Professor considers using video games in classroom

Daniel Bott

Computer games may soon become part of educational curriculums.

The success of games such as Civilization III and virtual world Web sites such as Second Life has seen Kent State professors explore the idea of using computer games in education.

Dale Cook, associate professor of teaching, leadership and curriculum studies, said he took an interest in the idea at a presentation at a recent conference and awards ceremony in Florida. As reported last week, two Kent State professors received awards there.

He said members of the University of North Carolina presented a session showing how computer games could be used in a course.

“They had this whole economics course as a game,” Cook said. “Students that took that course, took that course by playing a game,” Cook said. “I think it really challenged the students, and I think it is probably more like what learning is going to look like in the future.”

He said by the time children have grown-up, they have played computer games their whole lives and education should be taking advantage of this.

“Look at business and industry, the private sector in general, look at military and health organizations, they’ve already taken a full advantage of all of this, and education is behind,” he said.

Cook said in the game used at the University of South Carolina, spaceships crashed and landed on Earth, after the apocalypse, and gamers had to start over. They have to develop an economy and later when they find out there’s another spaceship that landed farther away, they have to develop communication and a relationship with that spaceship so they can trade with it.

“A lot of the primary tenants of the economy were played out during this game under multiple scenarios,” he said. “So that no matter how many times you played that game it wasn’t going to play the same each time.”

He said this education-related game was different to other previous education related games that weren’t very engaging. At present, the kinds of games kids play are engaging, but they offer limited educational content. Cook said this game was the best combination of both engagement and educational content he had seen for a while.

“We are really thinking ‘God, we should do a Seven Ideas That Shook the Universe kind of game’ and meanwhile we were also talking about Second Life,” he said.

Second Life is a Web site where users can become part of a virtual world by creating what is called an “avatar” of themselves. An avatar is an Internet user’s representation of him or her.

On the site, people can interact with others, form communities, buy land, make economic transactions, etc. A user can, as the name would suggest, create a second life for him or her.

With the growing popularity for this site and others like it, this has been identified as a possible way to incorporate learning.

Lin Lin, assistant professor of education foundations and special services, said she has proposed using Second Life for science education in a developed community.

“The group will have science teachers, faculty members and students,” she said. “Members in this community deal with co-created knowledge.”

Lin said one of the primary goals was to develop an online virtual environment in which grade 7 to 12 students can explore scientific concepts through collaborative problem solving activities.

In these activities, student would be given common “myths” about science and would have to discover whether they were true or false.

Lin said in such an environment, students would also learn collaboration, socialization, negotiation and leadership skills.

“You have to interact with people and explore,” she said. “The learning is really walking through and interacting with other people by asking questions and responding to other people’s questions,”

She said another area where online learning would be very useful would be to simulate environments not possible in the classroom.

“With online learning, you can do things through simulation, so if (chemistry) students want to mix different chemicals and see what happens, they can do that without having to suffer real consequences.”

Both Cook and Lin agreed that computer games had a real future in education due not just to their continuing popularity among children, but due to the growing complexity of games.

Cook said Civilization III was quite a complex game that was popular with children.

“Kids spend four times as much time talking to their friends, strategizing, reading manuals about what they are going to do when they play the game, then they actually spend playing the game,” he said. “There is a growing movement around the world for serious games that are just for fun.”

Erin Wilson, senior human development and family studies major and occasional computer game player, said she believed computer games could aid the learning process as long as students didn’t get too “wrapped up” in the game and neglect the learning aspects.

“I think (the playing of computer games) would help because they’re doing something that they enjoy and also learning at the same time,” she said.

Contact technology reporter Daniel Bott at [email protected].