Are Video Games the Learning Tools They’re Cracked Up To Be?

I was just included in an interesting “Up For Discussion” feature on Zócalo Public Square about whether video games in education are all they’re cracked up to be.

http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2012/12/03/class-i-commend-you-for-your-work-on-resident-evil/ideas/up-for-discussion/

Check out the whole array of viewpoints. Here was mine:

I believe that while many people overrate the benefits of video games in education, just as many underrate them. Video games are tools like any other. Their pros and cons depend on how, why, when, and for whom the video games are used. The use of video games in education should be tailored, not off-the-rack. However, until we have more direct scientific evidence on this topic, we can only do thought experiments. For my thought experiment, I focus on how video games might influence the broader contexts of learning: relationships and motivation.

Relationships. Do video games influence the teacher-student relationship? A recent study hints at the possibility. This study compared mothers playing with their toddlers with traditional toys versus electronic versions of the same toy. Mothers playing with the electronic toys were less responsive, less likely to be educational, and less encouraging. Might the same apply to teachers and students? Could video games, because they “do the teaching” have a negative impact on a teacher’s ability and motivation to engage with students? Could video games disempower teachers?

Motivation. We use incentives all the time to motivate learning (e.g., grades), but video games may be unique in the degree to which incentives, whether points or rewards, are integral to the learning process. If the motivation for learning becomes too closely tied to these external incentives, the pleasure of learning for learning’s sake may be squelched and children may miss opportunities to appreciate that setbacks—not getting a reward—are opportunities to improve. We must think through the subtle ways in which video games can shape children’s motivation for learning and design video games to encourage the learning style we believe will be most productive.

Whether one believes that video games will lead to shorter attention spans and boredom in the classroom or that they are powerful tools for igniting a child’s passion for learning, video games will soon become a central part of the educational landscape. So, let’s figure out how to do it right.

 

In Love with the Written Word: Reading in the Digital Age

I was interested to see this commentary by five college students about reading in the digital age, posted on Zócalo Public Square. One of the things that struck me the most was my own anticipation that I would be out of touch with how college students are engaging with the written word today; and I’m a college professor who should be in touch! But actually, I found that the diversity of their approaches mirrors the same diversity I see among my peers.

digital readingSeveral seemed to express a need for speed and fast consumption of many (relatively superficial) sources of information in the attempt to swim rather than sink in the ocean of information that needs sorting through every day. Others seemed to feel burdened by this glut of information and feel nostalgic for the simple and physically-satisfying pleasure of holding and reading a book – a virtual luxury in our fast-paced lives because it’s hard to multitask with a book.  Among all the writers, however, I sensed information fatigue combined with enthusiasm for the written word.

My take-home message is that, whatever the future holds, the digital age has put writing, reading, and text at the center of our lives. I think we are becoming more rather than less in love with reading. The question is, what will we be reading and will it be grammatically correct ;-)?

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