by Lauren Gosnell
Lauren is currently working with Datatel+SGHE as an intern on the Academic Services team. She has been conducting research on the current trends and concerns within higher education on topics ranging from remediation strategies to the integration of computer game technologies in the education environment. Lauren feels her experience will give her the background and knowledge to help her grow in her passion around teaching and learning issues within higher education. This article represents some of her recent research, and it is a valuable contribution to the broader discussion around gaming and student engagement. Lauren recently graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a degree in Psychology.
It has become clear that the way we educate children needs to change. The National Science Foundation found that in 2002 the U.S. ranked 73 out of 91 countries in the percentage on college students obtaining a bachelor’s degree in science or engineering. This is not a problem created by universities alone, but rather one that begins in early education. A 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and Program for International Student Assessment test found that U.S. 4th graders are 12th in the world in math and 24th by the 12th grade. This trend continues across all subjects. Traditional teaching methods are failing these struggling students and new frontiers must be sought before U.S. students are left behind in the dust. A promising new frontier lies in the implementation of video games in learning. Video games are currently being used for educational purposes across age groups and in a variety of ways that are proving more successful than traditional teaching methods of the past.
Kurt Squire’s article, “Changing the Game: What Happens When Video Games Enter the Classroom?” reveals a case study on Civilization III, a game which packs in 6000 years of history to be explored. This study of two groups of middle school students found mixed results on this game in particular. In one test group, 25% of the students found the game to be too difficult, but most promising was the game playing effect on typically unmotivated students. The students receiving the poorest grades and who showed the lowest class participation were the ones most captivated and outspoken while playing the game. In a similar study in “Games for Science and Engineering Education,” Merrilea Mayo describes a different group a middle school students and their results playing an electrostatics game called Supercharged. Students who played this game along with receiving the typical lecture increased their test scores by 28% while students who received the lecture alone only increased their test score by 15%. Some students do fine in the typical lecture based classes, but many students crave a more interactive approach and these games satisfy that need. Students learn in a variety of ways and the way we teach should better reflect that.
Video games are not only useful for children. Mayo also discusses a Northern Illinois University numerical methods course that used a race car game as homework. This game lead to students being willing to spend twice as much time on homework and resulted in 80% of these students taking the next advanced course. In Digital Game Based Learning: Educational Video Games, the author discusses North Carolina State University’s new interactive games designed to enhance geology and biology courses. A widely acclaimed game called Foldit is discussed by Greg Toppo in “White House Office Studies Benefits of Video Games.” This game was designed by the University of Washington and teaches players about the shapes of proteins. Using this game, players were able to analyze monkey HIV protein in 10 days that had eluded researchers for 15 years. This game is thought to be potentially beneficial in Alzheimer’s, AIDS, and cancer research. These colleges are recognizing the importance of creating new avenues for learning and embracing the potential of 21st century video games in doing so.
Video games are also being used in a new generation of surgeons. In “The Impact of Video Games on Training Surgeons in the 21st Century,” Rosser et. al detail a game called Top Gun which when played for 3 hours a week was shown to decrease surgery errors by 37% and increase surgery speeds by 27%. Video games could be used more and more in the future as a practical teaching tool in training better, more efficient surgeons. These games have allowed video games to take the broad leap from fun time-waster to a life saving tool.
High school students looking to get into the best colleges are receiving increasing pressure to achieve the highest SAT and ACT scores. These scores can determine the college they get in to, the classes they are allowed to take, and ultimately their careers. Students seeking to gain an edge over their peers are constantly looking for better study models and this has served as a vehicle for the introduction of video games in the college prepatory market. One such game is Zero Hour Threat, an interactive game where each correct answer leads the player one step closer to stopping international criminals. Two other games, discussed by Barbara Ortutay in “SAT Prep Services Get Into Video Games,” currently on the market are “futureU”, designed with Kaplan Inc., and the Princeton Review’s My SAT Coach. These games are easily marketable to students by making them available in a variety of forms from Nintendo DS to iPhones. Further studies need to be done to determine their effectiveness. Based off of what researchers, such as Squire, have already found though about interactive learning and its increase in the complexity and depth of what is learned, these interactive video games could be only the beginning of a continuing trend.
For years, students have been silently pleading for better ways to learn. Traditional lecture format classes are not engaging many students and they are falling behind their peers, both here and worldwide. Mayo’s article states that the average student spends 6.8 hours a week playing video games and up to 5-8 hours on homework (for college bound students). If game makers and educators could combine these two activities, students could be spending more time than ever learning and doing so in a more engaging complex way. Better games need to be designed to fit this emerging market that better combine the games students already love with the information they need to know. By doing this, students who have struggled in the past may have finally found their niche in 21st century learning.