Everywhere you look, kids are playing digital games. Whether it’s a game on a parent’s mobile phone or a student’s personal Minecraft account, many youngsters are engaging with games on a daily basis. These experiences have become an important thread within the fabric of youth culture.
However, many educators are still skeptical about the power of games for learning. In fact, many believe that time spent playing games is “wasted time.” However, such narrowly focused mindsets miss the enormous opportunities games offer. Well-designed educational games can hold incredible possibilities for teaching and learning. You just have to know what you’re looking for.
Over the past few months, Gayle Allen and I had the pleasure of teaming up with Zynga’s Co.Lab, a non-profit organization designed to assist educational game designers. I’ve met game designers, culled all of the current research on gaming and asked a lot of questions.
Our collaborative work and research addressed in a recent whitepaper has identified that many games offer opportunities for engagement, real-time data and persistence in ways that can’t be replicated in analog environments. However, the promise of the games for learning isn’t fully realized unless the design of the game intentionally supports educational transfer.
Educational transfer, when achieved, ensures that students can use what they’ve learned in many different contexts. Practically speaking, games that support educational transfer prepare students for real life. Games that support this type of rigorous learning often include simulations, social elements and instantaneous feedback.
Games aren’t solutions or problems; they’re merely tools for learning. It’s how we use and design these tools that will truly determine if gaming is time wasted or time well spent.
Kristen Swanson (@kristenswanson) is a learner, leader and teacher. She is the senior educational technology leader for BrightBytes and a founder of the Edcamp movement. Swanson is also author of “Professional Learning in the Digital Age,” a Google Certified Teacher, a Twitter teacher and an Edublog Award nominee.