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Friday, February 4, 2011

Video Games and Learning

As humans, we fear the unfamiliar. As teachers, we fear what is unfamiliar to us and knowledgeable to the students. Video games fall into that category for many teachers. Students today are playing more video games than ever before. They are spending hours each day in on-line gaming communities and fantastical environments and peaking in personal interest and motivation - with no classroom in sight. First-person shooter ("war-type") games are highly successful in their marketing and excitement to many kids - but flawed in their moral message and 'harm' when de-sensitizing us to violence. If school could become an online format of social networking sites and high-interest video games - students would never leave. The reality is that many video games can be a positive experience for a child as a reward, motivator, social experience or simply as fun. If we can tap into their love and dedication to these game series as teaching tools, it can lead to amazing results.

When assigning your next project, try a webpage creation assignment - let the focus be that favourite video game. Even if "Halo" or World of Warcraft" is not your comfort zone - it is the student's world. Not only will they be motivated and successful in delivering the content - they will appreciate your attempt to be a part of their own personal environment. Sure there are inappropriate websites and plot lines and character photos that could emerge, but as teachers we are no longer responsible for keeping the knowledge under lock-and-key for students to have peeks at the next great nugget of knowledge when they time is right. They will access these sites on their own time anyway. In fact, they will find ways to do it at school through proxy sites and internet back doors as a challenge, if they sense that it will cause an uproar. We need to relinquish our perceived control.

Our historical role in the classroom today has been replaced by "Wikipedia." They can search faster online for an answer to any question they have and have instant gratification. We are now responsible for building digital citizenship and critical thinking skills about: WHAT they research? WHO is providing their search results? HOW reputable is the source? We need to take a step back and let their technological world run our classroom instruction. Each day should present a "teachable" moment when you observe what your students do out of habit and comfort. These are the opportunities to learn from them and provide the guidance and support needed to further their own sense of accomplishment and drive for knowledge. The problem is that our sense of order and control is cultivated by this illusion that rules and careful curriculum planning do keep the peace for us. So we find ourselves waiting to enter into their world. The deep, dark abyss that is the student mind - unfamiliar, and therefore, scary.

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