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Game–Based Learning Strategies

Learning Principles Used in Games Apply to Academics

MADISON-WI. - The Wisconsin Technology Network recently interviewed Kurt Squire, Ph.D , a University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher about his work in games and education, and how the principles behind learning a game can be used in academics.

Kurt Squire, Ph.D., was recently hired at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to continue his research on games and learning. A former elementary and Montessori teacher, Dr. Squire is assistant professor in Education Communications and Technology and a Visiting Research Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For the past two years, he has been instrumental in shaping the vision and research for MIT’s Games-to-Teach project and The Education Arcade.

WTN: Why did you come to Madison to do gaming research?

Squire: I was looking for faculty position. I really wanted to get out there and start doing my own research, which has been focused mostly on games and education. There are a lot of things I like about Wisconsin, ranging from Madison to the collegial ness of the faculty here. The chance to work with Dr. Jim Gee was a big plus because I wanted to have some senior people who understand what is happening with technology and games. An idea that might seem bizarre or outlandish to some, they end up embracing it here at the University of Wisconsin There is room here to try out these new ideas. There is a good history of distance education in Wisconsin and other kinds of technologies that made Wisconsin attractive to me as well.
WTN: What type of research do you plan to do at UW?

Squire: My research is around games and simulations for the next few years. I am really interested in how people learn from game-play, how they interpret experiences from game-play, how it can be used to engage learners.

I think that there are a lot of great opportunities, but I don’t think that games are going to solve all the problems. Right now, I am interested in teachers who are already teaching with games. What they are doing with them and how they are using them. One thing about games, they really demand that the teacher step down and that the kids get more hands-on, and experiment with ideas. I am curious what the teachers who are using games are doing, how effective it is, do they have different beliefs about learning compared to other teachers?

WTN: What is the main focus of your research?

Squire: My main interest is trying to change the way K-12 schools work to make themselves more exciting for kids, more engaging, and trying to get to some of the kids more interested who are really turned off by school.

I noticed a lot of students would get really interested in technology, particularly ones who weren’t necessarily into school in general. Maybe these same kids are doing amazing things at home with games, like complex problem solving. How can we tap into the part that gets people excited about games and help that go down into schools?

There seems to be a good tradition of the university working with some local schools and developing materials. I want to be able to look back 5-10 years from now and be able to point to schools and say the school is better or that kid’s day is actually better because I did this. I am really interested in the handheld outdoor stuff and getting kids running around outside.

WTN: Do you think games can have a negative impact on learning?

Squire: I think it’s possible in a couple ways. Games are interpretive: you play the game and you draw your own meaning from those experiences. If you are not careful, people can take away different lessons than you wanted from games. I have some concerns that people might spend 20 continuous hours in front of a computer. It is nice to get people out and doing more active things. The handheld games get people running around and talking with each other and sharing information. In the future, I think people will be playing games using their cell phones, instant messenger, sometimes using their computers. I think that will happen more and more.

WTN: When do you think schools will begin to incorporate games into the curriculum more?

Squire: I think on the one hand you are seeing some of the constraints come down. I think the more that basic computer prices come down, the more computers become ubiquitous around us; it becomes more like having a digital watch. I think it is more a problem of not having good software and not knowing what to do with it. One of the biggest issues is changing how we think about learning, what we think about the teacher’s role; switching to more of a learning-center environment as opposed to just a teacher-centered lecture.

WTN: What can we learn from people playing games?

Squire: I think at some basic level there is a lot we can learn from a research angle what we can learn watching people play games. It is a very interesting question, “Can you have a very good educational game that gets you excited about the content area as you are playing the game so that learning and the game player are all folded into one?” I think that it is a complex one and there are no easy answers but hopefully we’ll know a bit more about it in the next five or ten years.

Related Article:
The Learning Game - Researchers study video gaming principles that apply to education

Alexis Johnson is a Madison, Wisconsin based writer and regular contributor to the Wisconsin Technology Network. Alexis can be reached at


Brad Oltrogge responded 9 years ago: #1

I am president of Learning Multi-Systems. Our company focus is on connecting student motivation and academic achievement through game environments. We are interested in communicating with others who have a similar interest.

Donald Lewis responded 8 years ago: #2

I am in the process of completing a grant proposal for an educational assistance program that will be using video games as a motivator towards school. My target population are disadvatage youth, more than likely do not own a game systems at home. Do you have resources that I could me any conclusive evidence that games have helped kids in this area?

Tania responded 8 years ago: #3

I am a perspective educator for teaching K-5, and I share your interest in using games for education. I have always loved my foreign language classes because we used games to reinforce the material.

Jim Piccolo responded 8 years ago: #4

I am CEO of Nouveau Riche University and I am very interested in Game Based Learning. We are beginning a project at the writing of this that evolves interactive board games. There are many dimensions to the board game aspect as people are forced to communicate where digital games can be very singular in scope. Anyone that is interested in talking to me about developing this game please send me an e-mail at

Mike Soppet responded 7 years ago: #5

Are you aware of any efforts at game-based learning for health literacy or healthy lifestyles?

Mike Barrow responded 7 years ago: #6

I am a university student interested in developing a cheap computer for educational games for young (4-11) children. I have many Ideas, but I must found my device on credible research. Does anyone know of any research on educational computer games and their benefits? Please Email B_monney1985@hotmail.com_ (no trailing _ after the .com)

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