Guest Post: "Video Games: Time-Waster or Educational Tool?"

Ruberman Rodriguez picture of a warm, colourful, messy bedroom, with toys scattered, and child sitting on the floor wearing a blanket over their head, face illuminated by the laptop screen they are peering into intently.

"The first thing you notice when you enter a typical college dorm room is the mess, but what's the second thing you notice? If you answered the game consoles on a pedestal above the mess, you're right. After all, college students spend an average of almost two hours per day playing video games, a pretty big commitment when you remember they have classes, clubs, reading online, jobs, and social lives to see to. Parents and profs have long scoffed at this hobby, seeing it as a time-waster of the highest order, but new research suggests gaming might actually help college students make the grade.

Higher-Level Thinking and Multitasking Skills

College students have always had to be multitaskers, switching their brains from math to English to chemistry in the time span of a few hours, but technology has made multitasking even more important for today's college student. Today, students take online classes for college, and even offline classes have digital components. Students are asked to do more outside of class, such as completing virtual labs, blogging, and participating in online discussions. When they encounter this environment, video game players are at an advantage. A 2009 report found video games can help students improve their critical thinking skills. Gamers are used to multitasking and using the same higher-order thinking they need to solve chemistry problems to figure out how to successfully meet games' challenges. Just like college students must balance their virtual discussions with in-person learning objectives, gamers must stay on top of their health points, weapons, mission objectives, and allies.

Subject Application

Not only do video games help college students cultivate the general skills they need for college success, they also help students gain subject-specific knowledge. While not every subject can work well as a game, video games' captivating story lines and role-playing scenarios help students get engaged in ways no lecture can. An obvious connection can be made between video games and the narratives of literature and history, math and science can also reap benefits from this engaging medium. In fact, NASA has encouraged video game developers to create educational games to teach math and science.

"Wait a minute," you may be saying. "We had video games when I was in school too, and they were boring with a capital 'B.'" You're probably right. However, today's educational game-makers know how to use the right ratio of fun, challenge, and education to engage and motivate students, all while teaching them about the subject at hand. Part of the reason today's educational video games are so successful is simply the fact they use better visual and auditory stimuli, elements today's students thrive on. They're also successful because students enjoy being challenged and competing to accomplish a goal. Consider Geology Explorer and Virtual Cell, both science games put out by North Dakota State University. While they may not let students blow up enemies or trade game items, they encourage students to get involved in science by making them an active part of learning tasks.

Learning Disabilities

While most of the literature still advises parents of very young children to keep them away from games and television that could impact their growth, on the flipside studies show older students can use video games to overcome learning disabilities. According to the International Society for Technology in Education, video games can help people with learning disabilities because they allow students to work at their own ability levels, challenging them just enough that they grow but not so much that they give up. Video games also don't get annoyed when a student doesn't get it. If a student gets it wrong 100 times, the computer will be persistent. Sometimes it's just that persistence and consistency that learning-disabled college students need.

While it's unlikely you'll find an educational video game in a college student's Xbox, it's not unlikely you'll find that student more engaged in history or English because he can experience it as a game rather than a lecture. While video games probably won't be replacing conventional college education any time soon, they will likely be augmenting it from here on. Current gamers might already be ahead of the crowd."

Guest post by Marina Salsbury. Marina planned on becoming a teacher since high school, but found her way instead into online writing after college. She writes around the Web about everything from education to exercise. Image by Ruberman Rodriguez.


1 Responses to 'Guest Post: "Video Games: Time-Waster or Educational Tool?"'

  1. # Anonymous Ian Hamilton

    Assassins Creed 2 enthused me about history and taught me more about it than any lessons in school ever did. Everything from appreciation of Machiavellan politics recgnotion of renaisance architecture and scultpture to even knowing the different buildings on the venetian skyline... stunning. There's nothing like quite experiencing and living through something, no comparison at all to reading about it in a textbook.  

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