In his article “Game-Based Learning: It’s Not Just the Digital Natives That Are Restless” (2006), Richard Van Eck explores the growing and widespread interest in using digital games as learning tools. He suggests three factors that have contributed to the rise: 1) convincing research by many; Prensky’s “Digital Game-Based Learning” (2001) being foundational, 2) the disengagement of digital natives with traditional instruction, and 3) the increased popularity of games and the immense sphere of the gaming industry. Van Eck recommends research to explain why digital game-based learning (DGBL) is proving to be effective and engaging. He also suggests a need for practical guidance for how games can be integrated into the learning process to maximize learning potential.
Van Eck gives some direction to educators considering DGBL. He explains how different types of games align with different learning taxonomies (arcade-style games promote speed of response and automaticity, adventure style games lead to the development of problem-solving skills, etc.). He also emphasizes the importance of analyzing games for content and for alignment with instructional outcomes. When considering DGBL, an educator must weigh the amount of potential learning with the amount of time and work needed to implement the game. Van Eck also recommends various kinds of support for teachers integrating DGBL, including pedagogical, financial, technical, infrastructural, and research and development support. He asserts that for DGBL to be truly effective, teachers must move beyond use of the tool to integration of media. In closing, Van Eck points out that it is not only the digital natives asking for a shift towards DGBL. He maintains that many who would be classified as “digital immigrants” are also eager for the acceptance and implementation of DGBL.
Throughout the article, Van Eck adopts the language stemming from Prensky’s work on digital natives and digital immigrants. Both Van Eck and Prensky suggest that children’s brains are changing to accommodate new technology. They need multiple streams of information and frequent, quick interactions with content. It is not only the shift in the preferred mode of student learning that presents challenges for “digital immigrants” trying their best to adapt, it is also the gap in mindset and attitude towards technology, and particularly DGBL. “Gaming” carries a certain stigma of negativity. We picture adolescents with glazed over eyes and twitchy thumbs from marathon nights of gaming. To maximize the potential of DGBL, educators must shift their perceptions of gaming. We need to see possibilities rather than problems.
As teachers, we invest great time and energy finding ways to engage our students. Based on the results of the gaming industry, it seems we should be taking lessons from game designers. Consider the attitude and habits of gamers! They are interested, competitive, cooperative, results-oriented and actively seeking new information. They are constantly trying to find ways to solve problems. They are frequently networked in communities. They give their complete attention to the game, and many will stay up all night to play. Of course, there are drawbacks to the content of video games and the addictive nature of gaming, but there are clearly some valuable tools available for student engagement.
I appreciate Van Eck’s suggestions for supporting teachers in the implementation of DGBL. There is a huge gap in background knowledge and experience for most educators. As Van Eck reinforced, to realize the true value of DGBL, the game must be integrated as a form of media in the classroom. The technical implications alone could sway many educators from taking advantages of DGBL. Many teachers also face financial barriers as many DGBL options are expensive to purchase. That being said, high-quality resources in DGBL are becoming more and more accessible for educators. The rise of apps has led to immense opportunities for hands-on DGBL on iPads. Companies are also catching on to the immense opportunities within DGBL. MinecraftEdu is used by over 5500 teachers in 40+ countries around the world. GlassLabs offers SimCityEdu: The Pollution Challenge. ExploreLearning created Reflex Math, a game-based approach to helping kids make gains in Math fact fluency. Reflex is a great example of a company that has tailored their game to maximize on learning potential focused on specific outcomes while creating a very engaging, fun and motivating platform. We started using Reflex this year and I have been very impressed with the program. The Journal shares a list of articles highlighting recent research within DGBL, examples of schools taking advantage of DGBL, and companies with games designed specifically aligned to curriculum.
Beyond the implementation of DGBL, gaming must be paired with responsive instruction, ongoing feedback and high-quality assessment practices. We also need to support our students in the development of learning literacies as they engage as residents in DGBL. The opportunities for building social networks within DGBL are tremendous. I look forward to sharing what I learn about the implementation process of DGBL through Minecraft Math in the coming months!
What is your current perception of digital game-based learning? Have you used DGBL in your classroom or observed DGBL in your school? If so, did the gaming experience provide both engagement and a curricular connection?