Published on May 9th, 2013 | by Ben Parker


Using Computer Games to Teach – Can It Be a Good Thing?

There have been some recent efforts to use computer games in teaching, which have included using SimCity with SimCity EDU packs to encourage students in United States schools to learn about city planning and the environment, as well as more general problem solving issues. A similar approach has also been taken with the use of Minecraft in a Swedish school. However, computer games are actually a good teaching resource?

The SimCity idea came as part of games developer Electronic Arts’ contribution to President Obama’s ‘Winning the Future’ initiative, which aims to encourage the use of new media and technologies in schools. EA has worked with the Seattle nonprofit GlassLabs to develop SimCity as a special edition that teaches children about how to solve city planning and environmental problems.

In the case of Minecraft, the Viktor Rydberg school is using the game as a way to think about planning structures and engineering problems, with Minecraft as an accessible way for students to take on complicated challenges. In discussing the more general impact of using computer games in the classroom, Max Lieberman has weighed up their relative merits and potential complications.

Lieberman suggests that games can help history teachers to convey detail about historical periods through games like Civilization III, while also encouraging their literacy skills by being able to respond to and think themselves out of narrative problems in other games. Other games, such as Portal, also promote critical thinking and spatial awareness through physical problems.

A case is also made by Lieberman that students playing global multiplayer games such as World of Warcraft are able to build their imaginations and sense of teamwork, while also using games as a springboard to reading novels and writing their own fiction. However, Lieberman does sound some caution over whether teachers have equal footing when it comes to accessing the right games for students.

On another level, initiatives like the Raspberry Pi, a microcomputer used by students in classrooms to develop their programming skills, has received praise for getting children involved in Computer Science at an early age; the launch of the Raspberry Pi in the UK in 2012 came alongside Government plans to overhaul existing ICT programs and replace them with more rigorous Computer Science lessons to give students more skills for future employment.

However, there are some dangers associated with computer games as teaching methods. There is some risk of games being supplied to schools as a form of marketing for games companies, who are then able to build loyalty to their brands, while offering schools difficult to refuse financial incentives.

This isn’t always the case, though, as Valve, one of the industry’s leading producers, have designed educational projects like Games for Change to highlight the practical benefits of their games. The producers of the Portal and Half Life include Leslie Rudd, Valve’s director of education, who argues that ‘what’s really important is for kids to have genuine experiences where they feel that they can accomplish something’ when playing games. In this context, computer games can be viewed as a potentially rich tool for getting students to exercise skills that are sometimes difficult to tap into elsewhere.

About the Author:

Kevin Maddox is a long-time blogger / writer and all-round creative advocate – who, in a previous life did his fair share of tech and gaming blogging. He has looked at not  only using computers within A-level studies, but above and beyond that.

About the Author

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