Educational Video Games
By Joshua Crisp
"Alright, my wonderful students, let's hop on the computers and play a game and learn and love learning!" said the first teacher who attempted to use educational video games in the classroom.
"Stop drawing phallic symbols on the computers when you use them!" said the next teacher, and every subsequent teacher, who attempt to use educational video games with their students. Fortunately, back then, the only teachers who needed to say this were the tech-savy ones; traditional teachers just had to worry about traditional methods in students' bad behavior.
Today, computers are an ubiquitous presence. Every classroom has at least 4 or 5 of them, most have more (and if cell phones are allowed the school, many, MANY more). So it is imperative of every teacher to find a way to use these tools in the way parents and administrators meant for them to be used, and somehow match the teacher's dream to reality.
How To Cross That Bridge: Understanding What Makes An Educational Video Game
(vs. A Regular Game)(vs. A Digital Worksheet)
The first step is to define what an educational video game actually is. Obviously, it is a digital artifact; it uses input devices and output devices to allow users to interact with it. However, word processing programs like Microsoft Word use these devices, and a looking at a document in Word is most certainly not a video game experience.
A short and sweet definition of a video game is offered by Phil Owen, a professional video game analyst for The Wrap. According to Phil, "A video game is interactive digital entertainment that you 'play' via a computer, a game console (like the Xbox or PlayStation) or a phone or tablet."(2016) One might argue that a person could use a word processing program to play Tic-Tac-Toe or Hangman, and that's true. In fact, that's the perfect way to illustrate just how much grey area there is when it comes to video games and educational video games.
The Educational Video Game Spectrum
So the spectrum might be anchored on the following two criteria: software created solely for productive purposes (database software or spreadsheets) on one end, and software created solely for peoples' entertainment (party games and multiplayer shooters). But if productive, "boring" programs can be a medium for paper-and-pencil games, then it should be said that purely entertaining games like "Mario Party" prompt users to track values in real time, strategize on-the-fly, and learn and internalize new systems in order to succeed.
So, the anchors on the Educational Video Game Spectrum aren't strictly black-and-white. Not only that, but the concept of "Gamification" can be applied to the use of any program to enhance a user's experience. But, for the purpose of this presentation, educational video games will be placed into three broad categories:
1.) Interactive Worksheets and Digital Labs
(You can click on any picture and it will link you to the game's website)
The example above is an infographic for 'First In Math.' According to a number of experienced users of this program (a.k.a. my eight-year-old son and his classmates), First In Math is "kinda boring" but also "sorta fun." It takes the rote task of learning math facts, adds a large helping of gamified elements such as badges, progress bars, and competitive play, and digitizes it for easier access.
2.) Simulations and Open-Choice Games
This example is from the free, on-line Flight Simulator website, 'Geo-FS.' Flight simulator software has been around for a long time, and it's longevity has to do with it's entertainment value as well as it's educational value. Open-Choice games, such as "Carmen Sandiego" (now available on Netflixs) or "Fantastic Contraption," attempt to guide users in a particular direction, but ultimately let players succeed or fail based on their own decisions. This possibility of failure can be enticing for many users, who will keep trying to succeed in order to make progress in the game.
3.) Traditional Video Game made 'Educational'
There have been many attempts to take games that were originally created for entertainment and modify them to serve educational purposes. Some, like Minecraft, Education Edition, or "The Typing of the Dead," have meet with great success. Many have been forgettable failures.
History of Educational Video Games
In order to know what something is today, you have to know what it was from the start
Educational video games have been around since the 80's. Some early examples can be found below:
Math meets Q-Bert. Avoid enemies while solving math problems. After a few levels, the players were awarded with humorous cut-scenes.
The granddaddy of all educational video games. Technically, it's an open-choice simulation of one families quest to go from Independence, MI to the Wilamette Valley, OR. In reality, this often became a shooting simulator.
Today, educational video games are everywhere in computer science education, namely learning to code. These games are just as engaging and rewarding as Oregon Trail and Carmen Sandiego!
Locating and Vetting
Lets take a look at some educational videos games from linked to an actual school's website (Shafer Elementary School in the Nazareth Area School District)