The Educational Benefits of Video Games

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Time for me to play the hypocrite. I have no problem with the research that says video games can be educational.

How do I square this with my loathing of Leapfrog and V-Tech? Easily:

Hard data is scant so far--most of the MacArthur-funded research projects are just getting under way--but there's no shortage of anecdotes testifying to the educational benefits of video and computer games and new multimedia tools. Simulation games in particular have already been embraced by some educators, as well as many businesses and the U.S. military, as effective ways to introduce people to environments and situations that would otherwise be too expensive, dangerous or impossible to access.

Kurt Squire, another University of Wisconsin researcher, has been observing students as they play Civilization, a simulation game in which players build historically realistic civilizations and interact with them as they evolve.

"We've got middle-schoolers now who are going to their teachers and saying, `I've built this historical model of the American Revolution, which took about 40-50 hours--can I submit this with a paper about it?'"

My friends, this is a far cry from a giant frog screaming at my kid: "I Love You, SO Much!"

First of all, all the examples offered are for older children than the V-Tech target audience. That's important.

Second, it's not even "educational toys" per se that are thought to have educational value. The researchers in the article instead point to the benefits of certain video games that simulate real-world or historical situations. These are games that make you use reason and knowledge if you wish to be successful. I guess here is where I embarrassingly admit that I've learned more about medieval history and weaponry from playing "The Age of Empires" than I previously knew. Trebuchet? I had no clue until one was laying siege to my kingdom.

Still, there are a couple of important things the article left out. First, these educational benefits can often be missed if a child playing these games doesn't give a crap. A game that takes place in a specific historical context is great, but if that context is incidental to the game - if it serves as a background that doesn't really have to be engaged in order to be successful, then the educational value is diminished.

Second, and this seems to me the more dangerous problem, David Shaffer, quoted in the article as saying, "we spend most of the first six or seven years of math education teaching kids to do what a 99-cent calculator does," seems to be suggesting that technology can replace the need for basic literacy. Sure, computer games can be used as a supplement - a practical application of actual lessons that can help children master concepts - but computers cannot obviate the need for the three R's. Balance is needed. I don't care if a calculator can multiply, my kids are going to learn their tables. And I don't care if the whole world can be run off of machines, kids still need an education in what it means to be human, which means engaging with flesh and blood humans in person and through the ideas of literature and history.

In the end, it falls to parents and educators to integrate technology as a part - yes, an increasingly important part, but still only a part - of a child's human formation.

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I am amazed by how much my boys (I'll include my husband as one of the boys)have learned by playing "Civ" and Age of Empires. But I hope to keep their education more well-rounded, even to the extent of them acting out scenarios in the front yard with old swimming "Noodles" - (sort of a Nerf sword or lance.)

Ha! Mama-Lu can tell you about Matthew and me being King Arthur and King Pellinore all weekend.


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This page contains a single entry by Papa-Lu published on February 27, 2007 4:31 PM.

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