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Digital Game Based Learning

timothy posted more than 11 years ago | from the young-lady's-primer dept.

Education 132

rjnagle writes "When Marc Prensky asked a colleague who had just returned from a training course how it was, she replied, 'AFTRB.' (Another #$#$^&# Three Ring Binder) . In his book, Digital Game-Based Learning , Prensky, an instructional game designer and founder of games2train, argues that computer games are more effective learning tools because they sustain interest and attention in settings where people are normally bored." To follow that train of thought (or if you just liked Ender's Game), read on below for Nagle's lengthy review of the book.

Digital Game-Based Learning (DGBL) consists of two parts. In the first part, Prensky argues that the prevalence of video games has actually rewired our brains and made traditional learning methods less effective. In the second part, Prensky makes the case that DGBL can be used successfully by corporations to train people and offers practical advice (based on vast experience) about how to deploy game-based training methods. Throughout the book, Prensky examines aesthetic, cognitive and pedagogical questions surrounding such games and provides dozens of case studies to illustrate his points.

Prensky argues that current learning methods for young learners fail to engage learners used to interactive media. Learners now expect interactivity. Prensky writes:

Games Generation workers rarely even think of reading a manual. They'll just play with the software, hitting every key if necessary, until they figure it out. If they can't, they assume the problem is with the software, not with them--software is supposed to teach you how to use it. This attitude is almost certainly a direct result of growing up with Sega, Sony, Nintendo, and other video games where each level and monster had to be figured out by trial and error, and each trial click could lead to a hidden surprise. Games are almost all designed to teach as you go.

Prensky believes that the instructor-led classroom and the teach-test method are actually historical artifacts no more than 200 or 300 years old. The teach-test instructor-led class and its instructional methods arose partially from the rise of the printing press and the widespread availability of reading material.

Why then does the teach-test method still prevail? One reason may be the generation gap and technology gap between learners and teachers. Even technologically savvy educators have biases towards methods that worked while they were learners themselves. The way we learn is to some extent a byproduct of the cultural and technological milieu we mature in. Twenty years ago educators were extolling the virtues of reading books while youngsters (including me) were "wasting" their time before the boob tube. Nowadays, undoubtedly, there is a tension between educators pushing "media literacy" (media, in this case, often equaling conventional TV broadcasting) and students too busy making additions to their online Sims house or watching webcams of friends to care. No matter how much you may try to keep up, I once told a group of middle-aged Ukrainian teachers, your students will always be more hip to the technology than you.

This is not merely a matter of age but of comfort level. Growing up with a technology (especially at an early ago) makes using it second nature. According to the neurology and psychology research that Prensky cites, the brain reorganizes and rewires itself in response to cultural stimuli, so a child who plays videogames at night is bored at class not because of "short attention span" or bad study habits but because the child's brain has programmed itself to respond better to "twitchspeed" interactivity. Prensky cites John Bruer's statement that achieving this kind of brain reorganization requires students to spend "100 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for 5 to 10 weeks to create desired changes because "it takes sharply focused attention to rewire a brain." Then Prensky adds, "Several hours a day, five days a week, sharply focused attention--does that remind you of anything? Oh yes -video games!" (p 43) . Interestingly, Prensky cites research about how children with attention deficit disorder are using video games to retrain their brain and help them to concentrate. For the game-playing child, going to school means having to "power down" and endure teaching methods ill-suited to him. (p44).

After Sesame Street showed that you could educate children by entertaining them (and sustaining their interest), games (and sometimes even instructional technology) have focused on how to sustain this interest. In an age where pop-ups, 15-second promos and CNN updates are everywhere, it is no wonder that "gaining attention share" is the central concern. Children have learned the art of selectively being able to tune out media. How then to keep their attention? Interestingly, this concern parallels that of game developers looking for better ways to sustain gameplay.

A child once described playing educational games as "hard fun." When people are "playing," they forget inhibitions and self-consciousness to concentrate on the game's mission (i.e, "learning objectives"). When I taught English to college students overseas, I was surprised to find that one of my weakest and least confident student interacted adeptly to an immersive role-playing game with a strong English language component. From my viewpoint, she was quickly comprehending spoken dialogue and responding appropriately. From her viewpoint, she had just crossed the bridge and now could start digging for gold. Cognitive breakthroughs often require distracting activity to allow the mind to refocus (visionary Alan Kay wrote, "people have more brainstorms on the jogging path than at their desks."). Educators typically view educational gaming as useful mainly for drill and practice, but as gaming environments become more complex, edugames may be more useful in providing roundabout paths towards concepts hard to reach by traditional methods. To use just one example, computer aids allow students to manipulate data and geometric figures as a way to experiment with mathematical principles. Indeed, one of Prensky's most successful game projects, the Monkey Wrench Conspiracy, taught young learners/players how to do 3D computer design by setting them in a spaceship with a mission to make repairs before the spaceship blows up.

The most fascinating section for me was Prensky's juxtaposition of game design principles alongside instructional design principles. Even if one doesn't accept Prensky's historical analysis (and thoughtful detractors like Kurt Squier have pointed out shortcomings) or his argument that games should be more widely used for training, Prensky's theoretical overview of game design should interest people in both the education and game camps. Both game designers and instructional designers are obsessed with epistemology: how to reveal information to the player/learner in a way that sustains interest; how to use conflict to change the player/learner's behavior or attitudes; how to provide enough feedback for the player/learner to change behavior; how to present a simplified view of the world without distorting it; and how to permit freedom of exploration within the constraints of an object-oriented world or of a lesson plan. These are concerns, by the way, that also interest writers of plays and fiction, except that the "player" is split into two roles: that of character (who is controlled by the playwright/writer controls) and audience (who can emphasize and anticipate, but can't change outcomes).

Prensky's grid that maps learning content to game styles (p156) indicates that sufficient varieties of games exist to tackle any training challenge. Electronic Jeopardy style games can drill employees about company policies (and these templates are commercially available and widely used). Realistic simulation games, although probably more costly to produce, may actually reduce training costs whenever the actual equipment or training environment is expensive to begin with. Better that the potential pilot crash-land a few Flight Simulator planes, or that the combat soldier accidentally kill a few civilians within a simulation environment than for real. Prensky offers good questions for evaluating the educational value of computer games: do people using it think of themselves as players rather than students? Is the experience addictive? Does it encourage reflection? Would the game be considered "fun" by someone outside the target audience? Despite the similarities, there are important differences, Prensky would argue, between games that entertain and those that educate. For one thing, successful games require visual external action to sustain attention. But this is not needed for certain domains of learning. Games may be good for learning the process of putting together a Burger King hamburger (p264), but would a game be practical for learning Java programming? Or Freud's theory of the unconscious? It's probably not impossible to design such a game; both Java and psychoanalysis involve understanding low-level mechanisms of causation, recognizing aberrant patterns and being able to select the correct algorithm from the available repertory of solutions. Role-playing and collaborative simulations would help. But what the learner needs most is FEEDBACK, game or no game. The assumption behind Prensky's advocacy of game-based learning is that content needs "livening up" or that external motivators (like video games) are needed to drive the students toward learning. I am not questioning the value of these "external motivators." But I have to wonder whether Prensky's pedagogical approach implies that certain kinds of learning activities cannot be self-motivating. Sure, a game about Java programming might amuse the CS student, but the more crucial question (I would argue) is whether this student finds the very activity of programming in java to be "hard fun."

To Prensky's credit, he does not insist that game-based learning is the best strategy for every learning situation. Perhaps the most compelling part of the book is a discussion of more than 40 case studies where computer games have been cost-effective at training. They range from an animated courtroom game (Objection) to a customer service game (where in the world is Carmen Sandiego's Luggage?) to a Sexual Harassment gameshow and many fine examples from Prensky's own company (which can be sampled online for free). He offers helpful advice (undoubtedly gained from experience) about how trainers can launch and even manage such a project. Among his suggestions: befriend IT as soon as possible; choose urgent learning needs that are "boring, complex or difficult," and offer game-based learning in conjunction with more traditional methods and give learners the option NOT to learn via the game method. Prensky offers practical suggestions to companies with training budgets ranging from the hundreds of thousands of dollars to nothing. Although the book is two years old, it still gives a good sense of what your money can get you these days.

Critics usually argue that "e-learning" doesn't compare favorably to live teachers. That is missing the point; the real question is whether e-learning (and game-based learning) provides comparable learning at a lower cost. As e-learning and game-based learning becomes more cost-effective, Prensky predicts a fairly radical transformation of the teacher/trainer's role. To some extent, this has already occurred with the advent of collaborative and student-based learning. But trainers may spend more time choosing the best learning tool for students (or creating new ones!) than actually teaching in a classroom. Is this bad? Prensky mentions that "any teacher who can be replaced by a computer, should be." In this world of game-based learning, Prensky argues, teachers can play a vital role in ensuring that students adequately reflect on the problems or conflicts that arose during the game/learning activity. Games are good at interactivity but bad at reflection. They offer ample opportunities for learning by doing, Prensky says, but minimal opportunities for reflection. One student, asked what he learned from playing SimCity, said, "I learned that if I don't feed the people, they will starve and die." That is clearly insufficient. A good instructor can help the student explore issues more deeply: how do politicians decide about allocating resources? Does the feedback offered to politicians give an accurate reflection of society's needs and problems? What strategies worked or did not work within the context of the game? Would these strategies also work in real life? Reflection is not necessary for every learning context, but today's trainers can make sure students have enough reflection to reap the benefits of game-based learning.

Prensky's book is an excellent introduction to this exciting field. He writes superbly and has a good grasp on learning theory and software design. Although clearly an enthusiast, he never implies that DGBL is the only or best teaching method. Many of Prensky's successes involve computer games as a primary component, but computer games don't need to play a central part in a lesson to be useful for learners. For example, a student can attend a traditional foreign language class and practice at home using a computer game. Ultimately computer games may have more value as supplemental material than as primary material.

Prensky's critique of the traditional trainer is sometimes unfair, especially the "generation gap" thing. Technology is not essential for reaching younger learners (and some experts have decried its overuse). Resourcefulness, a well-designed curriculum and motivational ability trumps game-based learning every time (even Prensky would agree with that, I think).

If we accept Prensky's premise that instructional methods are somehow determined by the prevailing state of technology, one starts down the path of saying that instructional methods are subject to obsolescence. New teaching methods may be more cost-effective or more motivating, but they don't necessary repudiate the value of "old-fashioned" methods (indeed, there will come a time when DGBL will be regarded as old-fashioned, so Prensky better watch out what he says). Using teaching methods so dependent on a technology, I would argue, has the unfortunate effect of rendering teachers helpless in the wake of massive technological breakdown. If a trainer/facilitator skilled in DGBL suddenly found his classroom without Internet access, could he still train employees effectively? One of my most edifying experiences as a teacher came at a Albanian university in Vlore lacking not only computers, but also copy machines and yes, sometimes even electricity. Every day I walked to class, mentally having to plan for contingencies (no electricity, inability to obtain photocopies from a nearby shop) for the day's lessons. While I still managed to pull off some funky lessons (with battery-powered cassette players, magic markers, magazine pictures and large posterboards), I couldn't help wondering if my "innovative teaching methods" merely burdened me with more things that could go wrong. The flip side of Prensky's magnificent vision is the nightmare scenario of teachers so overwhelmed with newfangled technological aids that they opt for the tried-and-true (but technologically primitive) methods rather than risk losing a class to downtime.

Although the spectacular successes mentioned in the book were informative, it also might have been helpful to examine cases where DGBL have failed or turned out to be not particularly remarkable. Every so often, a new theory or learning method hits the world, and suddenly educators use this method whether it is appropriate or not. When is DGBL not appropriate?

When making the business case for DGBL, Prensky overlooked two important things. First, the obsolescence of technology and technological standards (and the perception of obsolescence) diminishes the value of custom-built games for corporations. This seems to be an argument for using cheaper mass-market games rather than convincing the CEO to fund an ambitious game project. Also, I'm surprised that the book didn't spend more time on one obvious advantage to DGBL: digital assessments. Computer games make it easier to verify that learners performed required tasks and to keep the performance data in digital form to demonstrate compliance. That would be a big selling point for human resources.

I've written elsewhere that as immersive games become more sophisticated and develop their own society and values, real life will start to resemble a video game and videogame prowess may become an end worth pursuing for its own sake. Now that weapons and radar systems look more like computer games, for example, military recruiters might be happy with legions of game addicts manning their battalions. As it becomes easier to gain knowledge and experience completely from computer games, the notion of having to learn things from real life will start to seem very strange.

Other Resources

Marc Prensky has put generous excerpts from the book online for free. His company website contain a lot of fun free/demo games, including (my favorite) "The Challenge." Expect it to be slashdotted for a while. You can also buy the book here.

Kurt Squire of MIT's Games-to-Teach project , has written a preceptive article, Reframing the Cultural Space of Computer and Video Games and many other things on game-based learning , including an excellent critique of Prensky's book.

Dr. Sivasailam "Thiagi" Thiagarajan writes frequently on using games for training. His Thiagi website contains lots of freebies as well as a free monthly newsletter with lots of game/training ideas.

Gamasutra has a separate section on writings about educational games. Free registration is required.

Although not explicitly about game-based learning, Steven Poole's book, Trigger Happy offers a sophisticated aesthetic analysis of videogame narratives and engagement.

Robert Nagle (aka Idiotprogrammer) is a linux nut, technical writer and trainer with a background in instructional design and game design. He works for Texas Instruments in Houston. You can purchase Digital Game Based Learning from Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Interesting Logic... (0, Troll)

disneyfan1313 (138976) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825298)

So by using this logic, what would Japanese Hentai Games teach me?

Re:Interesting Logic... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5825403)

Useful in sensitivity training:

"I shouldnt rape 12 year old girls with my tentacles"

Re:Interesting Logic... (-1)

Fecal Troll Matter (445929) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825406)

Most likely they'd teach you to impale young virgin school girls with your monstrous throbbing semen sword.

Re:Interesting Logic... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5825754)

hey your sig is outdated

I did try (5, Interesting)

too_bad (595984) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825365)

I actually went to their site and clicked on play a game. I chose business ethics
and it brought up this solitaire game with questions after each move to the top.
Its so very annoying. Either gimme the questions separately, I will answer them and
move on with my day, or gimme a solitaire game, and I will play it until the meeting ends.
Put both together and you are tying a boring game with a boring topic putting me to
instant sleep.

(sighs) Is this innovation at its best ?

I had a similar experience (2, Interesting)

anonymous loser (58627) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825830)

I played the "Cube Dude" game (a rip-off of pacman) w/Business Ethics. The game was absolutely awful. When you got to a blue box (e.g. power pill) you had to answer a question.

First off, the game was slow as hell whenever you had to switch between game/question screens, even though it loaded all the questions in advance. Then, after answering a question, you are returned to the game, but the arrow keys no longer respond! So, you have to sit around waiting for one of the pathetic "bosses" to come get you, where it restarts you in the center, and the arrow keys work again.

Second, the game's design and execution was mediocre at best, and that's being generous. I've seen better games on the back of cereal boxes, and no I'm not exaggerating.

The sad part is that there are plenty of games that make learning fun. Take a look at "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" for example. Even a Trivial Pursuit-style game can be fun, if it's implemented correctly. The stuff I saw on that website was definitely not fun, however.

propagating the ADD pandemic (3, Funny)

donkiemaster (654606) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825370)

and i should know...what were we talking about?

I'm speechless! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5825402)

Why? Why?

I've been to the National Cathedral... it's a beautiful place, even for pagans such as myself. Why would they carve a Darth Vader into the arches?

I'm sorry, but I just find this amazingly stupid. Maybe someone could enlighten me as to why this was done? The page seems to be /.ed already.

Re:I'm speechless! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5825419)

It was a contest to design a gargoyle, some kid submitted a Darth Vader and was picked.

Grotesques aren't religious images, just scary things to chase away the devil and whatnot. Darth is as good as any other image.

It's True (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5825410)

I know I learned all about design from playing The Sims, in fact putting a pool in the backyard (or frontyard) tends to invite unwanted neighbors.

should have read this /. just before sleeping (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5825417)


talk wolfenstein as an example (5, Funny)

iamkrinkle (585605) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825438)

I've always had a theory that if with each patch of return to castle wolfenstien they added more german, i would be fluent in a year. Already my cousin and will yell shnell! shnell! when we are hanging out occasionally... can't believe i just admitted that... *hangs head in shame*

Re:talk wolfenstein as an example (3, Funny)

nick this (22998) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825541)

I bet that's right, but the subset of the language you would learn would only be appropriate if, say... you were infiltrating a castle full of Nazis.

Seems less useful than it probably could be. :)

I dunno. Maybe you spend lots of time infiltrating Nazi filled castles.

LMAO (0)

FortKnox (169099) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825568)

Actually, the subset would be appropriate if you were IN a nazi castle and it got infiltrated. So, you'd be over in Germany and you'd be able to tell a guy:
"Die you capitalistic pig!"
"My life!" (Mein Laven or whatever)
"Sound the alarm!"

Looks like you're better off not going anywhere near Germany...

Re:LMAO (1)

ralico (446325) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825699)

That would be:
"Eterben, Sie Kapitalistschwein!"
"Mein Leben!"
"Klingen Sie die Warnung!" least acccording to Babelfish []

Re:talk wolfenstein as an example (0)

iamkrinkle (585605) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825662)

i'm an american! they can adapt to MY langauge god damnit! ;) i'll say shnell shnell if i want... hehe

Re:talk wolfenstein as an example (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825691)

I've thought about this for decades. If "they" just incorporated real facts into entertainment, people would learn fantastically well. Imagine a Star Trek that teaches real physics! Even ghetto kids can learn, look at all the raps they have down pat because they listened so many times. But entertainment decision-makers will never OK such things, because they would no longer be in control. Plus, the snobbery of "we're not running a documentary" will never go.

Re:talk wolfenstein as an example (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5825730)

Imagine a Star Trek that teaches real physics!
Yeah! A single episode would take several hundred years as the Enterprise travelled between star systems and when it got there, they wouldn't be able to land on any planet because the atmosphere, gravity or radiation level would be completely unsuitable for human life! Wild!

Re:talk wolfenstein as an example (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825952)

such a show would still be lifetimes better than the 'latex forehead alien of the week' crap that The Next Generation used.

Re:talk wolfenstein as an example (1)

Erwos (553607) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826179)

This might be odd, but the AD&D books in 2nd edition were excellent resources. When my high school class was doing medieval history, I barely needed to read the textbook - the AD&D books had already covered quite a bit of what medieval life was like, along with some of the more famous players.


Re:talk wolfenstein as an example (1)

Reckless Visionary (323969) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826264)

Even ghetto kids can learn

No shit? Wow and all this time I thought "ghetto kids" couldn't learn.

Re:talk wolfenstein as an example (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826790)

Take a look at the test scores for inner-city schools. It's very sad, but an unfortunate fact of life.

first post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5825440)

yea first post baby

What about inherent social lessons? (5, Insightful)

ckessel (607295) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825465)

A good chunk of going to primary school is learning how to behave socially. Learning ramifications for social action/inaction. One can argue this is true all through schooling, even in college, as people mature they need both other students to interact with and teachers to help guide those behaviors. This is, excluding a few "health" type classes, all done along side the normal learning that goes on. If you replace many teachers with machines, and students are in an e-learning environment where they don't interact with other students (or interaction is limited) then I'd guess you're going to lose an important part of what people actually learn as they go through the school system.

Re:What about inherent social lessons? (2, Insightful)

FortKnox (169099) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825490)

I think that the theory is sound (as far as games teaching kids), however, I believe it should be a 'secondary' approach (like replace the games with educational games) so the kids learn whenever they are being solidary anyway. This stuff should never replace school for the same reason as you are stating plus more.

I tutored a child prodigy, but his mother refused to push him up grades. Why? Because you learn social interaction, and school teaches you how to learn. Something a video game can't really teach you.

Re:What about inherent social lessons? (1)

wiremind (183772) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826001)

"school teaches you how to learn. Something a video game can't really teach you."

I Disagree Completely.
School teaches you to memorize.

Too tired to elaborate...


Re:What about inherent social lessons? (2, Interesting)

Suidae (162977) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826131)

Because you learn social interaction, and school teaches you how to learn.

Hmm, I was a typial smart geek type in elementary school. School taught me 1) geeks make good dodge-ball targets, and 2) teachers spout boring, obvious information.

I still remember in 2nd grade the art teacher standing in front of the class holding her ring up to the light, sqinting through it with one eye, telling us how round it was, and that our construction paper circles should be just like that. I was thinking 'no shit, but how am I supposed to cut like that with these damned blunt lefty kid-sissors?'

Re:What about inherent social lessons? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5825505)

In other words,

Computer geeks are socially inept because they spend all their time interacting with machines.


Geeks interact with machines because they are socially inept.

I agree with you, but computer game-based training has a place. Driving sims are good to get some experience before you plunk someone in control of an 18 wheeler, and flight sims are great way to train pilots.

Re:What about inherent social lessons? (2, Interesting)

ckessel (607295) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825552)

>computer game-based training has a place. I definitely agree. Perhaps we need to distinguish training versus education? I see computers as being most useful in training, especially technical training where you're learning a skill.

I don't see them being as useful in teaching a concept. Perhaps in reinforcing it though. I remember a "game" in high school that let you get a little computer guy drunk and try to drive home. We had fun getting so wasted he could drive, but not pass out, and see if he crashed. We'd already learned the concept, but the game actually did a decent job of instilling how long detox took, increased odds of accidents, etc.

Re:What about inherent social lessons? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5825569)

A good chunk of going to primary school is learning how to behave socially.

If that's the goal, the school environment would seem to be poorly structured for it.

Think about it: You have 20-30 people, all of whom are within one year of the same age. You have an authority figure running things. The students can't leave (though they can be thrown out). They can't even go to the bathroom without permission.

What sort of adult society has that type of structure? The Army? Prison? One of the old-fashioned "dark satanic mill" factories? That's about it.

It seems to me that if you want them to learn proper social skills they should be in an environment with people of different ages and backgrounds, and one in which there is a less rigid hierarchy of power. Note that this is not the same as anarchy... I mean an environment that teaches them that different people have different domains of expertise. Not an environment that teaches them (or attempts to teach them) to listen to a single authority figure.

Re:What about inherent social lessons? (1)

FortKnox (169099) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825633)

You, obviously, don't have kids.

Now, what you say is true, but remember, these are children. Children find the 'bounds' of rules by breaking them as far as they can, until they get in trouble. Discipline must be instilled on children until they are of a mature age when they understand that learning is what is necessary for them to get anywhere in life.

Re:What about inherent social lessons? (1)

delphi125 (544730) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825941)

You, obviously, are very sick. Now, what you say is false, since children are individuals. Children are 'different', and although some learning may be imposed through punishment in certain cases, often they try to mimic good behaviour. The original AC was merely suggesting that it would be better to set a good example more often than to impose a punishment system for bad behaviour (and the AC made no suggestion of whether children of 5 or 15 were being discussed). As for your sickness, it is the fundamental sickness of society (not a personal insult). Despite children being perhaps our (human races) greatest resource, they are cared for by overworked and undertrained teachers and parents (even in our richest societies, perhaps even more so the richer it gets). Treat children as people (at all ages) and not as glorified pets in which to 'instill discipline'. As to learning, and to keep on-topic... although it might seem opposite to my thesis that children need MORE teacher time, that doesn't mean that computers cannot help. To the contrary, some children may prefer and enjoy practicing skills (be it 2+3 or building a city economy) whereas others may need to be shown (repeatedly). Again, children differ, some learn by doing, others by example, some fast and some slow. Saddest of all is that society treats adults impersonally too, but that is hardly surprising considering that the adults were all... kids once.

Re:What about inherent social lessons? (2, Insightful)

KiahZero (610862) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825740)

You've missed one of the biggest problems with this model, in my opinion. Think Social Darwinism doesn't exist anymore? Take a look at a public school sometime.

Children are allowed to be absolutely awful to one another, so long as they don't fight. Once they do fight, they both get suspended for equal amounts of time, no matter who started it, or if one person was attacked and didn't even fight back. Teachers have learned to simply ignore all of this, and pretend it's not going on.

I'm willing to bet there's a sizable number of /.ers who were picked on / teased / bullied in school. Yet that's seen as a 'kids will be kids' thing that will go away. No one things about the lessons that are learned.

Personally, the school system as it stands now reminds me of the Drow justice system. Do what you want to each other, so long as it's not heinous enough to force the administrators to take action.

Re:What about inherent social lessons? (3, Interesting)

PatientZero (25929) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825722)

Don't think about replacing teachers with computers and stop there. The point is to use computers for tasks that computers are good at, freeing up the teacher's time to focus on things that computers can't do.

For example, let's take basic math. The teacher typically spends a lot of time doing "drills" on the board, "What's 4 + 7? And 11 + 32? How about 9 + 18, Johnny?" Those that grasp the concept quickly must suffer through endless boredom. Those that don't must struggle to keep up.

A computer game could do these drills (and I bet even the basic explanation of what the operators mean and do). Then the teacher could go around helping those in need one-on-one, maximizing personal interaction where it's needed most. As well, those that are doing well (easily determined by automatic scoring) could help out their classmates.

I'm realistic, and I know this is not the be-all-end-all solution. The trick is recognizing that (a) teachers are expensive (and should be paid far more, but don't get me started), (b) their time is limited, and (c) each student learns at a different pace. With class sizes much larger than most people believe to be effective, any solution that relieves the teacher of rote tasks while still being effective is a win.

Re:What about inherent social lessons? (1)

Suidae (162977) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826158)

A computer game could do these [math] drills

When I was in school, thats what we did, on Apple machines. I swear, I never could figure out why I couldn't get my score to go over 100%, even when I answered them all right.

Re:What about inherent social lessons? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5826142)

I don't think that the author is saying that traditional learning should be completely replaced, only that computers can be used to teach certain subjects to younger students better than the traditional method.

Re:What about inherent social lessons? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5826392)

Umm, how much student interaction is found in the traditional classroom? Answer: almost none. Therfore your argument is invalid. Farthermore, nothing states that the "games" can not be multi"player". This would allow structured student interaction on a level impossible befor.

Won't you come and sing with me (2, Interesting)

Mattygfunk1 (596840) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825476)

.. computer games are more effective learning tools because they sustain interest and attention in settings where people are normally bored.

I find it strange that every kid gets taught letters and numbers by using learning games, yet more advanced learning ignores this technique.

I know that there are games that teach you to program ( is an example), but the potential in all areas of training isn't used. Maybe we will see a trend towards learning games in the future.

cheap web site hosting []

The Typing Of The Dead (2, Insightful)

itchyfidget (581616) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825889)

Yeah, you read that right ;o)

This was a great game for PC (maybe 3 years ago?), based on the arcade shoot-em-up House Of The Dead. Instead of shooting, though, it would flash words up at you and you had to type them as fast as possible with as few errors as possible. The faster and more accurate, the more you shot the zombies coming for you. It was hilarious (in fact sometimes it was really hard to type for laughing), but also made for great practice at typing. Mavis Beacon it ain't.

More of this sort of thing would be good.

Re:Won't you come and sing with me (1)

nossid (652717) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826104)

I find it strange that every kid gets taught letters and numbers by using learning games, yet more advanced learning ignores this technique.

Hey, almost everyone I know at my University prefer to play games instead of reading books and studying the old fashioned way. Does it mean that we are actually way ahead of the rest? Yay!

Re:Won't you come and sing with me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5826489)

I know that there are games that teach you to program

Sounds kinda redundent. I started programming when I was 13. It was the funnest game I knew. I still think programming is a game, 30 years later, and to think someone actualy pays me to play! BTW, I have heard UNIX refered to as the world greatest "Text based adventure game".

I just had a thought... (4, Funny)

Hayzeus (596826) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825483)

wouldn't porn-based learning be far more effective. Our brains, after all, have been "wired" to respond to sex for all of our evolutionary history. I see a book deal and a sh*t load of seminars in my future. I'll be rich!

Re:I just had a thought... (1)

Bob(TM) (104510) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825529)

Forget that! Just think of the field work, man!

Re:I just had a thought... (0)

Red Warrior (637634) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825637)

yes []

Re:I just had a thought... (1)

DoomHaven (70347) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825739)

MAD magazine once had an humourous article about using paperback porn to teach high-school subjects to semi-literate teens. Now *that* was educating.

Re:I just had a thought... (1)

Grab (126025) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826311)

Except remove the porn, and that's exactly what "Harry Potter" and similar kids' books have done (Roald Dahl is another good one). Reading rates are way higher now than before amongst the HP target audience.

If reading is interesting, kids'll read. Blame that problem on kids being given "See Spot run" books to learn with instead of anything more interesting. If I'd learnt to read by seeing Spot run and Janet and John being fucking twee, I'd rather be illiterate too.

(BTW, don't tell me about Harry Potter porn. I really don't want to know about broomsticks, or wands, or what centaurs get up to of an evening. Or Janet and John and Spot, either. ;-)

It comes back to the same thing as this game-based stuff, anyway - let kids learn in a format they're happy with, rather than a format you're happy with.


Re:I just had a thought... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5826366)

yeah, because everyone already know people read all the articles in porn magazines

A Quote from "A Boy and His Dog" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5826573)

"... the glands swell, and the brain freezes". I don't think this is the greatest mode to learn. Of course that depends a little bit on what is being taught. "Oh yea, just like that .... oooh!"

*groans* (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5825517)

an instructional game designer and founder of games2train
To follow that train of thought

I hope that wasn't intentional...

learning to learn (4, Interesting)

scrotch (605605) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825532)

One of the most important parts of an education is to learn how to learn things on your own. You need to learn to research from available materials and to observe and analyze the real world.

Video games don't teach this way. It would be very difficult to design one that would teach broadly enough to have this sort of benefit. What we have are games that reward hunt-and-peck experimentation like a rat pushing buttons until the food pops out rather than the shock. This teaches small lessons about specific tasks in specific environments. It does not teach how to develop a picture of the world at large. What we need is the (obviously beyond our means) world-reactive book in Stephenson's Diamond Age.

The SimCity example is interesting. That game doesn't translate nicely into real life because you can't click on actual people to get a summary of how happy they are or what they want. You can't even get accurate information by asking most people. You get that information from observation, empathy and an understanding of the 'human condition' which is learned from literature, history and art.

I can see children taught this way being utterly helpless when they can't find the video game that will teach them C++ or how to question their cell phone bill. They'll be looking for Divorce Master v2. They'll be small-task based and utterly manipulatable. Throw an image on the TV and their trigger fingers will start clicking with no idea what the long term might bring.

Assumably this sort of teaching would augment rather than replace teachers. However, the trend in education has been toward employable task learning recently. Unless this remains balanced by broad focussed lessons, our society will be about as useful as its credit limit.

BS! (2, Funny)

Hayzeus (596826) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825626)

The SimCity example is interesting. That game doesn't translate nicely into real life because you can't click on actual people to get a summary of how happy they are or what they want. You can't even get accurate information by asking most people. You get that information from observation, empathy and an understanding of the 'human condition' which is learned from literature, history and art.

You can TOO click on people to see what they want. As it turns out, they usually want you to stop clicking on them. Occasionally, they even take out restraining orders...

Re:BS! (1)

dAzED1 (33635) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825733)

poor guy...when I click on someone, they tend to like it. Guess it all depends on how good a clicker you are! ;)

Re:BS! (1)

KiahZero (610862) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825765)

Sometimes they yell at you to stop poking them. Or to stop rocking the boat, because you're making them seasick. I guess that footman is glad he's not sailing when you do that.

Re:learning to learn (1)

prozac79 (651102) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825947)

"One of the most important parts of an education is to learn how to learn things on your own. You need to learn to research from available materials and to observe and analyze the real world. Video games don't teach this way"

I'm not too sure that is entirely accurate. I think some video games are great tools in teaching people, especially children, how to analyze your environment, look at your available resources, and create a plan for moving forward. I know that when I was young, I played tons of Sierra "Quest" games that forced me to be creative, innovative, and look at a puzzle at different angles (not to mention it really helped my typing skills before they moved to a more point-and-click style). Sure, it's not the "real world" on the computer screen, but those skills do have real world uses.

I have never liked the argument that some parents give that in order to teach their children about technology you can't use games. They think that by sticking a child in front of a word processing or spreadsheet program that the child will get much more benefit than playing a good computer game. However, children are not interested in spreadsheets or word processing, but they are interested in games. Let them play games on the machine, let them get a feel for how a computer works, make them install the game themselves (that is how I learned DOS and OS basics), and basically let them explore the computer letting them do what they want to do, not what you hope they will do. Believe me, the word processing, spreadsheets, and programming languages will come in the future if the child doesn't have horrible memories of it being shoved down their throats (like piano lessons).

Re:learning to learn (1)

Horzagobchul (445039) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826033)

Games have been educational long before there were video games. I've always been impressed by how much better an idea of, for example, Germany's Barbarossa campaign you can get from a wargame like Fire in the East, than from worthy historical works that simply list the battles and the millions of dead.

Just because the current crop of video games generally have little educational value doesn't make it an impossible mission. The Total War franchise gives you a reasonable idea of the complexities and detail of Medieval Japan and Europe, which certainly inspired me to do some background reading.

There are certainly difficulties in educating in subjects other than History, but it's not going to create any more morons than we have already. The book in the Diamond Age is an artifact that may be beyond us now as an educational tool (among many others), but that certainly shouldn't stop us from making some baby steps toward it.

Re:learning to learn (2, Interesting)

hardpack (655741) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826205)

As a middle- and high-school teacher, I'm working on integrating the Sims in a learning environment, similarly to how Prensky proposes in What Kids Learn that's POSITIVE... [] , but in a slightly different way.

With the Sims, students can experiment with modelling a different personality or type of interaction with other characters, and formally analyze how you learn about other peoples' wants and/or needs.

I feel that if I had the training to formally analyze social situations, even at the most superficial, it would have made my own social maturation a bit easier from the start.

If you focus and guide the lesson and not just give them a "game to play," these can be used very effectively.

Now, I have to figure out how to get the money to *buy* the Sims... (Teacher salaries + school district budgets) is basically adding zeroes.

Re:learning to learn (1)

scrotch (605605) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826469)

With the Sims, students can experiment with modelling a different personality or type of interaction with other characters, and formally analyze how you learn about other peoples' wants and/or needs.

This may be a good place to start the lesson. It should be engaging and interest the students. But it will not be a good place to end the lesson. It won't be safe to assume that the Sims is a perfect (or even mediocre) model of real psychology. You, personally, will also need to bridge the gap between the real world and a model in which you can break a personality into five or six areas that you can assign specific numeric values to.

Again, it's a good place to start. But it needs to be connected to the real world - you have to make sure that the subtleties, nuances of actual human interaction aren't forgotten. You have to bridge the gap between the world where you read someone's numbers and the world where you decide to trust someone with your life based on their words and appearance.

I feel that if I had the training to formally analyze social situations, even at the most superficial, it would have made my own social maturation a bit easier from the start.

I whole-heartedly agree that there should be more of this, and I'm glad you're teaching it. I worry that games will be used to replace other important methods and that other teachers will use them to avoid teaching themselves. Like the stereotype of the gym teacher that shows filmstrips (or videos these days, huh?).

It's important to not gloss over how complicated humanity is. Especially now, when television and video games are young people's main inputs. Televison reduces almost everything to a situationin which the right product will save the day. Video games (current non-educational titles) reduce everything to Good vs. Evil situations in which it's unnecessary or impossible to decide for yourself what might be the right thing to do.

Of course it's not impossible to write a video game that has the complexity and insight of the great literature of the world... but we're a long way from anything close.

java (1)

Joe the Lesser (533425) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825536)

I think by the time you are learning java programming, it's fun on of it's own volition. Otherwise why are you spending so much money to learn it.

I did love that number cruncher game in 2nd grade though. And Oregon trail! Fort Walla Walla, here I come!

Re:java (1)

MAX_KOOL (553694) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826606)

Orgon trail... buffalo... yum

Especially if attention span time l.t. IQ l.t. 10 (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5825551)

Blame it on MTV!

I deal with this everyday (5, Insightful)

AssFace (118098) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825582)

The company I'm currently at (although only until mid-May) is an eLearning company. We have to deal with this stuff all of the time. We are already moving more towards the wireless/handheld market and we are trying to develop learning games as well.

It is relatively easy to make a game.
It is significantly harder to make it a fun game.
It is even harder to make it a fun game that you can learn from.
We have spent a lot of time working on it, and I almost wonder if it is a contradiction in terms - the learning has to be transparent to the user or else they will percieve it as work and even things that would normally be fun, very quickly becoming tiresome and annoying.

There are instances where you can combine games and *work* (the doom port that allowed you to kill processes) - but there are very few good instances of games where you explicitly learn.
There are many games that have inherant spatial learning that is part of it, or small puzzles that are solved - all well and good for maze exercises and working the logic part of your brain.
But for developing and learning towards an end goal of a concrete subject - say to learn Spanish - or to learn about how the body metabolizes a certain drug - or what increases the incidence of heart attacks in certain people... Then you get into a tough area.

Oregon Trail and Math Blaster are two games that come to mind that taught something and were vaguely fun... but given the choice to play those, or GTA III - I think I know what everyone would chose.

Re:I deal with this everyday (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5825689)

But for developing and learning towards an end goal of a concrete subject - say to learn Spanish - or to learn about how the body metabolizes a certain drug - or what increases the incidence of heart attacks in certain people...
The first one: maybe a vocab tester game. The second one is obviously better learnt by experiment rather than simulation, and once you've done that on a variety of substances you'll learn some answers to the third.

Just one thing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5826030)

Please, please, *please* tell me that the "eLearning company" you work at isn't

Re:Just one thing... (1)

AssFace (118098) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826615)

LOL - no - that would be an online bank of course.

(if you've seen the SNL skit, I suppose that makes a lot more sense)

Re:I deal with this everyday (1)

Kwil (53679) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826113)

To learn Spanish, what comes to mind is a standard adventure game, where the conversations you have with people are increasingly in Spanish. In order to get through the game, you basically have to learn the language in context.

For the metabolization process, a very basic 2d puzzle game would work. You have a payload you need to drop in a certain place. You can put "shields" of various compounds or drugs around your payload. Then you drop it into the system and see how close you get to the intended locations, watching it progress as it goes. Higher levels have multiple payloads in one drug. Even higher levels start to take into account side-effects as "bad" payloads that you don't want to reach certain places.

For heart attack rates, use the Sims and add in "heart attack inducing factors" Get students to start choosing between them in an effort to maximize their sim's life. ("No! Don't smoke! Whoops.. now you're eating too much.. don't do that either.. stress? What do you mean stress? Just because I won't let you do anything you little onscreen basta...")

Really, it's not *that* difficult to come up with ideas, the problem seems to be that a lot of educational game designers are just crap game designers in the first place. The trick is that you don't want a game where you "explicitly" learn. If you set the game up to explicitly do anything but be a game, you've failed. What you first need is a good game. Once you have that, you set up the game in such a way that learning is required to excel at it.

Here's a hint though, don't use arcade games. Any game that allows you to get "in the zone" is by definition a poor game for learning. People don't learn when they're in the zone, all they do is maximize their current ability. This is why Math Blaster (in my opinion) completely sucked as a learning program. Fine as a drill program, but to actually teach? Get serious.

Re:I deal with this everyday (1)

AssFace (118098) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826579)

Sounds like some good points.

I should also add that for our own uses ("our" meaning this company that I am at), we have a very short sit time for the users. If this were for children in school, it could be that they play this game every now and then, and perhaps an hour at a time, over the course of a semseter or school year.

But for the things that we create - the person is given a CD that is part of a seminar, and then they watch the person giving a lecture on the subject, working their way through the CD. This is all projected in front of them, and sometimes they follow along on their laptops.

The games that come about from that are a strange beast because they are usually team based (one side of the room against the other), and they can't have secrecy since everything that we can give them (beyond the CD itself) is on the screen that they both see at the same time.
It can't be a game of reflexes since the moderator is manipulating the screen, and each team gets different questions.

There are instances that we do where it is a single player on a laptop, or a handheld - and those are much easier to write.
There are also instances that we do where the user will be coming back to it frequently over the course of a year or more - that also is nice because you can have it be a lot more complex.

But to make a game that someone can understand in a few seconds, play in a team against another team, and also learn an overall point from in an hour or even less... that is a hard thing.

I think a lot of posts on here (not just this thread but the whole overall thread) have had some great ideas - but unfortunately they are hard to implement in many situations.

We try very hard to come up with games where it isn't obvious that you are learning, and then our clients come back and want us to change it all around so that it is much more explicit... it makes me wonder why we even bother with the game (if we get rid of the "game" then they complain that it is too straightforward and boring).

Re:I deal with this everyday (1)

ottffssent (18387) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826147)

Maybe I started playing Oregon Trail when I was too old, but all it taught me was to start with the character with the highest multiplier, and hunt a lot. You can sell about half a ton of food for $100, and end the game with thousands in cash - instant high scores. Definately a case where you have to be careful what you're trying to teach and what is being learned actually mesh!

Re:I deal with this everyday (1)

XMunkki (533952) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826446)

But for developing and learning towards an end goal of a concrete subject - say to learn Spanish

The first idea that springs to my mind is to create a "live a day in a foreign city" -game. At the start of the day, you have a checklist of things to do in a city. You then pick places, are given with dialogs (all in the language that is to be learned). If you can't understand something, you can hit a "hint" button and get more and more revealed in a language you understand (like english).

And after all the chores are done (something like 2-4 chores/day) you go to a bar to meet the chicks/guys. Depending on how well you actually managed, the easier it is for you to actually get a date. If you dare to create the game with some balls, you could put some boobs in there as well. Nothing like a good pair boobs to get to the mood. "Damn I really wanna buy the carrot from this old hag so I can get laid tonight" :).

Just an idea =).

SimCity (4, Funny)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825595)

One student, asked what he learned from playing SimCity, said, "I learned that if I don't feed the people, they will starve and die."

What weird-ass version of SimCity was this?

Last I played, the best thing I learned was that if your city is large enough, Superman will appear to fight off giant robot monsters from space.

Please write to the Spam King (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5825634)

Alan M. Ralsky
6747 Minnow Pond Drive
West Bloomfield, MI 48322

“twitchspeed” interactivity (3, Interesting)

Enonu (129798) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825658)

I started playing video games at around the age of 6 with an Atari 2600. Soon, everything else became "slow" and "boring" compared to video games. I like playing the original tetris on level 19+, so you imaging how "bad" my condition is.

After years of not getting the hang of it in school, I adapted my studying methods around 7th grade, and went from a C/D+ student to nearly straight As. My favorite studying method for was for memorization of material like vocabulary items. I'd get a partner who'd "blitz" me with questions that I would have to answer in under a second, e.g. "What's the subjunctive form of savoir for first person?" We would randomly switch roles to and from questionier and questionee.

Not only would this method work nearly 100%, it allowed more free time since I'd be able to study for fact based tests in 30 minutes, preferably in the hall before class :) However, this method had the disadvantage that almost none of it was put into long-term memory. In other words, I'd repeat the process again for finals on the same material.

As for problem solving tests and essays, programming helped me with the former, and essay grading was always too subjective for me to ever improve (random grades from C to A). Everybody is as full of shit as the next person as far as I'm concerned.

So yep, I've been rewired by video games. Now I'm in the work force, but now I find that it's hard to apply my "twichspeed" mentality to work. Everything is too slow, and it's hard to keep the ball rolling.

Re:“twitchspeed” interactivity (2, Interesting)

weston (16146) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825808)

So yep, I've been rewired by video games. Now I'm in the work force, but now I find that it's hard to apply my "twichspeed" mentality to work. Everything is too slow, and it's hard to keep the ball rolling.

A thought: try doing two things at once. People talk about the task-switching overhead, and it's real, possibly insurmountable for some tasks.

However, I've noticed that when I have trouble paying attention (especially in a setting where I'm listening to someone present/lecture/speak), if I start to lose focus, get mentally restless, my mind is often sharpened by pulling out a math problem and working on it... usually nothing too deep, but a review of something I'm acquainted with, like the solution to an ammortization-related difference equation, or how raising something to a power n 10 changes its order of magnitude in base 10, or whatever. Anyway, as I work on that, I find my min calms down and I'm able to pay at least as good attention to what the speaker is saying as if I'd simply twiddled my thumbs.

Don't know if it would work as well in many work settings. I have trouble doing something like the above and talking on the phone, for example, but I have taken programming breaks by doing the above....

Depends on the type of learning. (3, Insightful)

yeoua (86835) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825660)

Although it is quite obvious that games may not teach all types of stuff, there may be some things that it may teach better than other forms of teaching, such as logic and problem solving.

Since you cannot actually "teach" these skills persay, but can only use/exersize/practice them, games are actually quite a good idea in these cases. But what games? RPG's, adventure games, and puzzle games of course. Of course it depends on the game itself, but given the right game, you can learn quite a bit.

Take your classic computer adventure game (King's Quest, etc) and you can see that there is a scripted logic puzzle as the basis of the game (even though there is a huge trial and error base, which may not be a good thing). Or even a console adventure game like the Zelda series with its room clear puzzles, though they are relatively simplistic (though the water dungeon in Zelda 64 was quite a pain at first glance, and the time element in the sequel did increase the difficulty of some of the puzzles).

Then you have rpg's and the story element weaved in, forcing you to find the logical completing event in the story to go forward (though even this may sometimes be arbitrary), and possibly the tactical nature of the battles can teach problem solving skills (not the mass xp till your god and bash the boss, but the whip through the game with as low of a level as you possibly can get and see if you can still beat the last boss style of play).

And finally the puzzle games. Everyone loves these and they can possibly teach spatial logic and such (tetris and the like), as well as hand eye coordination and speed of thinking (in these terms).

So although games as some posters have said, are not really suited for teaching some things like facts and information (that schools teach) they can be useful in teaching other things that require practice and not data crunching.

Skills and facts (2, Insightful)

itchyfidget (581616) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826077)

So although games as some posters have said, are not really suited for teaching some things like facts and information (that schools teach) they can be useful in teaching other things that require practice and not data crunching.

I think that games are capable of teaching kids/adults both factual and skill-type stuff. No, I don't see a market for Dealing With Divorce 3.0, but I think you can learn a lot about the facts and about the process from some kind of computer-aided teaching-tool.

For example, computer simulations are commonly used to teach undergraduate science students, particularly where practical demonstrations would be expensive/time-consuming/ethically questionable to set up (I'm thinking nanoelectronics or physiology animal dissections, but insert your own here). Admittedly these are not games as such (not yet anyway) but they do offer a limited range of tools, a clearly-defined goal, and the opportunity to make mistakes and repeat the task over again in a relatively secure environment.

Personally although I think games might be very useful for learning certain things (vocabulary for foreign languages; what things need to be done in what order to keep a patient alive who has a collapsed lung; etc), I am reluctant to adopt any teaching technique that is unlikely to increase:

(a) independent thought (admittedly, some games actually promote initiative, but there is often something very "tunnel-vision" about the search for a solution, and what one needs to do to finish the game is often rather too obvious, unlike in real-life problem-solving)
(b) literacy (as it is, today's MTV kids arrive at university barely able to spell, still less able to form a coherent written sentence; learning that depends even less on producing written stuff for assessment will NOT improve matters).

eduGames using a combined approach (2, Insightful)

mcworksbio (571932) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825666)

A great challenge of educational games has been to flexibly respond to the differing skills of the learners in the rapid manner that a teacher can. If you look at the games my 3 year old plays, the challenge level adjusts automatically to her ability. Yet if she goes in an unanticipated direction, my presence is necessary to answer the questions that the games cannot.

Prensky's take on children (even adults :>) expecting the software to teach you (software is supposed to teach you how to use it) speaks to the need for new design ideas...not that we can know what will work well in advance. For now combined approaches (such as those being worked on by history game company MuzzyLane [] ) hopefully will keep us moving in the right direction for kids and for adults.

The more tools the better. (3, Interesting)

MoronBob (574671) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825702)

I must have ADD really bad. I support any attempt to make learning more fun and effective. The state of "E learning now is pathetic. Most of the online courses I have tried are nothing more than page turners. The prices they charge for this crap is criminal. Maybe games are not the answer but I have had many so called instructors that make reading a 600 page tome on pattern matching seem fun. I think game based learning is just another tool that some learners may find helpful.

Space Duel - a review (5, Informative)

dAzED1 (33635) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825705)

first, let me start by saying this is my second attempt at putting a review here. The first one was aborted due to the fact that when I clicked "quit" after the first game in a totally seperate window, it killed both windows. So, everything from my first post was gone. Annoying. After seeing that, I now notice that when I open, in a new window, that site to play the game, the banner up top for my slashdot posting window has changed to "digital game based learning." Interesting. Won't change my review, however.

For those who grew up playing games at the arcade, Space Duel is an ideal learning interface. This game works for one player or two players across the Internet or an intranet. Users are certified via any number of questions plus a set of "facts" or "ideas," all linked to reference material on any web site or page. Rigorous learning and certification, PLUS all the engagement of a classic arcade game!

Sounds reasonable, right? I selected the "Ethics - Rules for business conduct" topic for my game. I was then given the "how to play" rules.

Use the up and down arrows to move your spaceship (on the left) and the space bar to fire.

Hitting the opponent gets you a question. Being hit gets you a concept.

Hitting bubbles gives special effects.

Your goal is to answer all the questions correctly and get the highest possible score.

Use the Concepts, Reference, Scores, and Questions Only buttons as needed.

First question:

A client wants you to select their proposal. Which gifts can you accept from the client?

A. 2 great yankee tickets

B. None

C. Use of their Caribbean Resort

D. $100 in cash

Needing a vacation, and wanting to answer a question wrong, I selected C. The right answer was B, however. The correct answer is B. Gifts intended to influence a transaction are never permissible. At this point, to continue I had to press the "see reference" button to continue, which popped up a display telling me various things. I was quite confused though, since there it says:

Employees may accept reasonable and conventional business courtesies, such as joining a customer or vendor in attending sporting events, golf outings or concerts, provided that such activities involve no more than the customary amenities.

Left and right hands must be having a fight. Anyway, I was then allowed to continue as soon as I clicked the "back to game" button that appeared when I clicked the "see reference" button. Here, I ran in to the same technical problem I did last time - having gone to a seperate window, now going back to the game window I had no controls over my spacecraft. It just sat there. Despite that, after several minutes the computer opponent had not killed my disabled defenseless spacecraft - very difficult game. I clicked in the window several times, screwed around, and regained control. I decided to kill the opponent again, and this time answer a question correctly. "True or False: You join the board of your best friend's internet startup. Since this has nothing to do with the firm's business, you needn't disclose it to the firm." Answering "false," I was rewarded by not having to click "see reference" before returning to the game.

All in all, I guess in theory the concept is ok, however the deliver is absolutely terrible - this game, at least, absolutely sucks. If I were playing a quake game and got weapons upgrades by fixing downed servers, or if I were playing some sort of corporate climbing game and the ultra-hot HR chic "rewarded" me when I was a good boy (tryign to think of an ok business ethics theme, but I guess that one doesn't work either), that might be different. But this...this just sucks, IMHO.

Re:Space Duel - a review (1)

Jerf (17166) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825800)

Herein lies the primary problem with "educational games"... if you set out in advance to make an educational game, you are almost certainly doomed to produce crap. The counterexamples can be named on one hand, and those aren't all the great either... what did you really learn from Oregon trail?

IMHO the problem is that games are useless for real facts, as your review demonstrates. You just can't create a viable structure where you can just plug in your multiple choice questions and have a fun game. The closest we've ever seen is probably the Carmen Sandiego series, and again, you're learning geographical or historical (or several other spinoffs) trivia, not useful information.

Games are strong in the fuzzy areas, like logic, resource allocation, game-theory type situations (which include many real-world situations including business negotiation, so it's not empty knowlege), and simulations (how many people here already knew how to drive long before setting your butt in front of the driver's wheel, courtesy of video games? I basically did...). All those things conventional education totally sucks at.

So what do those oh-so-bright educators do? Try to take the only feasible way to actually teach those skills, and jam a multiple-choice problem delivery system into it.

God, educational theorists are stupid . What do we pay them for again?

Training courses.. (0)

grub (11606) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825718)

.. you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Not applicable to real life (3, Insightful)

mellow106 (669136) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825726)

In a real job: -You might have to pick a a manual, and learn something new, relatively quickly. -You might have to see a presentation, and glean practical information from it. -You might be expected to indepedently research a topic, sort through datasheets, etc. The point is that in the real world, there isn't going to be an interactive game for most of the material you have to learn. So why train kids to learn that way? Wouldn't they be better off if they were used to learning by simply reading, or simply listening, or by actively seeking their own sources? Just not sure about the applicability of interactive learning, it might set expectations that the real world can't live up to. Just a thought.

Re:Not applicable to real life (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5825783)

In a real job, you rarely sit in a room with 30 peoplwe while someone writes in chalk on the wall, but you're not saying that that's an invalid way to teach kids. Why?

Re:Not applicable to real life (1)

mellow106 (669136) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825970)

Good point. However, I'd bet that many job-holders do have to sit through many a presentation with their coworkers, and are expected to recall and integrate what was presented. Also, the traditional teaching approach does include a large amount of learning from a textbook, doing research projects, etc., especially once they're out of elementary school. It seems like both of these components (listening and reading) are similar to what an employee might be required to do.

Re:Not applicable to real life (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5826045)

Most of the things I learn at work, I learn by copying what someone else does. Yet when I did that at school, they punished me. Silly, really.

We trialed game based learning! Tsarkon Reports (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5825745)

It was back in the early days, when VRML was the thing to do. I remember walking down corridors and searching for answers. It was a lot of fund. I was traversing covalent bonds in chemical structures and I felt as though I was walking in Atomic Scale 3D-space. Oh, man it was so cool. It was like BEING in Minority Report. Where the dude was using his hands to grab things on screen.

We used a Nintendo power glove like thing. If you could make these 3D worlds more realistic they would be so cool and useful; you could make molecules and discover new things without even having to learn the picayune details of organic, inorganic and organometallic bonding and electronegativity and all sorts of hard stuff. I also remember this really cool song playing while in 3D-space, it reminded me of Shadow run... You know where you are a decker or a mage or a street samurai and you get to walk in 3D-space when you use your head jack. And there was really cool music in this 3D-game world. I remember feeling the atoms like you would feel the defensive programs in the matrix of Shadowrun. The song playing in the 3D-atom world went like this:

You could have a cream train (0:32)
If you'd just lay down some pipe (0:39)
You could have an anus di-iii-lating (0:44)
If you bring your big sexy backside (0:49)

All you do is call me (0:52)
I'll be anything you need (0:57)
You could have a big stiffy (1:02)
Going up and down, all around your rim (1:09)
You could have a humping fag humping! (1:14)
This amusement never ends (1:19)
I want to be... your Poopchute-hammer! (1:25)
Why don't you call my name, ahhhhhhhhh (1:30) (note: ahh is a girly fag-bitch screech)
Oh let me be your Poopchute-hammer! (1:35)
This will be my testimony (1:41)

Hey - hey! (1:45)

Show me round your fruitcage (1:52)
'Cause I will be your semen bee (1:58)
Open up your fruitcage (2:02)
Where the semen is as sweet as can be (2:09)

I want to be.... your Poopchute-hammer! (2:15)
Why don't you call my name, ahhhhh (2:21) (note: ahh is a girly fag-bitch screech)
You'd better call the Poopchute-hammer (2:25)
Put your mind at rest (2:29)
I'm going to be.... the Poopchute-hammer! (2:35)
This can be my testimony, ahhhhhh (2:41) (note: ahh is a girly fag-bitch screech)
I'm your.... Poopchute-hammer! (2:45)
Let there be no doubt about it (2:50)

Poo! (2:51) POO! (2:53) Poopchute-hammer! (2:59)

Beowaaawoooweeoooooohooooooooo!!! (3:01) NOTE: Chorus of Flaring Flaming Butt Trumpets
Beowaaawoooweeoooooohooooooooo!!! (3:06)
Beowaaawoooweeoooooohooooooooo!!! (3:11)
Beowaaawoooweeoooooohooooooooo!!! (3:17)

I get it right (3:20)
I've kicked the habit (3:22)
Kicked the habit!!!, kicked the habit!!! (3:24) Note: Colored Girl Chorus
Shed my fore-skin, Shed my fore-skin (3:30) Note: Colored Girl Chorus
This is the new white-stuff (3:32)
This is the new white-stuff!!! (3:34) Note: Colored Girl Chorus
I go dancing in poop (3:37)
We go dancing in poop!!! (3:39) Note: Colored Girl Chorus
Oh, won't you poo for me (3:42)
Poo for me!!! (3:44) Note: Colored Girl Chorus

I will poo for you (3:47)
Poo for you!!! (3:49) Note: Colored Girl Chorus
Unnnnngh, Poo for me (3:52)
Poo for me!!! Note: Colored Girl Chorus
I will poo for you!! (3:57)
Yea, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, I do mean you!!! (4:00)
Poo for me!!! (4:02) Note: Colored Girl Chorus
Only you (4:04)
You've been coming through! (4:06)
I feel you ASSRAMMER!!! (4:09) NOTE: Now begins a cacophony of screaming and grunting like pigs buttfucking.
Poo for you!!!
A-gonna build that stiffy
Build, build up that stiffy, hey Poo for me (4:18)
I've been feeding on jizzum
I've been feeding on jizzum
Poo for you
Going to feel that stiffy, yeah, stiffy in you, ha Poo for me Come on, come on, help me do
Come on, come on, help me do
Poo for you Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, you Poo for me (4:30)
I've been feeding on jizzum
I've been feeding on jizzum
Poo for you It's what we're doing, doing All day and night


I can see this (4, Funny)

Luveno (575425) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825746)

A programming course tacked onto CounterStrike.

The user is sneaking around a corner, and fires his weapon. Just as the bullet is about to strike it's target, up pops:

"What are the four characteristics of a transaction?"

Topic Icons (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5825833)

Look! The Topic Icon for this article has a correct width and height!

Great for kids (2, Interesting)

Dread_ed (260158) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825845)

I have thought that games or television could be used to introduce children to concepts from mathematics that are usually learned by people who are much older.

Two formats come to mind. One being "explicit" where the actual material is taught in an undisguised and straightforward, yet entertaining, format. An example would be a logic puzzle based upon a mathamatical principle. The puzzle is solved by getting the right clues from the gaming environment and using them to solve the puzzle. The gamer/student learns the principle and applys it to get to the next obstacle and progress in the game.

The second would be "allegorical," where the information is related by the interaction of characters or plot elements to convey meaning under the guise of something else. An example is to name characters after, say, trigonometric functions (sin, cos, tan, etc.) and relate their behavior and interactions with each other to their mathematical qualities. The benefit of this method is that it could be used to introduce young chilren to these concepts long before they actually encounter the material academically. Then, when the material is introduced, the child finds that the mental model required to understand the concepts is already in place! All the student needs to do is make the connection. This method seems like a natural fit for television progamming.

Just my $0.02.

Striving to gain something (2, Interesting)

Rubel (121009) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825871)

I found the classic Maxis game SimEarth to be both informative and addictive. Informative in that you had to work within a particular system to nurture your planet, and addictive because of the sense of accomplishment that you got from exploring the many different possibilities. I remember my first dinosaur civilization, and the first time I realized that my planet was overheating and becoming unlivable.

The good part about it was that it broadened my horizons and introduced me to new possibilites, encouraging me to learn more about planets, ecosystems, and the solar system.

Instructor-led classroom (1)

imnoteddy (568836) | more than 11 years ago | (#5825945)

From the review:
Prensky believes that the instructor-led classroom and the teach-test method are actually historical artifacts
no more than 200 or 300 years old.

Sorry, wrong.

In Europe the tradition goes back to the eleventh century. This author hasn't read his history.

A quick google on "Medieval Universities" yielded this essay [] as first of over 2500 hits.

Fascinating is a word I use for the unexpected. -- Spock

Re:Instructor-led classroom (1)

clnelson (580110) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826116)

One might also think of Socrates and Aristotle. Or even go so far as to say that epic poetry (lets say the performance of the Homeric Poems by ancient bards in 700 B.C.) is a form of early intructor-audience/class based training. Think also of the role of religion in early society and how that is a teacher and student relationship. Though in each case, I believe, the instructor recognizes the importance of keeping the class's attention and interest.

Re:Instructor-led classroom (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5826136)

You're quite right. and what is also called "broadcast teaching" has been around for over 2000 years.

Having worked in eLearning, I find that the majority of the arguments for it are that it is new (and therefore good) and that we should turf all of the "old" ways of teaching (because old==bad)

My feeling is... if we've done something for 2000 years, it probably works. If it didn't, we would have been doing it for that long.

How about community based learning? (1)

sisukapalli1 (471175) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826129)

Considering how much time people spend on /. blah blah'ing over random stuff, it may be a good idea in itself.

It would be analogous to newsgroups but with more interactivity (and quick responses).


Re:How about community based learning? (1)

xenocide2 (231786) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826422)

We usually call this "research," although the process takes significantly longer than a newsgroup with quick replies.

Educational games are seldom if ever any fun (1)

frovingslosh (582462) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826181)

Games may be good for learning the process of putting together a Burger King hamburger (p264), but would a game be practical for learning Java programming?

The problem as I see it is that "Educational" games and "Educational software" in general are never any fun, at least none that I've seen come to mind (I'll admit there's a chance that someone has a good educational game I've not seen). On the other hand, I think a lot of software that is not presented as "educational" can teach you a lot. Programs like flight sims, while not a substitute for real flying training, can give you a good background in the subject, while many puzzle games can challenge the play to think and in doing so teach many logical and abstract math concepts. There are plenty of other examples wher programs presented as games or toys or simply interesting software are far more educational that anything marketed as "educational software". It's just a shame that software presented as "Educational software" is synonymous with "software that will bore you to death".

As to would a game be practical for learning Java programming?, Yes, but not in the playing of it. I find games are a great way to teach programming, let the users play games, and a few bright inquiring minds will want to know how the game works. They will want to be able to write their own. They will have a different idea for a game. While I've actually seen some "educational" environments that prohibited users from writing games, I believe it should be strongly encouraged. With a few simple resources (even the source for a prior game), may intelligent and interested people can teach themselves to program, be it Java, or C, or other languages. The motivation and a task to accomplish are the important things a game contributes. Those who never get the motivation but just move on to the next consumer game likely would not have made great programmers anyway.

Games can teach lifelong lessons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5826208)

The gasoline can, matches, and rocket launcher from Postal 2 are teaching me to respect the cultural differences of my fellow man, to be more tolerant and not sweat all of the little annoyances that matter little in the big scheme of things. If only more children could play Postal 2, the world would be a better place.

Several hours a day, five days a week? (1)

p00ya (579445) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826276)

Then Prensky adds, "Several hours a day, five days a week, sharply focused attention" does that remind you of anything? Oh yes - video games! (p 43)

Sorry, it reminds me of school. Admittedly, TV/games came first.

Yes, but Good games are NOT that easy to make. (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826414)

They talked about using Jeopardy format, but 3/4 the reasons Jeopardy was interesting was the DIFFERENT nature of the questions, and the fact that their answers were designed to be interesting.

It is possible to make a fun game that teaches anything, even the most boring of subjects.

But it takes a genius to do it for most things.

He does have a single point that a SLIGHTLY fun game, that is 90% boring, is often better than an incredibally boring, dry book, writen like a thesis.

But that is mroe an indictment against out textbook writers than anything else.

How about learning to read Japanese? (2, Informative)

Nindalf (526257) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826655)

That's funny. I'm working on something that's right along those lines:an RPG that teaches you Japanese [] . (please excuse the sig redundancy... not everyone sees sigs)

I have no attention span (1)

JavaDweeb (658325) | more than 11 years ago | (#5826914)

ok. I got like halfway through this. maybe if you made this review into a game, where I get a points for every paragraph I finish...
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