I'm currently digging up lots of research for a story I'm writing for Education Week about the role of games—like video games, computer games, and simulations—in the classroom. Last week, I came across two white papers, published by Education Arcade, a research initiative on gaming and school primarily by researchers from MIT.
The first one, Moving Learning Games Forward, is one of the most comprehensive reports I've read about the challenges that schools face when introducing games into the classroom and the differences between games and formal education that make it challenging to integrate the two in a meaningful way. But as the title suggests, it's not all bad news. The paper also gives suggestions for future games that aim to harness the potential that the activities have to engage students while keeping in mind school constraints related to access to technology and students' and teachers' time. It's a must-read for anyone who is considering using games in the classroom or for those who are in the process of creating games for teachers to use.
The second paper is about what students can learn using digital games, simulations, and social networking, and how teachers can leverage those skills in the classroom. The report discusses six factors that create barriers to implementation of those technologies: research and policy factors, district and school factors, factors associated with the teacher, factors associated with the project, factors associated with the student, and factors inherent to technology. It also gives suggestions of how to overcome those barriers.
It shouldn't surprise you to find out that the group of people behind those reports are watching closely Quest to Learn, the middle/high school opening in NYC this fall created around game-based learning principles. In fact, Katie Salen, the executive director of the Institute of Play, which is the organization launching the school, is an author of the first report.
Attempting to use games to teach content in the classroom is not a new idea, and neither are the challenges that teachers face in finding and implementing effective game-based learning tools. But it seems to me that as much as students are using games, simulations, social networking, and other technologies in their day-to-day lives, it's important for educators to at least stay abreast of the potential capabilities they could have.