Study shows students want more games and simulation in school

Project Tomorrow’s fifth annual Speak Up Survey was recently released. It holds no surprises for those who have been working with students in virtual worlds.

Here’s an article in eSchool News that summarizes the findings:

Students want more use of gaming technology

A quote of the first paragraph of the article pretty much says it all:

“Educators are largely missing out on what could be a huge opportunity to capitalize on their students’ appetite for electronic games and simulations to teach them about core curriculum topics, results from a new national survey suggest.”

Another quote from the article states:

“In fact, 64 percent of students in grades K-12 say they play online or electronic-based games regularly. On average across all grade levels, students are playing electronic games about 8 to 10 hours a week. More than 50 percent of students in grades 3-12 would like to see more educational gaming in their schools—yet only 19 percent of parents and 15 percent of administrators favor that idea.”

This is interesting, as there seems to be a very wide gap between what the adults think they need to deliver, and what the students want. There may be several factors contributing to this (in my opinion). First is the overall negative image video games have been given over the years in the media. Rarely are there positive stories about gaming in education in the news or local media, but almost every time there is a violent school shooting, or student involved in a violent crime, the media immediately considers the influence of violent video games (even before any evidence is gathered, or mush is known of the assailant).

Today’s students play many online games outside of class. MySpace and other social networks are always reported as the place where students ‘hang out’ after school with their friends. Just as many students use online games as their social media. Many of these students form guilds and collaborate on quests in-world beyond anything that happens in the classroom, often directing the actions of adult members of their guilds. Here’s an article from two years ago that appeared in Wired Magazine on this subject. Leveraging this interest to promote education should be our highest priority.

Here are a few other findings from the Speak Up Survey that I found interesting (quoted from study, full study available here):

  • When asked about the value of gaming technologies within learning, students in grades 6-12 are very interested for a variety of reasons:
    • Games make it easier to understand difficult concepts – 51%
    • I would be more engaged in the subject – 50%
    • I would learn more about the subject – 46% (56% of students in K-2 chose this as their #1 reason)
    • It would be more interesting to practice problems – 44%
  • Increasingly teachers are becoming interested in use of games to increase student engagement (65%), address different learning styles (65%), focus on student-centered learning (47$), and to develop problem solving and critical thinking skills (40%).
    • These strong belief statements by the teachers show no differentiation based upon gender, teaching assignment, years of experience or education level.
    • However, for the teachers who self-assess themselves as advanced technology users, their interests in gaming technology was significantly higher than the teachers who viewed themselves as beginner tech users. In fact, teachers who consider themselves as advanced tech users are 2X as likely to play online games as beginner teachers.
    • Only 6% of teachers do not see any value in even exploring gaming within education
  • Over 50% of teachers said they would be interested in learning more about integrating gaming technologies into teaching strategies and 46% would be interested in professional development on this. 11% said that they are currently incorporating some gaming into their instruction.

It is disappointing that all of this new information is coming out just as we enter one of the toughest times in budget cuts to ed tech. A quick read of the SETDA 2008 National Trends Report will show that cuts are going deeper than ever before with ed tech funding.

Another trend that will surely become more apparent in the next year is that the technology inventories of K-12 school districts are aging, and those computers are not being updated or replaced in the lean budget days since 2002 (the last deep round of cuts). Many districts still have computers from the Digital High School days that are still in use with students in the classroom. However, even computers that are only three years old are having a harder time keeping up with developments in educational gaming.

The PacRimX project is facing this very dilemma. We have two large labs at two of our high schools that are used for Second Life and the PacRimX project. Some of the activities in-world are part of ROP computer elective courses, and not directly with PacRimX. Linden Lab recently pushed out a viewer/client update that has made these computer obsolete. The 1.18 viewer barely ran the client, and the new 1.19 client is all but unusable on them. We have tested new video cards and more memory in these computers, but they have fallen off the minimum specifications list. We are now trying to salvage this effort by looking for an open source viewer with lighter system requirements.

Here in California we are taking deep cuts across the board, and deeper still to technology. In my entire career in education I’ve not seen cuts as deep as these. Now that we finally have some studies showing that gaming in the classroom works and engages our students, we are also facing the general obsolescence of our computer inventories and the reduction in budgets that support technology. I suspect there will be many articles written on this dilemma in the coming years.


2 responses to “Study shows students want more games and simulation in school

  1. Pingback: More games please! « Learning Games

  2. I am interested in developing games and simulations for students in both on campus classrooms and through our online learning centre.

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