Is it possible to teach with video games (that teens actually play)?

I have been an avid gamer since my dad first brought home the Atari 2600 back in the day, and since I am always looking for ways to hook into kids’ interests and attention I never hide this personal fact from my students. I even give former students my Xbox Live Gamertag. Lets face it video games are here to stay, in fact the industry is growing beyond other entertainment mediums at an astonishing rate. “Many studies have been conducted over the past few decades regarding the idea of teacher immediacy and its positive effects. A host of positive perceptions have been linked to high levels of teacher immediacy, including students’ willingness to comply with teacher requests (Kearney, Plax, Smith, & Sorensen, 1988), perceptions of instructor credibility (Schrodt & Witt, 2006), and motivation to learn (Allen, Witt, & Wheeless, 2006)(King & Witt). Anecdotally I have noticed an increase in the number of students who identify themselves as gamers (albeit the majority of these are boys).

How can we harness this enthusiasm in a positive way for use in the classroom? Of course many games have appeared over the years that have been built specifically to educate and a number of great webites collect these games for educators such as FunBrain. I also discovered some downloadable games that run on your Mac or PC like Timez Attack from Big Brainz. Hand held gaming systems, particularly the Nintendo DS have also done a great job of producing and marketing educational games including the wildly popular Brain Age. There are also a number of console systems that make educational exclusively such as the Leapster and V.Smile, but for the most part these systems are designed for younger children and have a relatively small market share compared to the big three.

Here are some of the games I was thinking about that could be used in the classroom, not necessarily to teach content, but rather to introduce a student to a concept or to motivate them to learn more about it. This summer I played a reasonably fun game for the Xbox 360 called Red Faction: Guerrilla. This game is not revolutionary per se in terms of storytelling or gameplay, but it does have a state of the art physics engine that the games creators call Geo Mod 2.0.. One problem with using this game in the classroom is that it was given a rating of M by the ESRB. One solution could be to play the game mode called Wrecking Crew which bypasses the story and awards points based on destruction. If the objective of the lesson were to introduce structural physics in a science class this mode would work well.

Another idea that I had for a world history course would be to show pieces of Assassins Creed from Ubisoft. This game is set in 1191 during the Third Crusade in The Holy Land in such cities as JerusalemAcre and Damascus and includes historical figures and organizations such as Majd Addin (Regent of Jerusalem), Garnier de Nablus (Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller), Jubair al Hakim (a eminent scholar in Damascus), Abu’l Nuqoud (the wealthiest man in Damascus), Robert de Sablé, Grand Master Sibrand of the Teutonic Order and William V, Marquess of Montferrat (Regent of Acre).[9](wikipedia). This gave was given and deserves an M rating from the ESRB for its depiction of brutal melee violence and assassinations but certain sections of the game including in-game movies would serve as an excellent backdrop for the time period and location. At the very least the game would kick off a conversation about the subject.

Another idea for a popular music or pop culture class would be to use the wildly popular Rock Band game. The track list for this game is expanding all of the time and transcends various genres and decades. The upcoming Beatles Rock Band would provide a unique opportunity for student who may not have been exposed to the music of the Beatles to hear it and discuss its cultural impact.

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