Video Games in the Classroom: What the Research Says

nick blog picBy Nick Rocha – When I was in elementary school, we had a computer game that we played a few times during school that helped to explain addition and subtraction. Today the use of video games for educational learning has increased dramatically and extensively within many educational institutions. According to a study conducted by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, nearly three quarters (74%) of K-8 teachers report using digital games for instruction. In addition, 88 percent of the nation’s children ages 8 to 18 play video games (Gentile, 2009). Many teachers and educators utilize video games for a variety of learning objectives and measures, but how might the use of video games impact the overall development of the child?

First, I would like to make the distinction between e-learning and video game environments. E-learning consists of online courses that are offered at educational institutions that attempt to mimic similar classroom curriculum and instruction. Video games, on the other hand, take on a more interactive and stimulating approach to online learning. “While completion rates for online courses barely reach 50%, gamers spend hundreds of hours mastering games, writing lengthy texts, and even setting up their own virtual “universities” to teach others to play games (Squire, 2005). E-learning has a reputation for being dull and ineffective whereas games have a reputation for being engaging, fun, and immersive (Gee, 2003). The use of video games in the online classroom may provide advanced learning opportunities that e-learning may fail to provide.

One of the major reasons that video game learning is so popular is because the games are relatively inexpensive to build and to distribute (Shapiro, 2015). A computer-based math game can be readily accessible from anywhere with a computer and the Internet; students are more familiar with these types of technology than they were two decades ago. Educators would need to take the digital divide into account before integrating a video game-based curriculum into the classroom since many students may not have access to a computer or the Internet to complete assignments.

Furthermore, some course subjects are more suited for video game learning environments. “Nearly three quarters (71%) of digital game-using teachers report that games have been effective in improving their students’ mathematics learning…only 42% report the same about their students’ science learning” (Takeuchi and Vaala, 2014, Joan Ganz Cooney Center). More research needs to be conducted to determine which academic subjects would benefit from video game-based pedagogy and how students could benefit or become hindered by this method.

Video game addiction has also been a major concern among psychology and education communities. A study conducted by Gentile in 2009 found that 8.5% of U.S. youth are “addicted” to playing video games; children who show multiple signs of behavioral addiction often skimp out on homework, are irritable or restless when video game play time is reduced, and have trouble being attentive in school (George, 2009). The real question is whether providing video game pedagogy within the classroom provides a “gateway” into more addictive behaviors, or if using that pedagogy encourages students with video game “addiction” to engage within a learning environment. It is important to notice that in this study boys were 4 times as likely as girls to report behavioral addiction symptoms.

Using video games in the classroom can provide some beneficial learning opportunities that are engaging and fun, but educators should combine these new technologies with their instruction to reinforce educational objectives. An educator should take into account the digital divide, the gender ratio of their students, the complexity of the course material, and the learning/course objectives when deciding when to use video game-based materials. Additional research needs to be conducted to determine the overall impacts of video game pedagogy and childhood development, and teachers should weigh in the pros and cons before implementing a video game-based curriculum into their classrooms.

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