Issues in Digital Technology in Education/Games for Learning

Games for Learning – Skills Acquired Through Gaming

Technology has drastically changed the way our society works and lives. Computers in particular have had the greatest impact on our currently more efficient lifestyles. In addition to containing a plethora of programs to make our lives easier, computer and video games have added an extra ingredient to this technological mix. The use of video games in education is changing the playing field for the way we live and learn. Some would argue the effectiveness of video games with the claim that they are nothing but a senseless waste of time, leaving students with a clear lack of social skills and a diminished attention span, but studies have proven otherwise. Given an appropriate game for learning, students will reap numerous rewards that prove beneficial to their everyday lives.

Consultant and game developer Marc Prensky (2007), developed an inventory of skills that are acquired by students through serious game playing. According to Prensky, students learn how to cooperate, collaborate and work in teams. This skill is gained by playing interactive games where group decision-making is involved. Two player games exemplify this practice whereby players face off against one another either in direct combat or by taking turns. Students consult with one another, take turns, and essentially engage in a whole new type of digital social practice.

In addition, students “take prudent risks in pursuit of objectives” and make “effective decisions under stress” (Prensky, 2007). Games provide students with a safe venue to learn without intimidation or judgment when taking risks and applying new skills. If mistakes are made while playing, confidence is not lost; the strategy is simply re-attempted until success is reached. For instance, if one skill does not lead to victory or accomplishment of the objective, the player can deliver another strategy using “scientific deduction, lateral and strategic thinking”(Presnky, 2007). In the classroom setting, some students may be reluctant to answer out loud in fear of making a mistake, and once the mistake is made, they may become more apprehensive to try again. Computer games eliminate the anxiety of taking risks that some students experience. This leads to the persistence, and the mastery and application of new skills. Games allow students to apply skills and strategies in context in pursuit of their objective. Whether the skills are mathematical, scientific or literacy based, their application to the game being played becomes meaningful, engaging, motivating, and most important of all, fun. Success is attained through numerous attempts and failures, and valuable lessons are learned; hence leading to “understanding and dealing with foreign environments and cultures” (Prensky, 2007).

SAGE for LearningEdit

SAGE (Simulation and Advanced Gaming Environments) for learning, is a Canadian organization which studies the potential of technology-based educational games (About SAGE.2004). They look into cognitive factors affecting human learning, such as learning psychology, play theory, and psychology of perception, and study the interplay of these factors with characteristics of popular technology-based games and simulations (About SAGE research.). In addition to adding to the body of knowledge about technological games, SAGE also develops new technology-based games and simulations, which are then used in schools, businesses and hospitals for the purposes of education and training (About SAGE.2004). Their website,, features many demos of newly developed games and simulations, which are available in both English and French.

Free Educational Games on the InternetEdit

These days, there are many websites which offer free educational games for students of every age. Here is a small sample of these websites:

(Funbrain.; Link to learning.;; PBS kids.)

Educational Games for Children with Developmental DisabilitiesEdit

Children with developmental disabilities benefit greatly from technology-based educational games for many of the same reasons that typically developing children enjoy these games; they are motivational, entertaining, challenging, and have fun and colourful graphics. Games that are specialized for specific disabilities are intrinsically motivating, since they are designed to capture the child’s attention and provide reinforcements, such as sound effects and graphics, targeted specifically at children with autism (Calvert, 1999). In addition, many programs that are designed for children with developmental disabilities have features that allow a parent, teacher, or therapist to individualize the program to suit the needs of the specific child and to target their particular areas of improvement. This is important, since the broad spectrum of developmental disabilities causes these individuals to have varying degrees of ability. Unfortunately, there are not many games for special needs children which are available for free, and the effective games are often very expensive. The following is a website with some free information and games for special needs children: Children with special needs can benefit from games that are not specially designed for children with disabilities. They can play, enjoy, and learn from games that are made for typically developing children. They may need to play games targeted to a younger age group, or stick to lower levels of the game.

Benefits of Online GamingEdit

What makes an online game exciting, interesting, social or more fun than another game? Motivation evolves from sensory gratification, role-playing, personality, taste, adrenaline, sociology, immersive and engaging environments, and the element of fun. Games in general motivate ideas. Topics include life, survival, strategy, role-playing, and building relationships.

Video games can manipulate otherwise unalterable variables. Manipulate otherwise unalterable variables. With simulations of natural systems such as SimEarth, learners can observe the effects of changing the globes oxygen levels, or raising the global temperature.

Enable students to view phenomena from new perspectives. In the simulation Hidden Agenda, learners can assume the position of a president in a Central American country, learning about economics, history, politics, sociology, and culture in the process.

Observe systems behavior over time. For example, in simulations like SimCity or Civilization, learners can observe social systems’ behavior over years or centuries. Similarly, in a Virtual Solar System course, students created models of the Solar System where they could observe the solar system in motion, examining rotations, revolutions, and eclipses (Barnett, Barab, & Hay in review). Whereas most physical models tend to be static, computer based simulations allow you to manipulate time (Herz 1997). Simulation games, such as Railroad Tycoon, add a gaming element in order to bolster student engagement.

Pose hypothetical questions to a system. In historical simulations, such as Antietam, learners can simulate hypothetical events, such as "what if", visualize a system in three dimensions (Barab, Hay, & Duffy 1999). In the Digital Weather Station, learners use special 3-D tools to visualize weather systems in three dimensions (Hay 1999).

Compare simulations with their understanding of a system. Simulations do not represent reality; they reflect a designers conception of reality (Thiagarajan 1998). For example, SimCity is weighted heavily toward public transportation, reflect author Will Wright’s fondness for public transportation (Herz 1997). Educators can capitalize on this discrepancy and have students examine a simulation for bias or inaccuracies.

Most importantly, thus far, video game research has found no relationship between video game usage and social maladjustment.

An interesting and educational Canadian history game can be found here:

Games for younger students

Things to keep in mindEdit

Emerging technologies hold promise for improving student achievement and teacher quality. The use of technology within the classroom has shown in various studies to have great benefits for students in cognitive, social and emotional levels and aspects. Technology has the ability to enhance the length of the users’ or students’ attention span. Technology allows us to become aware of how we think and to discover how the world functions around us.

The more a student feels that their role and information is validated by the software or peers, through positive reinforcement, they will be more inclined to participate in mathematics and become more socially active within the class.

The environment should then engage them with the mathematical concepts in such a way that they be able to gradually build up their knowledge and skills as they navigate through the environment, enjoying the learning process and being motivated through the game (Sedig 2008).

The more comfortable a teacher is with their ability and knowledge to use a computer the more effective their students will learn and benefit from technology.

Computers do not currently have a strong impact on student learning because most teachers find them to be of limited utility and hard to deploy in their daily teaching, and therefore use them in small doses" (Atwell et al., 2003, p. 280).

When contrasting classrooms that use technology in an integrated fashion to the child's learning abilities and interests, versus those which seldom use computers or in a way that matches the teacher's traditional pedagogy, we see a discrepancy between the impacts on children's learning. Those students who received proper use of technology often outperform their counterparts from the traditional classroom setting.


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