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How to use computer games pedagogically

How to use computer games pedagogicallyMany teachers, parents and researchers are against computer games, but at the same time they are buying games for their own children. Their friends’ play the games, the marketing from the producers are severe and the computer games are an important part of a growing global cyber-culture. This means that the pupils and students are highly motivated. But how can a teacher transform this motivation into a learning experience?

According to recent research 80 percent of the most popular games include violent effects. The difference from watching TV passively is that the user in the virtual world is an active participant. There are many different views about the outcome, e.g. some people believe that young people hour after hour are involved in a culture of violence with very bad effects. While others are focusing on the fact that reacting and learning by doing is one of the most effective ways to learn.

According to a Swedish thesis from the University of Gothenburg about playing computer games and its effects, young players are not inspired by violence. Instead, the players are changing focus during the game mostly from the rules and how to reach the goals of the game that make them sit hour after hour in front of the screen. The thesis also shows that the children use the game as a playground where different words get new meanings. To have one life left means that the player has only one more chance to carry out an assignment and so on. The research method of thesis is based on empirical material, mostly analysing video-data with children from 6 to 12 years old.

The author of the thesis, Jonas Linderoth, concludes that to use computer games effectively as a pedagogical tool there must be a close connection between the theme of the game and the pedagogical goal. This method was also used in a Danish school project directed to 10-15 year old pupils. The basis of project was the popular but violent game Counterstrike and the non-violent game the Sims.

The theme of Counterstrike is the war of natural resources between the prosperous nation Mibia and the poorer desert-nation Kiba. The pedagogic idea behind the project is that the pupils in an inspiring virtual environment should develop their writing, storytelling and cooperation skills.

Actual playing of the computer game has taken the least time during the project. Most of the time the pupils have been focusing on the experiences and events from the game by both speaking in front of the class and writing down stories.

They have got familiar with the countries Mibia and Kiba, and from this information they have e.g. created tourist brochures for the countries. During the game the pupils learn to co-operate (two teams playing against each other), to plan strategies and together take both victories and defeats.

Another pedagogical concept is computer games that directly combine the game playing with learning. The virtual boardgame MindGame is a brilliant example where strategy and knowledge in the English language is essential to win the game. Students can play against each other or against the computer. The object of the game is to capture all your opponent’s pieces and make them your own. To capture each piece you have to answer a language question. Each session has a different theme, ranging from familiar vocabulary and grammar areas such as irregular simple past forms, to homophones, anagrams and chatroom slang. As students capture, lose and recapture squares, questions are repeated, and this is remarkably effective in helping students to learn the language items and become more confident. After the game, the pupils and the teacher receive a report about the language mistakes the pupils have made.

MindGame includes five knowledge levels where the teachers also easily can create their own categories within the programme. Lexis Language Centre in Spain has been using MindGame since the year 2000, and gives the following review:

”I prefer to use the program to preview what I am going to use in the next class. So, rather than use it to revise irregular verbs, I will use MindGame to pre-teach them. (…) We ask them to play against each other rather than against the computer – the result is a brilliant silence in the computer room and it is clear that very earnest learning is taking place.”

MindGame is here introducing new language areas, but at the same time, it works perfectly for repeating and training issues from introductions at traditional lessons. These are only some ideas of how to use the computer games in education, possibilities are almost unlimited.

Article Author: Lars Göran Boström©

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