Video Games Hit Higher Level of U.S. Education


 
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SAUSALITO, CA (ASRN.ORG) -- At some point, engineering professor Brianno Coller realized he didn't like slogging through dry math problems as an instructor any more than he had as a student. So he thought about what could liven things up — animation! interactivity! — and it hit him: video games.

He designed one, and now his third-year students at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb build virtual race cars, complete with roaring engines and screeching tires, that must maneuver an increasingly challenging course. Along the way, they're exposed to computational math, a basic building block of engineering.

"I use games to, in some sense, throw away the textbook," says Coller, 42, who played Lunar Lander and other video games as a kid. "My philosophy is that learning can be a burdensome chore or it can be an interesting journey."

Around the country, pockets of faculty have been adding games to their courses as a way to stimulate learning. At Boston College, nursing students conduct forensics at a virtual crime scene. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a game called Melody Mixerteaches students how to read and compose music. Students at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., play World of Warcraft, a multiplayer online game, in a course on intelligence studies.

"The key driver is the need for ways to make learning more engaging," says Larry Johnson, CEO of the non-profit New Media Consortium and co-author of a report this year that predicts an explosion of game-based learning in higher education within three years. "Games can open that door for many students."

Game-based learning, which has been riding a wave of popularity in recent years, got a boost last November when it was touted as part of the U.S. Education Department's new national technology plan. But most national initiatives focus on elementary and high schools. Retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor encourages teachers of kids in grades 5-12 to participate in iCivics, a Web-based game. In the past two years, big-name donors such as the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have lent their support to public schools in New York and Chicago that are designed around the concept of games as a learning tool.

Johnson credits changing demographics with pushing what are sometimes called "serious games" into the college curriculum. A Kaiser Family Foundation study in 2010 found that 60% of kids ages 8-18 play video games daily, averaging about two hours. Nearly a decade ago, a 2003 report involving 27 colleges by the Pew Research found that 65% of 1,162 students surveyed reported playing video and online games regularly.

Although a number of factors contribute to the growth of games for learning in higher education today, Johnson says, "at the top of the list is the pervasive experience with games among not only students but, increasingly, faculty."

Not everyone goes high-tech. At Mercyhurst, intelligence studies professor Kristan Wheaton also uses the board game Clue. To help students grasp the psychological and economic impact of the Black Death, University of New Haven lecturer Matt Wranovix created a card game in which students left holding a Joker fall victim to the plague. And there is no software to download to play Reacting to the Past, a role-playing game developed a decade ago by Barnard College history professor Mark Carnes. The game, which has spread to more than 300 campuses in the past few years, relies mostly on classic texts and, sometimes, homemade costumes.

As a form of entertainment, video games on campus sometimes get a bad rap. A 2008 survey of 813 undergraduates on six campuses led by Brigham Young University professor Padilla-Walker found a correlation between playing video games for fun and risky behaviors. A study published in CyberPsychology & Behavior in 2007 suggests excessive use of video games could hurt a student's academic performance.

Other studies find that games may improve classroom learning. Coller's research, supported by the National Science Foundation, found that students using his video games spent roughly twice as much time doing homework and demonstrated deeper learning compared with students who learned through traditional lectures and textbook. "I got kind of addicted to it, like I would other games," engineering major Alex Raz, 25, says of a game created by Coller called Spumone. "It's like really learning, not like just going through the motions on paper."

University of Southern California education professor Richard Clark remains skeptical. "There is no compelling evidence that serious games lead to greater motivation to learn than other instructional programs," he says. Better, he says, to teach the concept, then let students practice in a game-like environment.

Wheaton, too, cautions against overselling the value of games. "There's a lot of promise there," he says. "But right now the hype meter is pretty high."

 

Copyright 2011- American Society of Registered Nurses (ASRN.ORG)-All Rights Reserved 


 
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