Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Edugames is a hot topic (once again)

"Play has historically been acknowledged as an important part of learning, and has been present in learning environments through simulations, role plays and quizzes. As digital versions of play have evolved, interactivity-savvy entrepreneurs,professionals, academics and teachers have naturally introduced the palate of technologies afforded them by the modern world into formal and informal learning spaces."
[From: Unlimited learning Computer and video games in the learning landscape]

Sidney L. Pressey and B.F. Skinner developed teaching machines in early-mid 1900s. In 1924 Mr. Pressey 'showed that automated-instruction facilitated learning by providing for immediate reinforcement, individual pace setting, and active responding '. B.F. Skinner was inspired by Pressey's work and in 1954 he developed a machine to teach arithmetic.

The next jump towards 'edugames' was made when microcomputers became a bit more common in the 1980s. At that time CAL (Computer Assisted Learning) and drill games for match and language were introduced in schools. The following development step was in 1989-1995 when multimedia computers and CD ROMs were introduced. People bought efficient computers with a CD drive, a sound card etc. Thanks to the edutainment trend, the time seemed right for edutainment or edugames.

The last exuberance started around year 2000 when researchers discovered that edutainment hasn't been succesful because the term entertainment is too vague. Thus the solutions is: Edugames (and to use best seller games e.g. Sim City and Civilization in schools). And here we go again...

So what's the connection with ELSPAs report? First of all I am surprised that the report start with some sales figures. So what if 'Over the past 20 years, the UK’s computer and video game industry has grown into a multimillion pound business.' Are sales figures that relevant when talking about educational games or ways to use digital games in teaching?

The other thing is that too often reports like this just try to glue two things together. 'Digital games may become important tools for encouraging personalised learning, using these technologies has highlighted that they enable social engagement and collaboration.'

Yes we have heard that many times already. Are there any best practise examples? How to force / persuade teachers to learn to use computers and promote gameplay as an alternative way of learning? How to fit games into rather tight curriculum? How to actually utilize games in teaching? Would Web2.0 / social media solutions be more efficient 'tools' for uncompelled learning? Communication, sharing ideas, learning by doing and giving support is in the core of teaching IMHO. Thus web services could pretty nicely offer tools to motivate and inspire to learn new things.

I find it hard to believe that commercial game developers 'appear keen to work with educationalists in the development of their products'. I don't say that they are not interested. But it is not a question of will, it is a question of money. The game should make a lot of money to the producer and distributor -- perhaps also to the developers. I quess it (still) is pretty hard to assure financiers to put money into 'supercool (!!!) math edugame targeted to GTA players'. Or am I just a small-minded pessimist?

I am no expert in teaching, I am no educationalist, I completed comprehensive school ages ago and I am definitely not against edugames / edutainment / edusoftware. I actually think that there are a few nice edugame examples (e.g. golden oldie History City). The problem I have with this edutalk is that too often it seems to focus more on politics than creating a concrete initiatives. Of course games industry tries to improve their public image but isn't this a bit lame way of doing it?

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