Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Games and education, whats the difference?

The more I think about "Education" and "Games", the more ambiguous I find the distinction. Typically both are abstract systems with an imposed set of rules based loosely on some subset of reality. The number of players can vary from 1 to indeterminate, and we often have an abstract value system, which is used to rate players/students on their performance.
I’m just finding it hard to come up with a unique distinguishing feature for which I cannot find a counter example.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Game based learning: Risks and benefits.

Game based learning
Risks and benefits.

In today’s Sunday times magazine there was quite a scary article on games addiction. It described, among other cases, gamers who ended up starving their child to death while looking after their virtual baby in an internet cafe, Gamers who stayed at their screens for days at a time with disgusting consequences, Gamers whose educational careers were destroyed by their adiction etc. It also described some of the rehab facilities which are starting to apear for these adicts, and identified gaming adiction as being a growing social problem. This provoked the following thoughts about using games as an educational tool.

The argument in favour of using games seems to be that games increase student engagement and mean that we are teaching within the space that students inhabit.

Considering Games as being akin to drug use, its worth quoting a former Harvard professor:
Leary argued that psychedelics, used with the right dosage, set and setting could, with the guidance of psychology professionals, alter behavior in unprecedented and beneficial ways. The goals of Leary's research included discovering better methods for treating alcoholism and to reform convicted criminals. Many of Leary's research participants reported profound mystical and spiritual experiences, which they claim permanently altered their lives in a very positive manner.

If I substitute “Games” for “psychodelics” I find many of these claims are now being made by the US Army, which is a major player in the adoption of games for achieving mission goals across the board from recruitment through training to rehab.
Games can be very useful. There is a role for limited scope simulations, i.e. what to do when you engine fails.
However, arguably, 9-11 would have been a less effective gesture without Microsoft flight simulator.
In more complex scenario’s there are two major problems,
1) how do we ensure that the learner has encountered all the learning scenario’s in the system, without breaking out of the immersive nature of the gaming encounter, which is its most cogent role, and
2) Authority. If, for instance in the flood control game I choose the alternative of planting trees and digging ditches as a flood control measure, and the game play says it worked, what level of credulity should I use in absorbing that learning?
Just some initial thoughts