Four Ways to Teach with Video Games


Published on

A presentation I put together for college classes related to technology and/or education. Provides background (historical and theoretical) about video games in the classroom, and explores four approaches to teaching with games. Read the notes for way more context and info—this is meant to be presented, not viewed slide-only.

Published in: Education
1 Like
  • Please feel free to cite this. You might want to use the published paper that came from this presentation:
    Are you sure you want to  Yes  No
    Your message goes here
  • This is such a fine presentation for that purpose! I wonder if i can ask your permission Mr.Lieberman to let me use this in my thesis and make some modifications with the slides. I do hope for your favorable reply on this matter. God bless! ^^
    Are you sure you want to  Yes  No
    Your message goes here
No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide
  • How many of you play video games? What kinds of games do you play?
  • Do you agree with these statements?
  • One of the best-selling games of all time. I run the new gaming center at the Park Student Union and Modern Warfare 2 tournaments are one of our most-requested events.
  • I zone out with games like this for hours. Tetris, Peggle, or Solitaire also fall into this category for me. Can anyone guess what the example is going to be for addiction?
  • The first inpatient psychiatric treatment clinic for MMO addiction in the US opened up last year. There are already hundreds of these clinics in Asia, especially Korea and China. Video game addiction is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders yet, but it will be. All of those criticisms are true. However…
  • Games are a medium. Any criticisms you can level at specific games you can level at websites, movies, TV—and those are still media that we use to teach all the time. Teachers should look at games as a tool. Hammers are useful, but they can also be ineffective or even dangerous. Games need to be used thoughtfully and carefully. You do that, you can get good results.
  • So, don’t be like that.
  • Despite the pitfalls we have to be aware of with games, the fact is that games can be used to teach. That’s not just me saying this—this is coming from some pretty prominent academics who have written a lot about why this is the case. James Paul Gee, who is now up at ASU, argues that video games offer a new kind of literacy, comparable to reading or watching a movie. That doesn’t mean that playing a game is the same as reading a book, but it means that games communicate information and understanding to players using all kinds of channels, including text, spoken words, music, images, video and sets of rules. Gee also says that good games have to teach players how to play them. Games have evolved ways of doing this that mirror established teaching techniques. Can any of you think of ways that games you have played have taught you the mechanics of the game, or how to be a better player? -tutorials (Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction) -reward and punishment (Behaviorism) -social games, multiplayer games and the social networks that develop between players of games (Vygotsky’s social constructivism) -introducing new and more complex rules one at a time (Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development) Marc Prensky coined the idea of “digital nativity,” meaning people who grew up with the internet and computers and who are completely comfortable with technology as a tool and a form of communication. Prensky argues that these people (you guys) “are used to receiving information really fast,” you “like to parallel process and multi-task,” you prefer visuals to text, you prefer “random access” ways of finding information—like following links instead of reading a prepared text with chapters, you like instant gratification… Do you agree with this, in general? Finally, Ian Bogost, a professor at Georgia Tech, has written extensively about how video games are great at convincing people of things because they simulate systems that appear to be realistic, and then let players draw their own judgments from playing with those systems. Bogost has a company called Persuasive Games that makes small games about things like childhood obesity, alternative energy business models and airport security policy—super exciting stuff on its own, right? This isn’t exactly like teaching people supposedly unbiased facts, since Bogost is talking about propaganda, but the principle is the same. Anyway, none of what these guys think is really important if we can’t use games to teach in a practical way in the classroom. Fortunately, there’s really no doubt about whether that’s possible. Do any of you know which game I’m referring to?
  • Educators have been using games to teach since at least 1971, when three student teachers created the classic educational game The Oregon Trail for use in a U.S. history course. Who has played this game? I’m 28 and we played this all the time in elementary school. Did you play it? You’re all slightly younger than me, I think. We played The Oregon Trail during “computer lab,” which was when we were supposed to be learning how to use word processors or whatever—all we did was play Number Munchers and The Oregon Trail. These are good games—The Oregon Trail particularly—but they weren’t used in a smart way by our teachers. So let’s talk about how to teach with games well.
  • I believe that there are four different approaches you can take to teaching with video games. I’m trying to nail down my terminology, to make it as clear as possible, so if you don’t mind being guinea pigs I’ll ask you to guess what these mean as I go through them. Now we’ll go through these, briefly, with some specific examples.
  • So, what is content alignment? Here are some simple examples. Incidentally, I don’t know whether there is a game about the Civil Rights movement, but history is one of the fields that is especially well-supported in terms of content-aligned games.
  • Number Munchers is an example of one of the simplest ways you can teach with a game. It’s what some authors call a “digital worksheet,” meaning that the game puts a theme and a thin layer of interaction around an activity that is fundamentally repetitive. Some academics working on developing educational games or teaching with existing commercial video games don’t like this approach.
  • Epistemology is a fairly broad concept, right? It’s basically the science of knowledge, or that’s the idea. Epistemic games are based on the idea we acquire knowledge—we become experts in something—by learning to think like people who are experts in that subject. You or I could be great at something— Pick a subject, anyone, or a profession, just shout it out— We could be experts at that if we could only practice the skills, understand the practices and share the values held in common by the community of people who are themselves experts at something. The idea behind epistemic games is that games can simulate for the player an identity as an expert in some field, and that by acting as an expert, practicing the tasks and talking to other players, or to virtual, computer controlled non-player characters, students will learn this stuff.
  • Who here has played a game in the Civilization series? Can you explain it to us? (If not I explain.) Kurt Squire, a researcher and professor at the University of Wisconson-Madison, did a lot of research with Civilization III. Here’s a description of his results from one typical study, with students that Squire describes as having been “disenfranchised”: “ Within just a few weeks, all of the participants showed dramatic improvements in their basic geography and history skills. Most could locate the major ancient civilizations on a map, and all could name key historical military units, as well as make arguments about the growth of cities in particular geographic areas. Students were skilled with collegiate-level world history terminology, using words and terms such as monotheism, cathedral, and ancient Persians regularly .” The learning did not stop when they stopped playing, either . All of the study participants "checked out books, completed school reports, and regularly engaged in voluntary learning activities stemming from their game play .”
  • Some school subjects do appear frequently in games . Government , economics , history and physics are a few examples. But others, like our earlier example of a game about Civil Rights—just don’t exist. The industry tends to make games similar to games that have sold well in the past, so you get these long periods of similar types of games covering the same settings and themes until someone takes a chance and does something new. So many games include violent imagery and, increasingly, foul language and even sexually explicit content that you sometimes can’t use games that do have teachable content. Games aren’t created to be educational, so even games that do touch on traditional school content may do so in ways that do n’t align with educational standards or teacher preferences . Aaron Whelchel, a former Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois, suggests a solution to this problem: teach students about what games get wrong in addition to what they get right. Whelchel says that Civilization “forces [player] progress through Ancient, Middle, and Industrial ages conceptualized through a Eurocentric lens.” Talk about that, talk about why that’s the case and what the alternative views of history are for non-European cultures represented in the game. Finally, I tend to talk about commercial game products. But there are a lot of teachers and researchers who think that’s misguided—they think that the content is so important that educators should make their own games. I think this is possible, and it’s great when it works. But teachers don’t know how to make games, and for the most part the game developers don’t see enough profit in educational games to collaborate with educators. Making a game can cost hundreds of millions of dollars these days. If a game isn’t appealing to players, what’s the point of trying to use it with students? Richard Van Eck, an educational theorist interested in games, argues that educators tend to build games in which “ neither the learning nor the game is effective or engagin g.” Will Wright, the game designer who made SimCity, the Sims, Spore and many other games that have been used in schools over the years, says that “ [c]reating a good game is hard enough; creating one based on educational content is even harder .”
  • The best way to get around these problems is to be creative. You don’t have to teach only the main, superficial theme of a game. SimCity has been used to teach all kinds of things. One elementary school teacher wrote in 1999 that she used the game’s sequel to teach “economics, city planning, the historical growth of cities, map reading, urban architecture, transportation, waste management, pollution, political thought and behavior” and more.
  • The Sims has been used as a platform for students to write short stories, it’s been used to teach parenting, and it’s been used to help socialize kids with behavioral problems.
  • And SPORE, his most recent game. I don’t know how this one has been used to teach yet. It looks like it’s about evolution on the surface, but actually this is really a game about intelligent design among other things—the player chooses how to evolve their creature and sees the results. I’m going to be more brief with these next approaches, because they aren’t as widely used and in some ways they aren’t as widely applicable. Teaching with a content-aligned game requires teachers to know a lot about one game, but these upcoming approaches require a lot more out of educators in terms of familiarity with games as a medium and a technology. That’s gaming literacy, and it ties into our next approach…
  • The next approach you can take if you want to use a game in your classroom is to view games as texts—as literature. Teaching things other than novels as literature is not a new idea. If anyone can think of another non-traditional medium that you’ve used in a classroom, shout it out. There are a few ways you can go about using games as texts in the classroom. First, and most straightforward, is to find a game that tells a complex story that supports the kind of literary analysis that we do in English classes, and to have players play that game and complete assignments similar to the one’s you’d complete about a novel. Essays, reading journals, class discussions, blog posts, that kind of thing. The next thing you can do is to find a game that incorporates significant literacy skills in gameplay—so that players who get into the game will be practicing those skills by default. Researcher Jonathan Alexander studied how two of his college undergraduate students played World of Warcraft, and he identified five distinct literacy skills that they were using : critical analysis, multicultural communication, collaborative writing, and reflection about the relationship between in-game and real-world skills . Some of those are skills that relate to written or verbal literacy, but some are meta-skills, cognitive skills. If you’re interested in teaching games as texts, you have to recognize that there’s value in these non-traditional skills as well as what we’ve always taught in classrooms. If your concept of the classroom doesn’t extend to innovative methods, this is not the approach for you. However, one other way you can use games as texts is to find games that are part of major franchises that include products in other media. Halo, Dragon Age, Mass Effect and many other games have tie-in novels. This is not great literature, but if you have a student who dislikes reading but is into a game franchise, maybe they want to explore that world further—games can be an avenue into other arts. Middle school teachers in particular are starting to publish on this idea.
  • BioShock is a game that I love and that I’ve written about on my blog as something that could support literary analysis. A lot of games can’t do that: game journalist Jeff Gerstmann has said that “ [g]reat stories in games are rare...Game writing is still not to the level of book writing [or] movie writing ,” and I think that’s true. BioShock is a game that draws on literature directly—it’s set in this dystopian society that has fallen apart after being founded according to Objectivist ideals. Ayn Rand is the founder of Objectivist philosophy, and her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are often taught in high school English courses. BioShock could be used as an avenue to discuss the same ideas as those books.
  • Except that it’s hideously violent. So, thanks again, video games, for content that is school-inappropriate.
  • This is a cropped screenshot from a game called Neverwinter Nights, which is a fantasy role-playing game based on Dungeons and Dragons. Playing the game includes lots of reading, and choosing your responses to move the story forward. One teacher who conducted multiple case studies with this game found that its vocabulary of fantasy words, with which most students weren’t familiar, encouraged "model reading behaviors" for students who were poor readers AND strong readers alike. There are lots of games like Neverwinter Nights. Fantasy RPGs are a popular genre right now.
  • There are six Halo novels at this point, plus a graphic novel. There are three Mass Effect novels. Two Dragon Age novels. Tons more. Again, mostly mediocre at best, but you’re looking at a guy who has read Star Wars novels so I’m in no position to cast stones.
  • The third approach you can take to teaching with games is to have your students make games. So, I’ve already said that making games is too hard and expensive for educators. How can students do it? Well, every game does not have to be a blockbuster—small, simple games can be made much more easily than complex ones. The experience of making a game is also very different from playing one. While a game may need to compete with commercial products in students’ minds while they’re playing it, they can get a lot out of the experience of making a much less polished, much less time-consuming game. Finally, students don’t necessarily need to program or make art or any of the other very difficult, expensive things that you do to make a game from scratch. Many, many commercial games support “modding,” meaning changes and new content that work with the technology and even the art assets that come with the game. That’s how. Here’s why. Having students make games lets them demonstrate content mastery and the ability to communicate that mastery, and that content. Constructivist learning theory state that learning takes place when students construct mental models of how new information relates to things they already know. Constructionist learning theory holds that they should also construct tangible artifacts of what they have learned—a game is a tangible artifact. Making a game also builds a variety of technical skills, but that’s more minor in my opinion—that’s like arguing that games are good because they improve hand-eye coordination. Unless your course is a math or computer science course, or something similar, in which case it is relevant. Students can also make narrative games—interactive short stories—by modding games like Neverwinter Nights. This is something that has been done in case studies a fair amount by several groups of researchers. The conclusion is that students can use modding tools “ to construct sophisticated interactive stories with very little training .” That said, this is not an easy approach to take. You, as the teacher, will need to be very tech-savvy. You’ll need a lot of expensive hardware and software to mod most modern games. And you’ll need an administration that gives you the time to do this thing that isn’t necessarily the fastest way of getting across the information.
  • Here is a simple quiz generator template from a website called that lets you modify basic game templates. This is way on the “very simple with a shallow learning curve” end of the spectrum.
  • And here’s one possible game that this template can generate. I was in a hurry here, which is why the game is asking the player to identify the profession of Jack the Ripper.
  • Here again is Neverwinter Nights.
  • And here is ScriptEase, a tool created by researchers at the University of Alberta who found that some of the mod tools for Neverwinter Nights were too complicated for students. ScriptEase lets you avoid writing code to do complicated things—instead, you can pick options from menus. It’s still hard to do, though. There’s still a learning curve for teachers and for students.
  • The final approach we’ll talk about is really not a way to teach with video games, but a way to teach using lessons learned from video games. We established early on that well-designed games reflect good pedagogy. Why shouldn’t well-designed courses apply some of the systems that games use to keep players’ attention and interest? To be honest, there has not been a lot written on this idea. I found only one paper that was specifically about how to structure a course according to game design principles, and the results there were mixed. Here’s what that author, Janna Jackson, found. Jackson did a few things to her course to make it game-like. -She let students pick a difficulty level for specific assignments—they could try to complete the same assignment with different specific requirements on “Proficient, Expert or Guru” level. -She let students retry every assignment as many times as they wanted with no penalty. The highest grade was the one that counted. -She allowed students to progress to assignments based on their aggregate grade in the class—their “score”—rather than just based on what they were studying that week. If you were doing well, you could progress faster. If you were doing poorly, you had to go back and fix your work to move on. -She implemented an online hint system that explained how to do each assignment, in case students got stuck. This could be seen as either an in-game tutorial or a supplementary walkthrough. -She tried to create a narrative that led students through the course, just like you might have in a game. This part of her paper was a little vague. -Finally, Jackson publicly posted the score of the students at the head of the class, hoping to instill some competition. How do you think that went for Jackson? It went OK, is what she said. The quality of student work improved over a more traditional course teaching the same material. The narrative stuff, the students weren’t interested in at all, they just ignored that. No one tried to do the extra-hard assignments. But they loved the ability to redo assignments, they liked the tutorial, and they liked the point system. Jackson took an extreme approach to this, she did a lot all at once. Other writers have suggested different ways of embedding game-like systems into courses. One approach that I like but that was unfortunately put forward in a theoretical paper rather than an actual case study was to build an English course around a truly complex game such as World of Warcraft. Students could then do writing assignments, cultural research or economics studies using the game-world as their subject. This is nice because it doesn’t require the teacher to construct a compelling set of rewards themselves—the fun stuff is already in the game, and the work grows organically out of that.
  • That’s all I have for you. I want to ask for questions, comments, anything you’d like to discuss at this point. But first I want to plug my project of the moment, which is called The Educational Games Database. I really believe that games are a useful tool for educators, but I also believe that educators need to know something about games before they try using them. You need to understand what kind of game you’re using, what’s in it, how to help students progress through the game. You also need to understand how things in the game relate to what you’re teaching—not just the superficial theme of the game, the trappings on top that say “this is a game about history,” or whatever, but the rules of the game—the game mechanics, they’re called. If you didn’t understand how the game mechanics of a game like SPORE operated, you might make the mistake of thinking it’s about evolution, when it’s really not. Gaming literacy is complex and it’s hard to acquire, especially if you don’t play games. That’s what The Educational Games Database is about. It’s a site that includes a glossary of common terms, a list of game mechanics and how those relate to educational concepts, a list of game genres and how those may be appropriate for teaching, and of course information about specific games. Please check it out, and if you’d like to contribute to the community, I’d be happy to have you. Thanks for your patience, and thanks again Wayne for having me.
  • Four Ways to Teach with Video Games

    1. 1. Using Video Games to Teach four approaches
    2. 2. Video Games are Bad <ul><li>Video games have acquired a lousy reputation with many people </li></ul><ul><ul><li>They’re violent </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They’re mindless </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They’re addictive </li></ul></ul><ul><li>All true! </li></ul>
    3. 3. Violence Example: Modern Warfare 2
    4. 4. Mindlessness Example: Bejeweled Blitz
    5. 5. Addictiveness Example: World of Warcraft
    6. 6. So What? <ul><li>Problems with specific games ≠ problems with all games </li></ul><ul><li>Some of these criticisms are also true of: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>the web </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>TV </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>movies </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Games are a tool </li></ul>
    7. 7. Proper Tool Use: A Counterexample
    8. 8. One More
    9. 9. Video Games are Educational <ul><li>Gaming is a new kind of literacy (Gee) </li></ul><ul><li>Games incorporate good pedagogy (Gee) </li></ul><ul><li>Digital natives learn differently (Prensky) </li></ul><ul><li>Games are highly persuasive (Bogost) </li></ul><ul><li>We know games can be used to teach because we’ve been doing it for almost 40 years </li></ul>
    10. 10. The Oregon Trail
    11. 11. How to Teach with Games <ul><li>Content-aligned games </li></ul><ul><li>Games as texts </li></ul><ul><li>Students making games </li></ul><ul><li>Classes as games </li></ul>
    12. 12. Teaching with Content-Aligned Games <ul><li>What is content alignment? Simple examples: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ I’m a math teacher. I need a game that teaches the students how to do the order of operations.” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ I’m a history teacher. I need a game about the Civil Rights movement.” </li></ul></ul>
    13. 13. Content Alignment: Number Munchers
    14. 14. Content Alignment: Epistemic Games <ul><li>Epistemology </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge.” —Random House Dictionary </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Epistemic games encourage players to think like experts in a field </li></ul><ul><li>Other epistemic activities: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>School paper </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Model UN </li></ul></ul>
    15. 15. Epistemic Game Example: Civilization 4
    16. 16. Content Alignment: Challenges <ul><li>There aren’t games about many subjects </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Games that DO contain educational information may not be appropriate </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Games don’t always represent accurate information </li></ul><ul><li>Educators don’t have the resources or expertise to create their own games </li></ul>
    17. 17. Will Wright Example: SimCity
    18. 18. Will Wright Example: The Sims
    19. 19. Will Wright Example: Spore
    20. 20. Games as Texts <ul><li>Non-written texts are taught all the time </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Movies, TV, plays, radio, etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>How to do this? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Games that tell stories worth telling </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Games that reinforce traditional literacy skills </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Games leading students to traditional media </li></ul></ul>
    21. 21. Games as Texts Example: BioShock
    22. 22. Games as Texts Example: BioShock
    23. 23. Games as Texts Example: Neverwinter Nights
    24. 24. Games as Texts Example: Halo Novels
    25. 25. Students Making Games <ul><li>Wait, what? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Small is OK </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Making ≠ playing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Modding is making </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Why do this? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Allows students to demonstrate content mastery </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Technical skills </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Builds digital literacy </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Not easy to do </li></ul>
    26. 26. Students Making Games Example: Simple Games
    27. 27. Students Making Games Example: Simple Games
    28. 28. Students Making Games: Neverwinter Nights
    29. 29. Students Making Games Example: ScriptEase
    30. 30. Game-Like Course Design <ul><li>Games reflect pedagogy, so can pedagogy reflect game design? </li></ul><ul><li>How to do this? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Difficulty level </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Retry </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Gated progress </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hint system/tutorial/walkthrough </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Narrative </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>High score </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Does it work? </li></ul>
    31. 31. The Educational Games Database (TEGD) <ul><li>Teachers need gaming literacy to do any of this stuff well </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>Max Lieberman </li></ul>
    32. 32. Suggested Web Games <ul><li>Budget Hero (US federal budget strategy game) — </li></ul><ul><li>Lunar Colony (economics strategy game) — </li></ul><ul><li>Climate Challenge (environmental policy strategy game) — </li></ul><ul><li>Bow Street Runner (history adventure game) — </li></ul><ul><li>Ayiti: the Cost of Life (3 rd -world simulation) — </li></ul><ul><li>Jamestown Online Adventure (history strategy game) — </li></ul>