Sunday 11 December 2016

In my opinion: Video games can be big winner in classroom environment

Patrick Felicia

Published 18/05/2011 | 05:00

While eyebrows may be raised at the thought of using video games for learning, they are a popular and engaging medium that can be put to good use in classrooms from primary to third level education. After all, TV, video and the Internet faced similar challenges when first used as educational tools rather than for entertainment.

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Although game-based learning (GBL) is increasingly popular across Europe, I strongly believe that more Irish schools and universities need to embrace this new method.

In an educational context, the fun and interactive elements of gaming are used to help students "experience" the topic they are studying in a virtual world.

While you may have an image of gaming and gamers being isolated, this is not the case in an educational environment as games are used within the wider context of teaching. They engage students, motivate them to 'learn-by-doing' and develop collaborative skills along with a deeper understanding of the topic.

For example, while a teacher can describe the ice age and the formation of mountains, valleys and rivers to their students, taking part in a video game could allow them to 'walk' through these areas, see and experience life in that time and solve problems and puzzles along the way.

As the students discuss and work out their options, the teacher is there to answer queries, provide help and encourage learning. Once the exercise is complete, the class discusses the experience and how their choices and answers impacted on the game. They are engaged on a new level and aware of a wider range of issues.

Games could also be used as a starting point for issues that are difficult to discuss directly, such as bullying.

Scientific evidence shows that games can encourage and sustain students' interest and support the development of cognitive and social skills.

The classroom environment is one of motivation, where students are encouraged to compete, collaborate, explore, socialise, learn and progress in the game.

This can improve academic achievement, achieve stronger engagement and help with attendance and drop-out rates.

A recent study conducted in Scotland demonstrated that primary school students, using Nintendo DS handheld devices to learn maths, showed improvements in performance and attitude towards education.

In addition, their attendance improved, as did their confidence. Interestingly, the less competent children showed the greatest improvement.

Preliminary research indicates that students with special needs, who may find it difficult to engage with traditional teaching methods, also show improvements using game-based learning.

Many students find it more enjoyable and stimulating as it provides more vivid details and a chance to "experience" lessons.

Teachers and lecturers play a crucial role in the successful outcome of GBL, as they are in charge of choosing and evaluating video games and assisting students during activities. While I believe that most are interested in using GBL in their classroom, a preliminary study I've conducted shows that they may need more information, training and workshops to make this virtual world a reality.

Patrick Felicia, PhD, is a lecturer, course leader and researcher at Waterford Institute of Technology, which will host Ireland's first game-based learning conference, iGBL, tomorrow, bringing together researchers and practitioners interested in the education potential of video games.

Irish Independent

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