Just about every parent on the planet has told their child at one point to stop playing video games and do homework instead. While the tension between video games and studying stretches back decades, a surprise development in ed tech is erasing the line between the two, to the delight of kids everywhere.
Once thought to be simple tools of leisure and distraction, video games have enjoyed a huge explosion in applications over the past several years, being used in settings ranging from health care to education. Some educators have identified the teaching power of games, and a new market in "edutainment" is rapidly developing.
When gaming and learning collide
Unlike textbooks or even digital media such as video and audio, games are unique in that they offer players an unprecedented level of interactivity. Some forward-thinking game developers-cum-educators have teamed up to harness this interactivity and use it to broaden the educational experience.
One such company is TeacherGaming LLC. The game development startup is a small team of American and Finnish educators and game makers who have come together with the goal of introducing game-based tools into classrooms.
Games as educational aides can come in nearly any form. For example, one of the most successful implementation of games into classrooms involves the smash-hit game Minecraft, in which players harvest block-shaped resources that they can then use to build just about anything. The game, which was officially released in 2011, has spawned countless YouTube videos of large-scale projects, huge castles and other inspiring architectural and engineering feats. Education Week noted that some schools are using the popular game to teach a variety of topics, from city planning and civil engineering to physics.
The push for greater focus on STEM education has also spurred the development of KerbalEdu, an educational program making use of the space engineering simulator Kerbal Space Program. Players can build their own rockets and explore a solar system, provided they're able to engineer a craft that can overcome such forces as a planet's gravity and the forces of aerodynamics, of course.
"Games as educational aides can come in nearly any form."
What about implementation?
These prospects are exciting, but some teachers and administrators may have qualms concerning the logistical and technical details involved with integrating these systems.
Fortunately, many companies offering these game-based education packages also offer turnkey solutions that require minimal input and direction on the educators' side. For example, MinecraftEdu not only offers discounted licenses for the game, but the program also offers server hosting. For $20 per server per classroom, teachers can use one of the company's cloud-based servers, eliminating the need to spend time, money and expertise designing an adequate in-house hardware solution.