Gaming has been gradually recognized as the most exciting ways of education for the future generations. It involves a new set of learning principles which can empower the ‘digital natives’ or ‘gamers’ with new literacies, experiences, and attitudes. The rapid development of digital games industry, their immense effect on the new generations are advantageous for educational purposes. This has led to an increase in the interest shown by the educational community mainly in the last decade to use games in the field of education. Evidence proves all the public concerns about social isolation and violence towards gamers wrong. (Day, 2005)
Games are always placed on the complete opposite end of the educational spectrum. Many of the motivational strategies of games have been borrowed by the educational system mainly aimed at younger students disguised as ‘play and learn’ programs such as ‘Math blaster’ and ‘Reader Rabbit’ (Squire, 2003). With the advances in technology and broadband internet access, games are getting more sophisticated and interconnected between players. In the middle and secondary schools, the games with a particular goal and defined purpose are being examined for what they teach the students. (Gee, 2005)
It has been pointed out by Rieber (1996), any activity or playing during the age of early childhood has a major impact on the social, intellectual and psychological development of a child. These are self-motivating attributes and theories of the modern educational systems.
Students are engaged with these new technologies at a deeply meaningful level by exploring the tools and techniques that engineers, technology workers, and scientists use every day across a diversity of fields. If we consider playing a game is the ability to read, designing a game can be considered as the ability to write. We can speak a language without the ability to write, but it can be better written when the language is mastered. In this paper, I am trying to explore the better language to use the concept of a game as an educational tool in the future for students.
1. New ways of thinking
“Students should be acquiring habits of mind that will not only enable them to address today’s problems and solutions but also allow them to venture into previously unimagined territories.” (Klopfer 2005)
Although computer and PC games are most often thought as pure entertainment, it is also very important to understand that they are a powerful tool for learning as well. This will not only help us design better games but also allows us to use computer games as a medium that can express many different messages to create effective learning opportunities and tools for those kids who are raised along a heavy computer and video game diet form their early age (Prensky, 2009). Technology has led us to these new challenges to provide meaningful and engaging learning environments and opportunities for education. The traditional curricula and activities are poorly adapted in helping students to gain proficiency.
Growing up playing video games is considered as a generational gap, watershed experience, distinguishing between those born before 1970 (when the age video games began) to those born after. Mark Prensky (2001) conveys the difference more explicitly in ‘Digital immigrants’ vs ‘Digital Natives’. He expresses that the educational system today is no more valid and does not teach the current generation of students. They grew up with this new technology around them, spending most of their lives surrounded by computers, video games, smartphones, and other tools of the digital age. Today, an average college grad has spent less than 5000 hours of their life reading but more than 10,000 hours playing video games and 20,000 hours watching TV. Computers, internet, smartphones are integral parts of their lives. (Prensky, 2001)
The way the student thinks and processes the information independent from another person is the result of the interaction in this ubiquitous environment. This disparity goes way further and deeper than any of us can suspect or investigate (Prensky 2001). “Different kind of experiences lead to different brain structures”, says Dr. Bruce D. Perry. Prensky defines the “new” students of today as the ‘Digital natives’, who have grown up with the technology and digital tools and are the native speakers of the digital language. Which makes the rest of them, ‘Digital immigrants’, who are not born directly in this digital world, but at some later point in time have been adapted to it.
This distinction has its own importance as the digital immigrants try to adapt to this digital environment around them. Some are better than others, constantly trying to be a part of the new world. The old folks had their own way of socializing compared to their kids and further generations. They have started using this whole new language to conversate with their kids living in different parts of the world through technology. There are plenty more examples which explain the struggle of an immigrant. This is a very serious situation, where our education today is facing a problem with digital immigrant instructors who speak a completely different language of the pre-digital age. (Prensky, 2001)
As Prensky says, the digital natives are really fast at receiving information by multi-tasking and parallel processing. They prefer graphical data before text rather than the other way. They thrive on instant results and frequent rewards. They love to collaborate and network. They prefer games instead of ‘serious work’. But the digital immigrants do not appreciate these skills that the natives have acquired through years of practice and interaction. These skills are completely foreign to the immigrants, as they cannot appreciate the new skill-set. They believe that the students don’t learn anything while watching a TV, listening to music or playing a game, as they think learning cannot or should not be fun.
This happens as the teacher (digital immigrant) thinks that the students (digital native) are same as they have been. But the same methods do not work for them. Where should this take us? Should the Digital natives start earning the old way or should the Digital immigrant find new ways of teaching? The Author, Prensky declares that it is highly impossible that the digital natives will go back no matter how badly the immigrants wish to. In his opinion, the not-so-smart immigrants spend most of their time complaining about how things were good in the ‘old times’.
2. Playing a game, a waste of time?
“When people learn to play video games, they are learning a new literacy,” (Gee 2003). As it sounds unusual in the above statement, the word ‘literacy’ is commonly used as the potential to read and write. In this new digital world, language is not only the important ways of communication, we have images, symbols, graphs, artifacts, diagrams, and other forms of visual information. Gee defines these set of practices as Semiotic domains, as they recruit one or more of the modalities like oral, written, images, equations, symbols, sounds, gestures, graphs, etc. In this context, the idea of “visual literacy’ seems to be an important one. There are many ways of reading and writing. For instance, the way we read or write a poem, essays, letters, rap songs and many others in an endless list is not the same. Each of these domains is culturally and historically different in their own rules and requirements for reading and writing.
In the recent past, my younger cousin was looking to design a game for her English class, where grammar should be used by students as part of the game. This was an initiative taken by the teacher to make the students design and come up with a game which can teach grammar to the rest of the class while playing it. This is a fun-filled activity proposed to the class, but what we need to realize is that the class is learning while playing. In a different perspective, there is no learning in general. We always learn something one way or the other.
3. Teaching the Future
In these days teachers must learn and understand the new digital language of the students. This does not mean that the syllabi or the actual information should be changed but the process has to be modified to be much faster. Less step-by-step and more of multi-tasking in parallel with other things. This is still not clear to the teachers but yet to be figured out.
Secondly, what the content contains? Prensky defines, two types of content after the digital singularity, the “Legacy” content and the “future” content. Legacy content is our traditional curriculum which includes basic reading, writing, understanding. This is important, but it is outdated and part of the history. Some of these will always be important like the logical thinking and some of it will become less important. (Prensky, 2001)
“The future contains a large content apart from digital and technology, like the software, hardware, robotics, nanotechnology, genomics but also the ethics, politics, sociology, languages, and some other similar things” (Prensky 2001). The future content is very interesting to the present students but who is prepared to teach them?
The teachers and educators of the modern digital natives might have to re-think on how to approach and teach both the ‘future’ and the important ‘Legacy’ content in the new language. The first involves a major translation and a change in methodology while the second involves all the additional thinking and content. It is very hard to understand which is harder, ‘learning new stuff’ or ‘learning new ways to do old stuff.’ This calls to reinvent the ways but not necessarily from the scratch. Prensky prefers inventing games might help to teach the digital natives even for the most serious content.
4. Why games for learning?
“Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning things.” – Diane Ackerman
Prensky defines two reasons to why we want to or need to consciously design and use computer games for learning “real world” content.
(i) Learners or Digital natives changed radically.
(ii) These new learners seek motivation in new ways.
The new era is growing up with digital technology, of which computers are a major part of their lives. This has dramatically changed the way people raised in this generation think and process information. These changes have been so enormous that the younger generation has their own intellectual style and preferences very different from their parents and ancestors.
Gee (2003) insists that potential learning concepts should be embodied in those complex recreational games which are used by students for learning without frustration. According to his research and analysis of the design and tasks of contemporary computer games of different genres, he observed that they include congruent learning principles in all those successful games. This was recognized as the key factor for a game based learning system.
Students may be able to understand a new concept or an idea while playing a game, take it from a different perspective, or experiment with variable options. Many other attributes of advanced educational gaming are marked as critical in encouraging students to actively engage, and immerse in a high-level gameplay. This includes a highly realistic experience and immersive platform through a high-resolution medium and multimedia which also includes fantasy and role-playing elements.
Steve Johnson claims that it’s ‘not what you’re thinking about when you’re playing a game, it’s the way you’re thinking that matters.’ (Johnson, 2005)
5. The Game and the spectator
As a part of one of my courses in Carnegie Mellon University – Inquiry into Computation, Architecture, and design, we had to design a game and make the other students play. We as spectators, observe the players and make a note of their experience and our observation. We designed a silent game in which a Team of 2 players interacts amongst themselves with body language in a limited time to construct a design form on a Lego platform of limited size. A little more time is provided to finish their Half-part of the game by documenting the design on a piece of paper in the form of code information and no language used. This was the tricky part.
Now the second part of the game starts in a different location with a different couple of players in team B who doesn’t know who are the players in team A and what they have constructed except the piece of information is transferred to team B. Now within a limited period, the Team B reconstructs the design form from the information provided. In the end, Team B was presented with the physical design form of Team A for their surprise. In most of the cases, the structure and language of the form were a little identical but never needed to be.
Now, you might be having a couple of questions. Who is the winner? To point out, there has always been a spectator, me, who knows both sides of the game. This game has an ending in a time provided but never had a winning position, but there was always a challenge either given or taken by either side of the teams.
Let us consider, the players as students and the spectator as the teacher. In fact, let us for a moment imagine that there was no game, but a teacher trying a design time-problem exercise with the students. The students were excited to play, completely involved in the game the whole time provided without any distractions. The spectators observed the collaboration amongst the players in Team A to design and document, and in Team B, the skills to use their body language to convey the design ideas and reconstruct from a design information challenge. The whole Game turned in to a teacher’s class.
6. What does the future contain?
The current cultures of schools may soon face a challenge with the continuous increase in the new technologies for gaming. The new shift from an industrial to a knowledge-based workplace is demanding the students to acquire a completely new set of skills to collaborate and adapt to changing conditions while managing complexity through constantly creating and sharing knowledge (Dede, 2000; Peters, 1997).
Squire (2005) once said, “In order to realize the potential of such gaming technologies in education, it will indeed be necessary for us to ‘change the game’ in more fundamental ways with respect to our current institutions of learning”.
7. To sum up
Everyone plays games, some less and some more, and maybe some don’t. But games have always been considered as a fun activity and it physically and sometimes mentally energizes and activates our body. There has been a whole shift of gaming in the last generation. The outdoor and indoor games are now converting into virtual gaming. This is also due to a new technological shift. Research proves that learning can be fun in the form of games, or to put it in another way gamification of education. Gamification can be defined as using elements from a game design and applying them in a non-game context.
There are certain design elements in games which can be used as the inspiration for creating an E-learning platform for the digital natives thriving to make learning a fun process. These game techniques can be implemented in the learning process through activities whose purpose is to achieve certain objectives by increasing learner’s motivation to engage and compete with other students in a friendly environment. This might be an effective approach to create a positive change in the attitude and behavior of students towards learning.
It may not be easy to completely implement gamification in the educational system but a mindful approach can increase the chances to look forward to creating a gamification strategy for education. This will take time to fine tune and will definitely not replace the original teacher-student relationship or take away the place of a teacher. This will instead value human-teaching and act as a better teaching tool.