This blog post I will feature three games which prove that games in education works. I’m heavy on the philosophy and the idealistic future scenario’s at times, so let me cover three case studies from actual classes to compensate.
Minecraft: Education Edition
This is the big one. Minecraft is leading the charge when it comes to games becoming part of lessons like books and tests.
If you’re unfamiliar, Minecraft is a game that lets you build worlds out of blocks. It sounds simple, and it is. But with simple blocks, the only limit to what you can build is, like the developer claims, your imagination (and of course your computer’s processing power). Take a look at their website to see the potential and actual projects.
Minecraft: Education Edition is an open-world game that promotes creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving in an immersive environment where the only limit is your imagination
Let’s take one of the example lessons on the website: Geometry World. This is a lesson created by a user (teacher), and uploaded to the website.
The description of the lesson reads: “Have your students discover the relationships between area & perimeter as they related to quadrilaterals and other shapes”, and it includes learning objectives, guiding ideas, student activities and performance expectations. Similar lessons exist by the hundreds on the Minecraft: Education Edition website. You can literally download the game right away and have five lessons prepared for tomorrow, today.
Some other interesting lessons for Minecraft:
Minecraft Boolean Logic
In this lesson, students learn about Boolean logic by creating logic gates in Minecraft with redstone.
You and your group have been charged with a task, as challenging as it may be. You have been asked to design and build a perfectly functioning city. Identify the key types of Land Uses and show intelligent city planning.
Students will design and create Minecraft worlds illustrating the before and after effects of deforestation from 1990 or prior and 2016 in an area. Students will make predictions for the next 5-10 years in that same area based on the rapid rate of deforestation since 1990. Students will research and present their call to action for slowing the process of deforestation in their community.
Gone Home is an exploration game, where you learn the secrets of a family through objects, documents and voice recordings you find in an empty house. It’s a good example of a game that utilizes narrative techniques from literature to captivate players.
As such, it was picked up by English teacher Paul Darvasi and played in class. He writes on the Lucid Learning blog about how “students honed a broad spectrum of skills, reinforced knowledge on character and narrative and, dare I say, even seemed to enjoy themselves along the way.” I can’t start to do his work justice in any other way than refer you to this blog series in which he switches between describing and evaluating the lessons and reflecting on the nature of education (and the possible role of video games in it).
This example does not just stand on it’s own. It is a demonstration that many techniques used in English (or equivalent native language) classes can be applied to some video games. Well, not some, all video games which offer this kind of narrative depth. And there are a lot of those. This year, Firewatch attracted a lot of attention, but SOMA, That Dragon, Cancer, Papers, Please, This War of Mine and Valiant Hearts: The Great War are also games that have been praised for their strong narratives and originality over the last few years.
Plague, Inc. is a game that lets you create and evolve a virus in an attempt to wipe out humanity. While you may not educate your students with the same goal, the game does a great job in teaching you about virus types, the way diseases spread, resistances and all the biological processes involved.
On the website of developer Ndemic, Audra Swarthout, an associate professor of biology, writes in a guest blog how “playing the game stimulates a greater level of interest in certain topics than the students otherwise normally have.” She plays the game with classes for a general microbiology course, and writes about how students even forget that what they are learning is an important part of the curriculum. Students continue to play outside of the educational context, and really critically examine in-game mechanics in comparison to real world ones.
So you have a game you would like to use in class, but there’s not a lot of documentation on it? Then you should read this article by Matthew Farber on three ways games can be used in education. If you should take one advice from it, let it be: “As with all commercial media, research first to find out appropriateness for your learners.” Learning objectives come first, then games (or books, or film, or you name it).
Do you know of any more actual case studies of games in education? Let me know in the comments.