As a child from the 80s, I remember the dry, chalk flavor in the air and billowing white clouds at the front of the room as students cleaned the chalkboard erasers, pounding them together. It was one of the few classroom chores that was given as a reward; somehow we all loved that job. My elementary days were filled with chalkboards, worksheets, pencils, and hand-crank pencil sharpeners, always with a trash can carefully placed below for the inevitable times when the pencil shaving receptacle overflowed or fell off.
Today, several decades and numerous leaps ahead in technology, and now worksheets are often replaced with Google forms. Reading and math interventions have been replaced (or created) using adaptive technology. Tedious hours spent researching in libraries with encyclopedias and card catalogs have been replaced with Google and other online libraries and search engines. In short, education doesn’t look, feel, or even smell the same anymore. So, where is education going to go next?
Growing alongside the technology in schools has been a simultaneous rise and growth in gaming. In just 50 years, video games have moved from infancy to a $196.9 billion industry world-wide in 2022. With gaming now on mobile devices, consoles, and PCs, games have never been more accessible than now. I have watched these changes within my own family. In 2007, when our oldest daughter was just a year and a half-old, we owned a desktop PC and an original iPhone. Now, just 15 years (and three more children) later, our family owns four smartphones with active service, several old smartphones the younger children use for games, two iPads, one desktop PC, three laptops, one Chromebook, one XBox 360, one XBox One, and an Oculus 2 VR headset. I admit that I am the odd-one out in my family, and I prefer books to games, but the rest of my family has a love for video games, often playing together, either in one group game on the XBox or joining together via multiple devices.
As education moves forward, it is a logical step to integrate gaming into the classroom. In this post, I’ll focus on three specific possible reasons games have a place in the classroom.
First, gaming is highly motivating, both in and of itself and in the rewards that are inherent in games. One game that was wildly popular in a couple of schools I worked in was NitroType. It’s simple; it’s free; and it seemed that nearly every student in middle school had it bookmarked for easy access. In fact, the only bad thing about it was that I would often find students playing this game instead of doing the assigned work for class. This falls in line with research findings that highlight the highly motivational aspect of gaming.
Second, gaming can provide a low-stakes environment of practice. Unlike traditional worksheets, bleeding the hallmark red ink of error and hitting the fragile psyche of students with criticism and failure, games provide learning in as more entertaining setting while also allowing for a much higher volume of practice, complete with immediate feedback and even customized practice. Adaptive reading and math learning programs are now common in schools, allowing students to receive customized learning plans and increased practice in individual-specific areas of need.
Last, gaming makes learning more accessible. As we understand more about learning styles and that each child learns differently, gaming allows different students to customize their learning experience.