Playing games? Yes, and learning at the same time

The era of COVID has elevated video games to the top of the list of modern teaching tools
By: | August 19, 2021
Getty Images photo

As far back as 2014, when most of us were not anticipating a global pandemic and more than a year of remote learning for America’s kids, the following question was being posed in a Scientific American article: Are video games the future of education?

At the time, video games were playing an increasing role in school curricula for core subjects like math and reading, as teachers sought to hold their students’ interest. And the prediction was that testing fatigue, combined with more computer use in and out of the classroom and ongoing experimentation with games as learning tools, suggested that video games would play a major role in the future of education.

Now, they are.

But the journeys that such games allow students to take and the subjects they learn about while immersed in these games extend beyond the classroom, and far beyond basic math and science. For example, one teacher in Montreal had been planning to take his 10th and 11th-grade students on a trip to Greece to visit historical sites and record their observations for a project that would later be shared with their classmates. When the pandemic quashed that trip, the teacher called each of his students to let them know—and to propose an alternative: Since they couldn’t physically travel to Greece, he suggested that the class take a digital tour of the country as it had existed centuries ago by playing the game Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, which features a vigorous education mode and a research-based recreation of ancient Greece. Each student was to play the game at home and subsequently submit a report on their experience for a grade.

The Assassin’s Creed series, which is developed by Ubisoft and follows the story of a secret brotherhood of assassins, has long been digitally recreating famous historical periods like the Renaissance and the American Revolution; Ubisoft consults with historians to lend authenticity to the game’s locales, politics and environs. “We had several teachers who started contacting us after Assassin’s Creed 1 and Assassin’s Creed 2,” Etienne Allonier, brand director for Assassin’s Creed, told the Washington Post. “And since then, based on that feedback, we saw there was a potential of using everything we created for the games for education purposes.”


More from DA: Blockbuster esports partnership set to transform K-12 gaming


Many teachers have been tapping into the potential of video games as educational tools during COVID. Popular games such as Roblox and Minecraft are being used to demonstrate scientific principles like climate change or cellular biology. Minecraft’s Education Edition, which has already been out for five years, is being used around the world; while it is not the same as the regular Minecraft edition and contains some limitations that can be set by educators as to what students can and can’t do, it still appeals to students. Physics can be learned by playing Kerbal Space Program, known to be fun but also extremely accurate.

The learning potential goes even deeper with other titles. The game Among Us, which features teams of players trying to identify “impostors” that aim to eliminate “crewmates” from teams before they can complete a set of tasks, actually helps players hone memory, observation skills and insightfulness, and—importantly—how to learn with distraction rather than trying to force them to focus in a setting they don’t find engaging. As this article on studyinternational.com points out, “the key lies in our definition of distraction. Screen learning must involve distracting students towards things that really matter.”

In a recent Censuswide survey of 500 teachers who have used video games in their classrooms during the pandemic, 89% said using them has been beneficial for their students’ engagement with their subjects, as reported by nextgov.com. Sixty-nine percent of teachers said students are more likely to do homework when gaming is involved, and 68% predicted that gaming would become an important resource in education going forward.

“Video games, and the transferrable skills they offer, are a vital tool in bringing online learning to life,” said Bartosz Skwarczek, CEO and co-founder of G2A.com. “And we want to do everything we can to help unlock those benefits for teachers and young people.”

 

 


Interested in edtech? Keep up with DA's Future of Education Technology Conference®.