Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Changing the Game: What Happens When Video Games Enter the Classroom? Squire, K

The author explores the issues that arise when we bring computer games into the classroom, arguing that we need to fundamentally rethink the ethos of our educational institutes if the use of educational games is to truly flourish.
This paper has come out of a comparitive study where the game Civilization III was used in schools as a basis for exploring world history. Squire notes that "bringing a commercial-quality educational game into the classroom may create as many motivational problems as it solves." In his study he found that the educational value of the game was not at all obvious to many students and 25% withdrew from the study because they found the game "too hard, complicated, and uninteresting", though an equal percentage were very enthusiastic about the game and thought it an excellent way to learn. Squire warns against simplisitc views of players and games:

"Games are very particular kinds of experiences. Playing games does not appeal to everyone (even among those under 30), and certainly no one game (or more appropriately game experience) appeals to everyone."

He considers the unique role that failure has in gaming as a "critical precondition for learning". Failure spurred some students to further learning, though for others it was problematic:

"For other students, failure caused frustration. Whereas the stronger, more confident students saw failure as a learning opportunity, other students did not."

The study also highlighted issues with complexity and difficulty - although these qualities can make a game engaging, for many students the difficulty and complexity of Civilization III were overwhelming. Squire suggests that it is playing the game in a classroom environment that is problematic, though I think his argument for this conclusion is weak - I think he needs more than the facts that "Civilization III is marketed toward a broad audience and... has sold millions of copies" and "all the children in the study played games out of school" to back this claim.

Another factor which caused resistance in some students was the fact that the game playing in the school context was compulsory - diluting the game's engagement and attractiveness to the players.

Squire points out that games present players with complex holistic problems, unlike contemporary educational practice which breaks problems down into easy-to-learn chunks. In his conclusion he suggests that the gaming environment is more aligned to our current economic needs than the traditional educational models:

"Ironically, the skills required by the game curriculum—problem identification, hypothesis testing, interpretative analysis, and strategic thinking—more closely align with the new economy than does the "factory" model of curriculum that privileges following directions, mastering pre-defined objectives, performance on highly structured tasks, and intellectual obedience."

However it is into the context of this "factory" model that educatators are introducing computer games. This paper highlights the fact that this mismatch brings with it a raft of complex issues that resist easy solution.

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