John Dewey – a well-regarded American philosopher – nearly a hundred years ago said, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing so many changes to every aspect of our lives, from how we move around our towns and cities to how we interact with our coworkers, it is important that we begin discussing alternatives to the traditional in-person education system we have utilized in the past. I have always been an advocate for technology being used in classrooms: whether that was during my time volunteering to help young, underserved kids in S.T.E.M.; co-teaching a seminar for teachers on how to incorporate video games into the classroom; or as a panelist in a lesson designed to educate college students planning on becoming teachers and how to use technology in the classroom.
Video games in education
It has always surprised me that society frowns upon educating younger students through video games while it trains their pilots and doctors through simulations that could very well be considered video games. Video games provide something that long lectures can’t: engage students in enjoyable and memorable kinesthetic learning, allowing them to gain advanced skills that are meaningful in professional life. To be clear, I’m not advocating to let students play Call of Duty: Warzone – a first-person shooter game – during class; I believe games like Minecraft – a game where everything is made of cubes – can be used to teach important concepts like programming and team building. Minecraft EDU (the education version of Minecraft) has built-in tutorials and problems in which students need to program an in-game robot to move and do various tasks such as placing down and moving around said cubes. I have seen that when structure is provided in games that are meant to be educational, and not just used as a breaktime opportunity, students begin to learn concepts better, understanding them not only on the theory level of lectures and presentations but on the practical level that our modern workforce is now requiring.
That is not to say let all students play Minecraft EDU however and whenever they want to. A free-for-all game of Minecraft will not teach students how to code. It would more likely lead to disaster with a yelling competition across the classroom, and I have definitely seen cases of this sort of teaching before; however, with proper structure and guidance from the teacher, video games could be used as an excellent supplement to teach students. For example, a GeoGuesser-like game might help a teacher reinforce different architectural styles of buildings from different locations and eras.
Therefore, if video games are helpful in the classroom, why aren’t we using them? It is not for a lack of existing games: Gimkit, a question-asking game great for preparing students for tests and quizzes; icivics, a website full of minigames regarding the American government; phet, a bundle of various simulations from basic molecule modeling simulations for chemistry to advanced energy transfer simulations for physics; or the infamous wordle, to encourage students to increase their vocabulary. And just like the problem is not a lack of games, it is not a lack of resources either. Many school districts around the country are pouring money into buying tablets and laptops for students. With that, however, has come volleys of criticism toward major school districts over concerns such as lack of social interaction and creating distractions in the classrooms, and yes, both are legitimate concerns that can easily be countered.
Socializing through games
Social interaction can easily be maintained in the classroom by using games that are collaborative rather than individualized, forcing students to talk to one another and work together to solve the same problem, all while having fun playing an educational video game. For the second issue at hand, we can easily counter it by blacklisting, the process of preventing access to certain websites, programs and distractions, or by using software to allow teachers to monitor and control students’ computers, such as by remotely locking the computer. The probably most realistic argument is that people haven’t adjusted to the new technology. Around 200 years ago, there was an incident colloquially called the Yale Chalkboard Revolution; Yale, around this time, started implementing chalkboards in classes and lectures, and many students began fiercely arguing against using the chalkboard for a multitude of reasons. Yet, at the end of the day, chalkboards and dry-erase boards can now be found throughout numerous public schools and are commonly cited as a great resource for the classroom. Change is inevitable, and technology is commonplace at work. It is about time we allow it to be commonplace in schools.
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