about the perils and triumphs of Pioneer life. The Oregon Trail was widely used in classrooms until the 1990's and has now become more of a legacy than a widely-used educational video game. The video game had five editions and many alternative games were created based on the concept of Oregon Trail. The Yukon Trail and the Amazon Trail are two educational games similar to Oregon Trail's platform.

While it is hard to create a definitive time line for the "history of educational video games", it is important to note that video games designed for pedagogical reasons continued after Oregon Trail in most content areas, including science. Currently, the use of video games in education is a hot topic. With the continued advancement and sophistication of technology, educational video games have allowed students to participate in interactive and meaningful experiences while simultaneously being embedded in science content.

In 2001, The Federation of American Scientists(FAS) began a study to analyze the benefits of technology use in science education. From this research, the FAS initiated the Learning Science and Technology Research and Development Road Map Project. This project was a collaborative effort of some 100 academic, governmental, and corporate professionals who sought to enhance the use of technology to transform science education. The project was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), FAS, and others including Microsoft Corporation, Hewlett Foundation, and Carnegie Corporation. From this project, the Federation of American Scientists realized the teaching and learning potential of educational video games and embarked on a study to prove that these games could, and do, enhance student learning. In 2004, FAS began designing and developing educational science video games and presented their findings in 2005 to the Educational Games Summit (Stegman 2010). Immune Attack was one game created and has become widely used for immunology lessons in science courses. (see the Educational Video Games section to learn more about Immune Attack).

Currently, there is great focus on the use of video games in the science classroom because of their ability to foster inquiry- and problem-based learning. What has been called "the serious games movement" has influenced the acceptance of video games, by educators and policy makers alike, as legitimate pedagogical tools . According to an article titled Serious Games: Incorporating Video Games in the Classroom by Leonard Annetta and colleagues, the "serious games movement prompted partnerships among educators, the military, corporations, medical fields, and video game designers. This movement embraces the power of video games to attract, engage, connect, and teach game players critical content in the games’ respective focus area" (Annetta et al 2006). The article focused on the use of MEGAs (Multi-player Educational Gaming Applications) in education. MEGAs allow students to create visual representations of themselves, commonly referred to as avatars, that can interact with other avatars (other classmates) and participate in a virtual world experience.

The article noted that MEGAs appeal to students because:

    1) They connect students with other classmates
    2) They entertain through games, music, and videos
    3) They allow students to present themselves and their work in a virtual environment

In 2009, president Barack Obama introduced his "educate to innovate" campaign that focuses on enhancing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education. On November 23, 2009 Obama addressed the issue of STEM education, highlighting his goal to increase the rank of the United States in Science and Math education by 2020. In this address, Obama articulated the importance of science education by saying, "The key to meeting these challenges -- to improving our health and well-being, to harnessing clean energy, to protecting our security, and succeeding in the global economy -- will be reaffirming and strengthening America's role as the world's engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation. And that leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today, especially in those fields that hold the promise of producing future innovations and innovators. And that's why education in math and science is so important" (whitehouse.gov). In response to Obama's Educate to Innovate campaign, Kumar Garg, a policy analyst for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), attended the annual Game Developers Conference in March of 2010 to voice the potential impact video games could have on science education. Conference attendees--video game programmers, producers, and designers--learned about the positive impact educational video games can have on science classrooms. According to Video Games and the Second Life of Science Class, a journal article in Cell, at the conference, Garg challenged game developers to show that video games and simulations can train kids to think like scientists, mathematicians, and engineers (Maxmen 2010).

In 2010, the MacArthur Foundation established a "Game Changer" competition for individuals to create science-related video games. The winners of this competition will receive monetary rewards "as well as recognition from the game industry companies Sony and Electronic Arts" (Maxmen 2010).

Advantages and disadvantages[edit | edit source]


Some general advantages of video games in the classroom include:

- Entertainment immersed in education allows for more opportunities of enhanced motivation to occur. The term "edutainment" has been used numerous times in discussing educational video games. This term was discussed in Video Games and Education,a book by Harry J. Brown.
- Can encourage "learn by doing" philosophy. As students work their way through the problems faced in game play, they can intuitively learn scientific concepts and use real-life problem solving skills in the process.
- Allows for collaboration amongst peers in the classroom as well as other students around globe! In certain games, players are connected to others thousands of miles away. What a neat way to encourage working with others.
- Educational video games have been shown to increase visual attentiveness and can enhance computer skills (if played online)...a great way to incorporate technology in the classroom!
- Can be emotionally appealing
- Educational video games have built in motivational strategies to encourage students to reach their goals


One of the most apparent disadvantages of using video games in the classroom is the danger of using a game ineffectually. The efficacy of using a game in class is highly dependent on how it is used by the teacher. For this reason, it is essential for the teacher to closely observe the game, with a clear educational purpose in mind, and implement its use with careful planning and monitoring. Without clear purpose and implementation, a video game in class - even if engaging and interesting to the students - can be as useless as talking about one's summer vacation for the entire hour of a science class. Engagement is only half of the battle in the classroom.

Because of the need for careful observation and planning in using video games in the classroom, the cost-benefit analysis of using a video game can become unbalanced. There are many cases where another form of media can teach or supplement content or skills with far less hassle and attention, albeit perhaps not so engaging as a video game.

Computer games can also distract from learning as it is difficult to get students to focus on content learning when playing rather than on completion and success in the game. Additionally, if the teacher is not completely familiar with the game and its agenda and connotations, there can be severe backlash in the school and community. Further, although there has been an increase in games that include female heroines, multiple gender role options and less focus on the masculinity of victory, most video games are gender and role specific in favor of male and masculinity. This kind of bias creates an environment in which students, if they wish to "succeed," may need to behave within specific stereotypes - forming restrictive role playing and real world relation.

In using online cooperative games, such as World of Warcraft, or other games in which anonymous communication occurs, it is important for the teacher to prepare uniquely for the advent of online bullying and other inappropriate conversation. According to Game Theory, one of the most prevalent complaints about online gaming is that of "curse and prejudice filled banter." (Halpin) The seduction of perceived anonymity has created a world where gamers feel comfortable shouting or typing obscenities or slurs at opponents and teammates alike. Although this kind of behavior can be combated, prevented and dealt with in many ways, it is important to consider the time and efficacy costs of dealing with these and related issues during the use of online video games in the classroom.

Other general disadvantages of using video games in the classroom include:

- Negative stigma. A great deal of controversy surrounds the use of video games in the classroom as some individuals deem them as merely "time wasters".
- Main goals (learning objectives) through direct learning may be harder to achieve
- Could be difficult to implement into the curriculum. Certainly there is not, yet, a video game for every scientific concept, and using the ones that do exist would take some creativity and flexibility when creating lesson plans.
- Potentially time consuming in use. Students need time to play the game, evaluate its academic relativity, and process the important academic content learned during game play.

Future direction[edit | edit source]

Currently 3 billion hours per week are spent playing online video games. According to McGonigal this current investment is “Not nearly enough game play”. She calculates that the world is expected to have and need “21 billion hours of game play a week” in order to make great accomplishments.

According to McGonigal’s studies, there is a variety of powerful emotions evoked by playing videogames. Of these emotions include a sense of urgency for accomplishment, extreme concentration, intense focus, and high optimism. Additionally there is the emotion what McGonigal calls an “epic win”, which a feeling achieved from an outcome that is “extraordinarily positive”. An epic win occurs when a player achieves an outcome that they did not expect and pushes the imagination of what the player thought they were capable of.

In a typical working environment, people commonly experience feelings of anxiety and being overwhelmed. These feelings do not always exist while playing video games. How are these problems avoided? In video games such as World of Warcraft, tasks are designed nearly perfectly to challenge players such that the player always has the ability to achieve that goal; however, the player must also try hard, and often wait and work patiently for success. As a result of this hard work, players are trained to reattempt their failures, and to be comfortable performing sometimes tedious tasks in pursuit of a higher goal. Players also have a strong support system while they play. Gamers in World of Warcraft have hundreds of thousands of collaborators willing to help, work together, and provide constant feedback. Feedback is provided not only by other players but the game itself. This kind of communal environment also creates many situations where participants must garner conflict resolution skills in order to complete tasks involving teamwork. Many of these aspects lack in the real world and make virtual worlds seem better, and far safer in many cases, than reality.

The World of Warcraft Wiki is the 2nd largest wiki next to Wikipedia.

There is a huge magnitude of human evolution through video games. So far people in total have spent 5.39 million years playing World of Warcraft (which is coincidentally the same time since primates stood upright). Currently the average U.S. child spends 10,000 hours playing Online games by the age of 21. This compares to 10,080 school hours from 5th grade to high school graduation (assuming perfect attendance). According to Gladwell, after someone has put for the effort and invested 10,000 hours studying a subject, they will become virtuoso at that topic (See Gladwell’s book Outliers). What we have right now is about 500 million virtuoso gamers, and McGonigal predicts another billion in the next decade. But what are these gamers so good at? Here is what McGonigal says are their best qualities:

- Gamers are Super-empowered, hopeful individuals.

- Gamers have urgent optimism.

- Gamers have a tight social fabric; respect gained from playing with people.

- Gamers create blissful productivity.

- Gamers are susceptible to epic meaning; the attachment to awe inspiring mission.

Currently, McGonigal is working on the online Video game titled “Evoke”. Evoke, in addition to being a video game, is actually an online course. The course last 10 weeks and each week a global issue is presented to the players. The players must then design a solution to the global issue that includes blogs, photos, videos, etc. Players also go beyond imagining there solutions at the computer level and take personal goals to community development achievements. McGonigal’s group has plans to reward top players with traveling scholarships and mentoring opportunities. For more information, view her videos at her site: http://www.avantgame.com/

Other games created by McGonigal include an oil shortage simulation and end-of-the-world simulations.

Popular Games that follow learning aspects are: World of Warcraft, Halo, Fallout 3,

~"I am making the future"~

Links[edit | edit source]

Are you interested in using video games in your own classroom or life? Check out these links for ideas and resources:

Educational Games based on Nobel Prize-awarded work

Epistemic Games

Games for Change

Below you will find a list of several widely used science video games. The first two are free to download, click on their links and try them out! But beware, they can be addicting and you might learn a little science along the way...

Immune Attack

Released in May of 2008, Immune Attack immerses students in a 3D environment inside the human body. The purpose of the game is to have students save an ill patient by repairing non-functional immune cells in the body's blood vessels and connective tissue. During game play, students "intuitively learn about the various biological/immunological processes that enable macrophages and neutrophils (white blood cells) to detect and fight infections" (Stegman 2010).


In Pandemic, (now in versions 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0) players create their own viruses or bacteria in attempt to wipe out the human population. In doing so, students can learn about how viruses and bacteria are transmitted, how virulence factors enhance the lethality of disease, and how global travel can increase the speed at which humans become infected.

Second Life Exploratorium

Exploratorium is a MEGA that allows student to create their own avatar and visit a museum "in which people can fly through the solar system, scan their own bodies, and change gravity so they can bounce off walls" (Rothfarb 2007) Additionally, museum visitors can watch a solar eclipse while sitting next to someone on the other side of the earth.

References[edit | edit source]

Annetta, L., Murray, M., Laird, S., Bohr, S., & Park, J. (2006). Serious Games: Incorporating video games in the classroom.. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 29(3), 16-22. Retrieved from Education Research Complete database.

Brown, H. J. (2008). Videogames and education. History, humanities, and new technology. Armonk, N.Y: M.E. Sharpe.

Halpin, H (2010). Online Anonymity and You. Game Theory With Scott Steinberg. http://gametheoryonline.com/2010/10/11/online-anonymity-internet-privacy-safety/

Juul, J. (2005). Half-Real: Video games between real rules and fictional worlds. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Maxmen A. (2010). Video games and the second life of science class. Cell, 141(2), 201-203.

NPD Group. (2010). Research shows average number of hours per week spent on online gaming has grown by 10% since 2009. retrieved from http://www.npd.com/press/releases/press_100302.html.

Rothfarb, R. J. & Doherty, P. (2007) Creating Museum Content and Community in Second Life. retrieved from http://www.archimuse.com/mw2007/papers/rothfarb/rothfarb.html.

Stegman. (2010) Immune Attack Blog. retrieved from http://www.fas.org/immuneattack/blog

TED Conferences, LLC. (2010, March). Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world. In TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. Retrieved November 29, 2010, from http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world.html