Educational Use of Games and Simulations

Educational Use of Games and Simulations

Article by Minigamesnow

There is evidence that the use of games as instructional tools dates back to 3000 B.C. inChina (Dempsey, Lucassen, Haynes, & Casey, 1998). Nevertheless, games and simulationsdid not become a part of the formal field of instructional design until the early 1970s, despitetheir entrance into the educational scene in the late 1950s (Gredler, 1996). Seels and Richie(1994) report that in those times audio-visual specialists saw the potential of games andsimulations but not of video or electronic games.Although computer games can be considered powerful tools for increasing learning (Dempsey,Lucassen, et al., 1998; Dempsey, Rasmussen, & Lucassen, 1996), there are two major problemsthat instructional designers encounter. One is that there are no available comprehensivedesign paradigms and the other is the lack of well-designed research studies (Gredler, 1996).Since the first problem will be handled in the following sections, at this point, it is properto proceed with a discussion on the second problem.While the literature on games and simulations is growing, a majority of the research studiesreport on perceived student reactions preceded by vague descriptions of games and simulations or on comparisons of simulations versus regular classroom instruction (Gredler,1996). The more important questions that need further research remain unanswered (Dede,1996; Dempsey, Lucassen, et al., 1998): How to incorporate games into learning environments?How do students learn best through games and simulations? What are the significantimpacts of games and simulations on learning that differentiate them from other forms ofonline teaching?Rieber (1996) argues that technological innovations provide new opportunities for interactivelearning environments that can be integrated with and validated by theories of learning.Prensky (2001) underscores the need for change in instructional design by claiming that muchof the instruction currently provided through computer assisted instruction and Web-basedtechnologies does not contribute to learning, rather it subtracts. People do not want to beincluded in such learning “opportunities” offered via “new wine into old bottles” innovativetechnologies, unless they have to, since these learning “opportunities” possess still thesame boring content and same old fashioned strategy as traditional education (pp. 92-93).Prensky (2001) puts forth that learning can best take place when there is high engagement,and he proposes “digital-game-based learning,” which has potential for achievement of thenecessary “high learning” through “high engagement” (p. 149). He states that high engagement,interactive learning process, and the way the two are put together will guarantee thesound working of digital game-based learning (Prensky, 2001).Rieber (1996) states that, “Research from education, psychology, and anthropology suggeststhat play is a powerful mediator for learning throughout a person’s life” (p. 43). Inline with this statement, Prensky (2001) further claims that, “Play has a deep biological,evolutionarily important, function, which has to do specifically with learning” (p. 112).However, despite some important psychological and cultural relationships to games, theeducation profession has long been hesitant about the value of games as an instructionaltool or strategy (Rieber, 1996). For instance, as the prevailing philosophy in education haschanged over time, the attitude toward play changed accordingly, too. “In one era, play canbe viewed as a productive and natural means of engaging children in problem-solving andknowledge construction, but in another era it can be viewed as wasteful diversion from achild’s studies” (Rieber, 1996, p. 44).The seamless integration of beneficial elements of games and simulations into learning,in an endeavor to create “game-like learning environments” seems promising and worthtrying. Before discussing the instructional designer’s concerns and reviewing instructionaldesign/development models, I will first provide a brief look into the “instructional design/development” field to catch a glimpse of what is going on there.

Chris Dede, the Timothy E. Wirth Professor in learning technologies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is deeply interested in the expanded human capabilities for knowledge creation, sharing, and mastery that emerging technologies enable. His teaching models theuse of information technology to distribute and orchestrate learning across space, time, and multiple interactive media. His research spans emerging technologies for learning, infusing technology into large-scale educational improvement initiatives, policy formulation and analysis, and leadership in educational innovation. He is currently conducting funded studies to develop and assess learning environments based on modeling and visualization, online teacher professional development, high-bandwidth telementoring, wireless mobile devices for ubiquitous computing, and multiuser virtual environments. Dr. Dede also is active in policy initiatives, including creating a widely used State Policy Framework for Assessing Educational Technology Implementation and studying the potential of developing a scalability index for educational innovations. From 2001 to 2004, he served as chair of the learning & teaching area at Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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