29 Sep Alternative reality: UW prof touts computer game learning
Madison, Wis. – In an era of standardized testing, the idea of introducing computer games into the classroom might be tantamount to driving a square peg into round hole.
Even though parents and educators increasingly see the value of computer game learning, the powers who drive education policy are either still too wedded to the type of learning that prepared students for the industrial age, or they think teaching with computer games is too radical to suggest at the moment – even if they know the digital world is creating a new paradigm for education.
The potential value of computer game education, and the counterintuitive thinking it requires, has not been lost on University of Wisconsin-Madison professor David Williamson Shaffer, author of “How Computer Games Help Children Learn.”
Shaffer, who recently explained his support for computer game learning before the Madison Chapter of the World Future Society, actually holds a consensus view that critical and creative thinking have great currency in today’s knowledge-based economy.
The disconnect comes in how best to stimulate creativity and innovation.
In Shaffer’s view, K-12 education still is structured around the rote learning that was important to the previous economic (industrial) age, and it is increasingly teaching kids the basic skills they need to pass tests – at the expense of developing critical thinking and problem solving. He is among a growing chorus of educators who say it’s long past time for schools to prepare children for the participatory and creative culture they will encounter in the future workplace.
“We need to teach better ways to compete in the global economy,” Shaffer said. “Children need to do things that are valued in a high-tech economy, and our schools are not very good at fostering innovative thinking.”
One of the best ways to build these skills is through the real or imaginary simulation of computer games, he said. Computer games allow people to live in those simulations and innovatively solve problems, preferably in an interactive, collaborative fashion.
Those who adhere to the strict reading, writing, and arithmetic model may be appalled, but Shaffer believes most parents and educators don’t think standardized tests are a good idea because kids are being “taught to the test.” In essence, today’s schools are training children to be restricted from the start, and to “do things that a 99-cent calculator already can do.”
“We’ve believed for 150 years to learn basic facts their first year, then so something more sophisticated,” he explained, “but computers allow us to do this before we master the basics. Kids should learn these basic things just in time and on-demand. You need these skills, but you also need to learn them in a way that tells you why.”
Shaffer, a founding member of the GAPPS research group for games, learning, and society, is an assistant professor in the UW-Madison departments of educational psychology and curriculum and instruction. Through its Academic ADL Co-Lab and its Games, Learning and Society conference, the university is devoting resources to the concept of computer game learning.
Before joining UW-Madison, Shaffer was a teacher and teacher trainer, a curriculum designer and a game designer. With an emphasis on epistemic games, which are computer and video games in which players become professionals and have opportunities to solve problems in virtual work environments, he has studied how new technologies change the way people think and learn.
Shaffer calls the current approach the “bricks-around-mortar” method of education. If you give kids a bunch of bricks, they don’t see the point to carrying them around. What computer games do is enable them to build something interesting with them.
While there are good and bad computer games out there, he views computer games as part of balanced approach to education that includes traditional skill building, reading, art, and physical education.
“I’d be just as worried about a kid who played computer games all the time and never played outside,” he said.
A computer game, he cautions, is about more than what appears in a box. It can be both interactive and collaborative. In fact, the better ones foster the kind of collaboration that is seen in the best work places. That’s important, Shaffer said, because companies increasingly are saying that kids aren’t well enough prepared for life in the future workforce, and he believes interactive media environments are one way to make education relevant again.
Providing time for innovation and creativity is the best way to get children ready for the constant cultural and technological churn society is bound to experience. “Change is going to continue to come,” he cautioned, “and more quickly than many of us suspect.”
• New book touts educational power of computer games
• Video game learning has no traction in K-12
• UW gets $3M to explore educational gaming
• Gaming conference explores interactive media in learning
• The Learning Game – Researchers Study Video Gaming Principles that Apply to Education