Relative Advantage of Using Digital Games for Content Area Learning

In an effort to increase student engagement and performance, our high school initiated a game based learning program in our 7th-12th grade basic skills class in language arts and math a few years ago.  What, if any, are the advantages of game-based learning?

According to a Yale study of 500 second graders, “short video games designed to activate specific neurocognitive processing systems can serve as brain warm-up calisthenics to improve cognitive performance immediately following the video game” (Banville 2016). If in fact this proves true for students of all ages, then implementing video game warm ups into any lesson could assist students in getting ready for the task ahead.  Just as an athlete stretches and completes a few warm up laps before running a race, students must mentally prepare themselves before embarking upon a difficult lesson.  Could playing a few video games assist in this warm up? “The team found that by using short, 5-minute games before the full lesson, students did not only better on the training games over time but also did better on lessons that followed, but had nothing to do with the subject matter of the game.” (Banville 2016).  According to Dr. Bruce Wexler, professor emeritus of psychiatry at Yale, the games increased focus, self control, and memory (Banville 2016) among the participants.

Focus, self control, and memory are three cognitive skills vital to learning. However, what does the research show about educational programs based solely on playing games? In the Wiki Space Gami-fied, video games are evaluated for their value in teaching problem solving skills based on real world problems or events. Students engage in thinking games revolving around subjects such as world hunger and genocide in order to foster critical thinking skills.

While thinking about game-based learning specific to my content area of world geography, the games Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? immediately came to mind.  Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is based on a 1990s PBS television show for kids. According to the product description on Amazon, “Carmen Sandiego is up to her thieving high-jinks again. While children travel the globe to track her down they learn about geography, history and world cultures.” This high-interest game could definitely increase student engagement.  

Oregon Trail is another game for the PC.  Oregon Trail’s gamemakers entice kids to “travel the trails and make history come alive! Kids will build real-life decision-making and problem-solving skills as they choose their wagon party and supplies, read maps, plan their route and guide their team through the wilderness. Develop solutions to help your friends and family survive the dangers of the long journey including raging rivers, buffalo stampedes, sickness, and starvation. Discover a learning adventure that’s greater than fiction—about real people with real dreams facing and overcoming real challenges. Build decision-making and problem-solving skills as you experience the challenge of traveling the trail! My own children played these games growing up and seemed to enjoy the challenge of the game while acquiring some basic geography and history skills.

In his blog Free Technology for Teachers, Richard Byrne writes a post entitled Ten Interactive Geography Games and Maps. While some of these games are simple map location type games, others such as Placefy “present players with an image of a city square, buildings, and other famous landmarks. Players then have to choose the correct answer from four answer choices. Playing the game is simple, but the images as questions make it a challenging game” (Byrne 2010). Similarly, Geoguessr is a web-based geographic discovery game designed by Anton Wallén, a Swedish IT consultant, released on 9 May 2013. Geoguessr takes advantage of Google Earth’s street view locations and requires players to guess their location in the world using only the clues visible. Geoguessr can be played as a one or two player game. After students make their guesses based on the clues, a map opens with the exact location, the location of the student’s guess, and the  distance from the correct location all placed on the map.  These visual images are a relative advantage when teaching basic mapping skills.

An article on the TeachThought website, 6 Basic Benefits of Game-Based Learning (2013), lists six benefits of game-based learning:

  • Increases A Child’s Memory Capacity
  • Computer & Simulation Fluency
  • Helps With Fast Strategic Thinking & Problem-Solving
  • Develops Hand-Eye Coordination
  • Beneficial Specifically For Children With Attention Disorders
  • Skill-Building (e.g. map reading)

Clearly game-based learning can offer a relative advantage over traditional classroom instruction. Students may be more engaged in the lesson and cognitive skills can be honed. Game-based learning can also improve critical thinking and problem solving skills, both integral to 21st century education.

Resources:

6 Basic Benefits Of Game-Based Learning. (2013, March 15). Retrieved from http://www.teachthought.com/the-future-of-learning/technology/6-basic-benefits-of-game-based-learning/

Banville, L. (2016, October 1). Brain Trainers May Kick Start Learning in Students. Retrieved from http://www.gamesandlearning.org/2016/10/01/brain-trainers-may-kick-start-learning-in-students/

Byrne, R. (2010, February 22). Ten Interactive Geography Games and Maps. Retrieved from http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2010/02/ten-interactive-geography-games-and.html

gamifi-ED – home. (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2016, from http://gamifi-ed.wikispaces.com/

 

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2 thoughts on “Relative Advantage of Using Digital Games for Content Area Learning

  1. Hi Joanna,

    Your blog is very informative. I would be interested in seeing the warm-up games that the Yale study used. I never thought about games as being a primer for cognitive functions – even games that have no connection to the content. I think about what my brain is doing during complex games and there is a lot of multitasking, quick decision making, and problem-solving. In a less than scientific explanation – it does get the blood flowing.

    I remember the Carmen Sandiego and Oregon Trail games from when I was in middle-school. The adventure aspect of the Oregon Trail was really enticing as a younger learner, so I think that would be a great one to implement. The game benefits you found on TeachThought seem to apply not only to learning games, but games in general. I played a game last year, Valant Hearts: The Great War, that taught me more about WWI than any class I have taken. It was inspired by real war letters between friends and family. I would love to see more games like this make history (or other subjects) interactive with well-crafted storytelling. Like you, I also see great potential for learning with digital games in the classroom.

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  2. Thanks for sharing all the resources you have found. Reading your blog brought back memories of my school life. Although technology has come a long way, we played Oregon Trial and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? As a social studies teacher I am looking forward to using some of the resources you posted. I agree with the research that states that short games can work as brain warm-ups. I teacher World History and when we talk about a certain are of the world I make sure that my students complete a map so they understand locations and the importance of the geographical location. Using some of the geography games you posted would be great to make learning locations more fun and interactive.

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