Breaking the High Score

“ Computer and video games have reached a critical mass. today, nearly every device with a screen plays games, providing interactive entertainment experiences for a wide and diverse population. The creativity of our developers and publishers produces an ever-expanding variety of games to choose from in different formats and across all platforms. Their innovations drive consumer demand for our products, solidifying our industry’s position as one of the strongest and most cutting-edge sectors in the U.S. economy.”

 — Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO,
Entertainment Software Association (Source)

It is no surprise that many modern educators try to incorporate video games into their lessons. Though, most of the times video games remain also in the classroom environment what they are: Entertainment. There are games, which are designed to educate such as Immune Attack, Quest Atlantis or BrainAge². While most of the children in the 21st century do not know this games, they will figure out the simple and outdated game designs of most of these games in seconds. The engaging factor of such games tend to zero because of their low to none entertaining value. The difference between the success of educational games and entertainment games is the financial aspect: “Consumer demand for our products, solidifying our industry’s position as one of the strongest and most cutting-edge sectors in the U.S. economy.” There is no demand for educational games by the public hence the best and most paid designers are not producing such games.

However, there are to many false facts and ignorance blurring the risks and gains of this issue. Game designers are not interested in teaching, but making a entertaining or even addictive game, which on the other hand makes money.Whereas, Educators have usually no clue about the mechanics of games, about the games which are most popular among teenagers or try to force educational value out of anything. In the following, I want to discuss a few of these myths and misconceptions of educational video games.

Most teachers and education professionals do not know the games they are talking about. The web exposes many misconceptions such as categorizing “Half-Life”, one of the most famous Ego-Shooter in the gaming history, as role-playing game: “There may be elements of fighting, but in many instances the player must decide whether fighting, or avoiding the fight, is the best choice” (Jayel Gibson). This simple mistake in categorizing leads to major and important issues such as using games in an unfitting occasion. Especially, World of Warcraft seems to be a favorite pick of educators in order to show how real-life skills can be developed such as leadership, bargaining and communication skills by playing a video game.

 World of Warcraft: Interface of an advanced player in Player vs. Player mode.

World of Warcraft and other well designed games might have a complex and in-depth game design, which require a lot of time and effort to understand. Nevertheless, they do not teach communication or leadership skills for real life occasions. Teenagers are so engaged by the game because it is instantly rewarding them in a large community. Playing the Player vs. Player mode (PvP) for several hours a day to reach the top ten is the motivating factor for many players since every other player on the server would recognize their nick name: An enormous boost in acknowledgement and ego. Players are spending hours to become better, though they are not developing any skills valuable to them in real life.

There is still a huge difference to communicate anonymously over the internet and talking to a person face to face. Eastin and Griffiths talk about the aggressive nature of online communication in a video game environment, which is colloquially called “flaming“. This is only one example to display the difference of social structure between video games and real life. There are many more, which has to be taken into consideration before video games can be used in the classroom. Even though, video games exist for more than 30 years now a proper use in education has still to be found. This blog entry had the purpose to let teachers reconsider the common hype of video games in education.

PS: Here a famous example of ingame communication of World of Warcraft:

“They can shoot pictures, can’t they?”

The progress in technology provides access to technological devices to a wide degree of people. Thus, students and teachers have the opportunity to use devices such as digital cameras, iPads or laptops in class. The possibility for teachers to offer students shooting a movie in class is nothing revolutionary. Students reenacted scenes of read literature or historical events before. However, to shoot a whole short film on their own challenges student’s skill and knowledge on many different levels (The blog “The Teachers Lounge” is elaborating on this issue and provides several examples). In the following I will provide my ideas how such a movie project in school should be planned.

I strongly disagree with the newest hype to use iPhones or iPads for such a project, despite its “simplicity and accessibility” as Jess Nepom, a Knewton blogger, suggests. The money spent to acquire such expensive and limited devices can be spent much better on laptops, digital cameras and in addition even for the license for a proper editing program. I have experienced a lot of movie projects  during my school career, which were poorly supported, planned or explained. First, it underestimates the skills and capabilities of students to use “easy” programs as iMovie or Windows MovieMaker, who are usually more versed in technology than the teacher.  I am convinced that even younger students are capable of using professional editing software, if they have a proper introduction and support by their teacher. See Emma Kenney, for instance, who entered the New Jersey Film Festival with 8 years. Second, schools have the obligation to prepare students for college or the job market, which they utterly fail by using shortcut solutions such as MovieMaker or iMovie for editing or iPads instead of a real cameras.

Such a movie project should be realized in groups, in which every student is assigned a fixed role as director, screenwriter or editor rather than making every student work in every field. This approach certainly has its disadvantages, however, it provides the students with a real life working situation and allows them to focus on their assigned roles. Furthermore,  it helps to overcome communication problems and encourages positive interaction in the group (Student Roles).

Before the groups start shooting their movies, they need an appropriate introduction to their field of work. Therefore, I suggest to split the students in groups according to their roles in their movie team and give role-specific introductions. Teachers should use the Inverted Classroom Model to present each “role group” with their specific content.  Certainly, this takes a lot of preparation time, but so does every well elaborated lesson. Thus, the main burden of the teacher’s work lies in the preparation phase.

There are several occasions offering the opportunity to include a movie project in the lesson unit. The most common is to film a novel which was read in class. Although  I do not think there should be any restrictions for a teacher as long as the method supports the content of the lesson.

On schooltube.com are many examples what (high school) students can achieve.