Friday, 28 January 2005

Educational Games Don't Have to Stink!

This is a wonderful article from Gamasutra. Free registration required to read the article.

After telling an experience during his graduate stage, some insightful comments appear:

A teacher's two greatest tools are charisma and attention, both things that computers cannot offer. A teacher uses his charisma to create interest and excitement in the student, and uses his attention to reward, punish, and compel attention back from the student.

My heretical view is simply this: computer games don't teach. I think the idea that you can teach using computer games is based on a flawed analogy between gameplay and learning. Here's how the analogy goes. Players of games have to overcome obstacles in order to achieve victory. They do this by learning the weaknesses, or limitations, of the opponents they face. Similarly, students learn knowledge in order to pass tests. So learning a fact is equivalent to defeating an enemy, and passing a test is equivalent to achieving victory. ...

In short, it's my belief that games don't teach, they illustrate. That's an important distinction. Games are not useless in the educational process, but they're not good at teaching per se. Games are good at creating understanding of knowledge the student already has. And they're excellent at transforming abstract ideas into concrete experience. Games don't teach, but they can help people learn.

With all these explained, here are some of the suggestions to create "educational games" from the author:
Admit that games don't teach, they illustrate.

Don't make games that are too much fun.

Don't make games that aren't fun enough.

Don't make games that take too long.

Don't make games that obscure the principles you want to illustrate.

Include advisors.

Don't forget the value of creative play.

Don't try to serve chocolate-covered broccoli.

These ideas are good ideas. Since my interest in more in collaborative type of learning (e.g. role play simulation), I cannot agree to one of the design guidelines here. For example, the duration of the game need not and should not be confirmed to the duration of a 50-minutes class. Let us bring the educational process into the learners' home. Let them learn at any convenient time. But, again, this is not the kind of game the author is talking about.

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