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C21U Innovations-Games in Education Unconference Summary

The Center for 21st Century Universities (C21U) acts as a laboratory for innovative ideas in Higher Education. To accomplish this goal, it is important to gather the most innovative minds and the most interested parties together to tackle the complex problems facing higher education. C21U hosts several Catalyst Unconference workshops each semester, and the topic of C21U’s second Catalyst Unconference focused on Games in Education.

Accordingly, participants gathered and discussed what they viewed as the most pressing, interesting or innovative topics regarding games in education. Presented here are the major conclusions reached during that workshop. The first solution discussed involved the ability of games to engage students in a way classroom lectures are doing increasingly ineffectively. The second topic discussed involved the ability of games to allow their players to fail constructively as well as the benefits and application of this concept.  

 Regarding engagement, it is not uncommon for students to spend tens or hundreds of hours playing a game in which they solve complex problems, assemble teams to overcoming obstacles, and negotiate unfamiliar territory. In spending all of this time engaged in games, these students are learning in ways that current pedagogical delivery methods do not leverage. Learners who participate in certain kinds of online gameplay are more likely to build teams of people based on their specializations and aptitudes to tackle specific problem. One proposal for effectively implementing games in education is to weave a single or multiple pedagogical objectives into the game design.  These educational games could allow students to engage in multidisciplinary, collaborative methods of learning and problem solving that leverage game-like methods of engagement that students are currently participating in on their own.

Secondly, games can improve the educational experience if an educator were to take the most effective components of games out of the virtual context and into the classroom experience.  One example of a game component that could translate well into a classroom setting is the ability of players to fail constructively within the confines of a game. This failure allows learners to explore alternative strategies until they accomplish a goal, thus perfecting a skill before moving on to the next task. This is not an approach that is widely used in contemporary classrooms, although it would be reasonably easy to implement.

This “ability to fail” could translate to a classroom setting in multiple ways.  Within the context of an individual class,  the current system provides students with information, tests them on that information, and then moves on to the next concept. Unless a learner makes a perfect score on all their assessments, this method of instruction leads to gaps in a student’s understanding that prohibits long-term retention. However, if students were forced to achieve mastery within a specific topic-not allowed to move on to the next concept until the current one was fully understood and perfected, the overall educational experience would improve.  

On this institutional level, universities can leverage this “ability to fail” with the way class registration is structured. Currently, the way that universities such as Georgia Tech design their class registration system, students are given a mere five days to choose which courses will suit them for the semester. After the initial week, all classes will appear on their transcripts. If the drop date were to be pushed back (many Ivy League schools allow students to drop up until the week of finals, pupils would be free to take challenging classes or courses outside their major without worrying that it would negatively impacting their GPA. This encourages students to experiment with their class selection, and even if they cannot complete the course, they still leave the class with more knowledge than they did when they entered.

The greatest criticism that participants raised regarding the topic of games in education was that although games have the potential to address some problems of student engagement, they fail to address larger issues in higher education such as the financial crisis. While other issues in higher education do exist, Georgia Tech and the rest of the educational community must make these smaller changes to provide resources and framework for more substantial change. Implementing game elements in education or developing games as a pedagogical tool has the potential to free up class time to experiment with alternate forms of classroom style and delivery.

Interestingly, one of the conclusions drawn by the Unconference participants was that “gamification” techniques discussed last week such as badging and leader boards would not be an effective vehicle for long-term change in education, but that leveraging the deeper, more psychologically engaging components could provide a valuable addition to the educational experience. . Additionally, the observation was made that many students are being educated for jobs don’t yet exist; therefore, educators are responsible for providing students with the necessary skills to adapt to the changing workforce. Effective implementations of games in education could improve both delivery and efficacy of classroom learning. 

If you are interested in participating in this discussion, or taking one of the concepts discussed in the C21U Unconference visit www.c21u.gatech.edu or participate in the Games in Education Unconference wiki.   

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