On the front page of their website entitled Game Based Learning, USF IT Instructional Designer Christina Freeman and Community College of Baltimore County Professor of History Dr. Laura Trauth, discuss the best settings for a student to learn. They say that starting as infants, learning is second nature to us. We strive to learn how to hold a bottle, take a step, say a word, from the moment we are born. The page reads,
“Through methods of mimicry, cause and effect associations, observations, and instinctual pattern recognition babies develop methods to become functioning adults.”
These bases for learning are the building blocks for a great deal of their research, which serves to prove the benefits of gaming for education. In this article, we'll look at Christina Freeman and Dr. Laura Trauth's research, insights from other sources, as well as the experience of Ronald Goolsby, who is working to develop an eSports league at USF. From these, we hope to learn more about the many facets of gaming in education.
A Brief Look at the Benefits of Gaming
The benefits of gaming have been widely debated. Some believe that there are no advantages, while some believe there are only advantages. The truth is, the advantages and disadvantages of gaming depends primarily on the individual, the game, and the method. Remembering this is especially important when utilizing gaming for educational purposes.
The Huffington Post reported in 2014 that all gaming, even those that focused primarily on violence can benefits students. This is one argument and whether or not you agree with it depends on your individual research and experiences. Still, their article offers an interesting point: That gaming nurtures a student’s social abilities through multiplayer games. Multiplayer games can also help gamers to develop team building and leadership skills, which may apply to real world situations. USF Desktop Support Technician Ronald Goolsby agrees, saying,
“Team building and team bonding are two essential parts of competitive gaming. In order to win any game that requires teammates, you’ll need to learn to complement the skills that your teammates have brought to the table.”
Specifically in education though, things may be a little different. A professor at the Center for Games and Impact at Arizona State University, James Gee, has discussed the importance of games and education as well, but he does not believe that gaming alone can properly benefit students. He has said,
“Games aren’t good for everything. Big publishers want to bring games to schools as a stand-alone product; just like that didn’t work for textbooks, games have to be just one part of a bigger learning system.”
An Overview of Gaming For Education
Christina Freeman, with assistance from Dr. Laura Trauth, has been conducting research on gaming for education since 2008. Christina calls gaming for education “a passion” and her Master’s degree is in Learning Technologies with a Game Based Learning focus.
In a notable study on the Game Based Learning, the students of Dr. Laura Trauth’s history class were required to use role-playing as a research tool. While this is not overtly a gaming exercise, it utilizes a technique that students likely experience within gaming. The students were assigned to “time travel” by imagining themselves as citizens of a certain period, and to then write an in depth essay on the subject. To test the validity of this type of learning, the students were also assigned a traditional history lab exercise. Here are the condensed results of this study, based on the survey question, “How memorable is this assignment in comparison to other recent writing/lab assignments?”
Results from the first study, show that only 12% of students found the assignment memorable in comparison to other lab assignments. However, when elements of gaming were introduced in a later study, a whopping 60% found the assignment memorable. That's pretty significant, 48% win for both the students and their professor. Furthermore, in an official response to the after-assignment surveys wherein students were asked, "Does this assignment resemble your expectations for a writing assignment?” One student enthusiastically responded, “When Laura [Dr. Trauth] first introduced this assignment I really took a liking to it. I even shared my 'time traveling' with my family.” Another student answered the question, “How do you feel about the time travel assignment?” saying, “All my time travels were done on a person that has interested me and getting a chance to go to their time and imagine what it was like helps with creative writing, as well. It forces a person to embrace a subject and to become more knowledgeable about the times we are learning about.”
From these responses, it's more evident that the type of role-playing that the time travel assignment requires is beneficial to students. They even enjoy it enough to share their finished products with their families!
A Look at How Gaming Nurtures Education
When talking about the advantages of gaming, one of the first things people bring up is hand-eye coordination. However, this is not the first thing Christina Freeman cites as a benefit she’s gained from gaming.
“To me the most useful aspect of gaming is controlled failure without true, real life consequences. Games teach dexterity and patience. They also aid in viewing problems from alternative perspectives. This was very helpful in academic settings because when projects called for creative solutions, I felt confident in providing them due to a natural understanding of trial and error, and how dedication is what really becomes a deciding factor in success or failure. Success in games - from trying until I succeeded - has benefited me in all aspects of my life.”
This idea that gaming can help players learn how to handle failure is an interesting one. Ronald Goolsby agrees that he’s learned how to combat stress through gaming. Being able to step away from his academics to enjoy a game helped Ronald to refresh his brain before returning to his studies. As aforementioned, every player and student will react to gaming in a different way. For some, playing a console or PC game may teach them how to do things like socialize and deal with stress. For others, playing may serve as a way to gain perspective in academic life.
As for the arguments against gaming for education, Christina Freeman has this to say:
"We use play to teach our children about life. I've never understood why after a certain age we believe that this is no longer a valid method of education. It’s like we are working against our own nature."
Gaming at USF
Currently at USF, Ronald Goolsby is working to incorporate an eSports league for students and faculty, as well as a community gaming area. Ronald pitched the idea to the Assistant Dean of Students because for him gaming has been an outlet for creativity, stress relief, and joy since he was young. “Gaming has helped me through some of the hardest times of my life and it also helped me get through high school,” he says. When asked why he wanted to introduce gaming to the community of USF, Ronald said, “I want other people to see that gaming can be used as a way to bring people together and teach them things that most people don’t find exciting in a traditional classroom setting.”
The plans for implementation of the programs are still being developed, but the eSports trend isn’t anything new. In fact, the University of Utah recently announced they will be offering partial scholarships for a varsity eSports program. In today’s internet ruled society, there are real job opportunities available for people willing to stream and record their game playing on platforms like YouTube and Twitch. There are also opportunities in game development; gaming isn’t just recreational these days.
As for understanding the benefits of gaming, Ronald concedes that it may be hard for some to see them. “It takes an open mind to see the benefits within gaming. Take time to watch Competitive Gaming tournaments so that you can understand the level of skill it takes to play at the level these people play at. It isn’t something anyone can just pick up and do. It’s a skill that requires hard work and practice to develop.”
With technology like virtual reality continuously improving, it's inevitable that every classroom will eventually be brimming with some form of gaming for education. The question at this point is really when will this happen. As for gaming at USF, Ronald Goolsby and the Assistant Dean of Students are actively working to incorporate their eSports league and community gaming area.
For now, Ronald says we as students and faculty should strive to make our voices heard, and to let everyone know that a gaming environment is strongly desired here. As for gaming for education, we'll just have to wait and see!