There are over 7 billion people alive on Earth. Out of those 7 billion, at least 1.5 billion people play video games. The keyword is -play-. Gaming is no longer a stereotype culture of unsocialized kids neglecting their lives while living in their parent’s basements and growing into unproductive members of society. Instead, video games and gamers are everywhere.  From the military to nursing homes, video games are being deeply woven into modern society.  This leads some people to ask: do they belong in the classroom?  The answer is yes.  Allowing video games in the classroom leads to three very positive effects on students: it improves critical thinking skills, promotes positive, social behaviors, helps with motivation and teaches skills that could lead to successful careers in the technologies industry as adults.

Gaming in classrooms is already a thing and has been since computers were first introduced in a learning environment. Games such as Odell Lake, Math Blaster, and even Oregon Trail had students developing math, reading comprehension, and, of course, critical thinking skills.  Modern classrooms now include educational games such as Classcraft, Classrealm, and Minecraft EDU into their curriculum to teach a variety of subjects with incredibly positive results.  Students are challenged in programs like Minecraft EDU to solve math problems, write programming scripts, build architectural structures or historical sites, and even learn foreign languages: all topics that require the development of critical thinking skill. This allows teachers to challenge their students in ways that help increase brain plasticity and, according to PBS Idea Host Mike Rugnetta, “…kids respond because it’s a creative, collaborative, entertaining environment where they are in control of their own challenges.”  While not aiming to completely replace tried-and-true pedagogical methods, video games in the classroom are a fun and engaging way to get students to problem solve in a unique and memorable way, allowing them to carry these new skills with them into the future and to further develop social behaviors and personal motivation in a positive manner.

One of the biggest difficulties in the educational system is the difficulty of engaging all students.  Individual motivation is often difficult to assess and encourage when classrooms have too many students.  Students that require more individual attention often struggle more and therefore fall behind compared to their peers.  One way to combat this problem is with educational gaming.  Video games have a unique way of engaging all students on various levels, allowing for the teachers to let the more independent learners do their own thing while giving the appropriate time to the students who may struggle.  78% of teachers in a Huffington Post article by Kara Loo states that, “digital games improved low-performing students’ mastery of curricular content and skills… and 71% said they improved mastery of extra-curricular skills.”  These teachers also report seeing motivational levels increase drastically in “low-performing students,” (Loo). The unique environment in video games make personal success fun and attainable for any type of student.  Some games use creative reward systems for completing quests, missions, or various challenging tasks that help the student feel independently successful.  Improving motivation among students no longer needs to be a difficulty by allowing games in the classroom.  Additionally, there are psychological benefits when implementing educational video games in tandem with the core curriculum.

Developing social skills during a child’s most impressionable years is critically important, using MMO-style video games in the classroom can help.  Some games in the classroom, such as the ARGs (altered reality games), are great for individual learning and development; whereas, MMOs (massive multiplayer online games) or cooperative games bring students together in an entirely new way.  Educational classroom games like ClassRealm and Classcraft employ classic MMO mechanics found in regular games like World of WarCraft.  Students are able to freely express themselves in the form of an avatar, or, a character they use to navigate the virtual world.  These avatars can be customized from gender, race, skin/hair/eye color, clothes, and even fun accessories that they earn by completing quests established by the teacher regarding their lessons.  According to Loo, this encouragement of teamwork aids in developing “communication and interpersonal skills…. Children with positive social skills are more likely to have a high self-esteem, good peer relationships, and achieve in school,” which in turn, solidifies positive behaviors that lead to success in adulthood when applied to higher education and a more technologically-heavy career force.

Introducing children to video games in the classroom isn’t just beneficial to the child’s school career, it could help them be better prepared for their future career, too.  The technology industry is booming and computer-based skills and understanding are always in high demand.  Classrooms teach fundamental skills such as typing and word processing already, but with new educational video games, students can learn so much more to help prepare them for jobs that require knowledge in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  One study by S Kühn, T Gleich, R C Lorenz, U Lindenberger and J Gallinatthat used a control group to play the game Super Mario for 30 minutes each day for two months found that “video game training augments GM (gray matter) in brain areas crucial for spatial navigation, strategic planning, working memory and motor performance going along with evidence for behavioral changes of navigation strategy.”  With such positive results from recreational games, exposing children to fun, engaging and educational games will further improve their ability to process information and apply these skills in future endeavors.

Video games in the classroom are continuously proving to be effective means to educate students in developing critical thinking skills, positive, social behaviors, increasing motivational drive and preparedness for future careers in adulthood.  While it’s highly unlikely that video games will ever replace standard methods of teaching, when used in conjunction with current teaching methods, educational video games can improve student’s academic success and progress in all fields of assessment.  Scientists are more focused than ever in determining the positive and negative effects video games have on the general population, but the newest studies are bowing more in favor towards implementing these engaging programs in schools.  Students can work together to solve mysteries, understand mathematical theories, recite plays, surf through the solar system, learn languages, or simply improve their self-identity as a reward for playing an educational game in school.  The universe can literally be programmed to fit into each student’s hand and the opportunities for personal growth and development are endless.

 

*Transparency: This article was original written for a class assignment and edited from MLA to APA.