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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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July032007

Balancing Gaming and Education: No Easy Task

Recent public debate about the impact of video gaming raises some interesting questions on the role of gaming in education. And like so many debates in education, there are no simple answers.

The latest issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine includes a report on a study by a pair of researchers who were interested in examining video game consumption by boys and girls and how it impacted their lives. Hope Cummings of the University of Michigan and Elizabeth Vandewater of the University of Texas examined the gaming habits of nearly 1,500 boys and girls ages 10 to 19, tracking their gaming behavior on weekdays and weekends. Of these children, just over one-third of them - 36 percent - admitted to being a gamer, and of these, around 80 percent of them were boys.

On average, boys spent much more time playing games than their female peers, typically gaming for 58 minutes on a given weekday and 97 minutes on a weekend day. In contrast, girl gamers played 44 minutes and 64 minutes, respectively.

And does this time spent gaming impact how much time these kids spend with friends or family? According to the researchers, no. “[T]hey didn’t spend less time interacting with their parents or their friends, nor did they spend less time in sports or active leisure activities,” Cummings told Reuters. She and her co-author add in their report: “These findings do not support the notion that adolescents who play video games are socially isolated.”

Having said that, their research did suggest that gaming consumed time that might otherwise be spent on educational pursuits, including reading and completing homework. Surprisingly, their findings split along gender lines, with boys being more likely to spend less time reading because of gaming, while girls were more likely to spend lest time on homework. However, Cummings cautioned that these results do not necessarily suggest a drop in academic performance because of gaming:

Although gamers spend less time reading and doing homework, there have been some studies that show that high academic achievers spend less time doing homework…. Gamers may actually be more effective in completing homework assignments, and as a result, they spend less time doing homework. We need to look deeper into what is going on.

This research also comes on the heels of a decision last week by the American Medical Association to not define excessive gaming as a form of addiction. The decision came as a surprise to some in the medical community, as the AMA had just published their own report that claimed that 90 percent of kids play video games, and as many as five million of them might exhibit addictive behavior. For the time being, they plan to advocate more research that could inform any language that would be added to the next American Psychiatric Association diagnostic manual - in the year 2012.

All of this has me thinking once again about the role of gaming in education. For years, researchers and game developers have worked to find a pedagogical sweet spot in which gaming could be used to build and reinforce student skills. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish - the moment many kids figure out what they’re playing is intended to be educational, they scorn it like a bowl of wheat bran. Yet clearly millions of kids out there are gaming and gaming often. Is educational gaming with a YouTube-like viral appeal a pipe dream? And I don’t mean a cool instructional game here or there - I mean a serious, diverse, ever-growing catalog of fun, instructive games that would please standards-focused educators and fun-focused teens. Is this achievable? Is this even a desirable goal? Where do you stand on gaming, educational and otherwise? -andy

Filed under : Research

Responses

I think programs like Second Life and Active Worlds present a platform from which game-like activities can be created for clear educational purposes. I also advocate for students creating educational games themselves as part of the curriculum. The games they create may not always be all that good but what would be important is the content area learning as well as the analytical thinking skills they develop in the creation of such games. Maybe we are thinking about how to bring gaming into education from the wrong perspective. Instead of using video games to teach, maybe we should think about teaching how to make video games.

As an educator and a parent of a gamer I would love to find a way to incorporate the gaming strategy in my classroom. I see my son spend countless hours reading tips and talking with friends about the games he plays. If we could create a constructivist type of activity that was as challenging as games and required students to seek out answers, test them and then try again - think of the knowledge they would be constructing. Does anyone have any good resources?

If I could do anything with my time, and had a MacArthur grant or something, I’d be creating a role playing game, right now. It starts with a kid in some unnamed country in Africa whose parents have just died of AIDS, some disease, who knows? Not like there was a doctor. Now the kid has the equivalent of $1 in a pocket, and a little brother and sister without anyone else to care for them.

Become a child soldier? Try the trip to the city? Become a child soldier? Seek out the Catholic relief services?

Now that’s a role playing game I’d like to see some of these kids wrap their brains around!

Meanwhile, I spend time on Second Life and LOTRO, and my son on Warcraft III, and we try to have time together and doing other interesting things — and it seems like we do ok. He’s in honors everything in high school and we “sidecar” homeschool.

I am not worried about his gaming interfering with his academics, but I feel a hard rivalry between gaming and household chores!

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