With games becoming popular forms of entertainment in a range of contexts from smart phones to computer screens and living room TVs, their impact on the lives of young people and society in general cannot be underestimated; however, it is their potential impact on education and learning that I am most interested in investigating. In particular, using technology and gaming to increase thinking and reasoning skills to apply information.

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Professor, Dr. Charles Ungerleider (PRRS, 2012) argues that video games and are, “very compelling with increasing complexity, so a child becomes more facile, yet wants to know more and apply new skills.”  This desire to constantly game play and in turn the process of game playing, Herger, (2012) defines as “gamification”.   Effectively the user becomes absorbed and even transfixed by the actions and activities on screen  as, “the use of game thinking and game mechanics to engage users in solving problems”(Herger, 2012)..  Despite this apparent negative a number of researcher are now advocates of gaming, arguing that as a process, gaming facilitates collaboration, cooperation and teamwork through immersive simulations. It has the benefit of not only motivating individuals it also engages players in an interactive world. It is this active decision making and involvement that has researchers most interested in gaming as a learning tool rather simply passively using technology for data recording and retrieval.

One prominent supporter of video games is Princeton University Professor of Computer Science, Maria Klawe.   She states that if the games are not too violent, they have the potential to, “offer some real opportunities for puzzle solving, strategic and critical thinking” (in PRRS 2012).  These benefits are also noted by  Scott Steinberg (2011) who argues that games such as ‘Minecraft’ have the potential to teach students a number of skills including team work, as the game encourage players to achieve a common goal.

Through cleverly constructed  scenarios games such as through present in  Minecraft, can implicitly teach responsibility and collaboration.   Minecraft requires players to create, build, explore, gather resources and engage in combat with other player. The benefit of these collaborative elements  are also identified by Rock (2005) who clearly suggests that games such as Minecraft have wonderful potential spin off and educational benefits for children and their learning.

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Being a bit of a gaming novice and unsure of what was actually entailed in gaming I decided to learn more about Minecraft with the assistance of my teenage daughter. Despite some initial moaning about not wanting to because it is uncool to teach your mum games,  she eventually got on board with the project and since then there has been no stopping her. While Minecraft was not a game she was previously familiar with, she has taken to it like a duck to water.  Over the course of the last few days she has quickly got her head around the concepts and processes, and has become engrossed.  Her use spatial reasoning and logic has impressed me as well as her explanations of how and why she has made certain decisions regarding the construction of multiple buildings and why she has created a particular online manifestation of herself in the form of an avatar. Bradford (2010) in her article, “Looking for my corpse: Video games and player positioning” makes note of not only the technology skills being improved through playing the game but also, thinking, designing and planning skills involved during the construction process.

As I continued to probe my daughter about the game and the strategies she was employing I also discovered that she had been introducing her friends to the game through other social and popular media sites such as Instagram and Snapchat in order to make the game play more enjoyable and to add an element of completion and collaboration with the aim of improving her position and the game’s outcome. This game play and outcome of including others clearly supports Bradford’s (2010) findings who states in her article that, “playing is a situated activity inflected by personal, social and cultural factors…playing is a social practice, since the virtual and real world communities…engage in negotiations over strategies, experiences and opinions”.

These positive benefits have also have been recently investigated in the Journal of Adolescent Research. Their published a study compared children that played video games to those that didn’t.  “Video game players, regardless of gender, reported higher levels of family closeness, activity involvement, attachment to school and positive mental health”. The authors of the study concluded that, “Video game players also had less risky friendship networks and a more favourable self-concept.” This result may in part be due to the fact that teens and tweens regularly talk with friends about their gaming either in person or through other social and popular media sites.

As the holidays have progressed and as my daughter has become more proficient at Minecraft, it has become clear very clear to me that Bradford’s argument that gaming is worth taking seriously as an educational tool because to provides new forms of enjoyable social engagement and spatial, graphic and textual learning possibilities is totally true. Furthermore, I have concluded that as the game is constantly morphing it challenges the player’s creativity and actively encourages them to seek new opportunities and configurations at each key stroke (Bradford, 2010).

Dr Randy Kulman (2013) identifies a number of benefits for Learning with Video games. He states that:

Some games can improve skills such as Working Memory, processing speed, selective attention, and fluid reasoning skills just by playing them. Others may practice skills such as Planning or Time Management, but may not directly lead to improved application of these skill in the real world. Furthermore, some games can really challenge a player’s cognitive skills, while others are simply fun and require little more than some base reflexes and hand-eye coordination.”

Having seen first-hand, the way in which games such as Minecraft can actively engage teens with so many positive spin offs I am convinced of the benefits. I have come to the conclusion that using and incorporating online and video games with in the classroom environment can potential lead to be an exceptionally powerful learning tool, as well as a social and physical benefit.

For more information on the benefits, particularly to one’s health of playing video games click here.

Two pictorial representations of the benefits of playing video games which I found appealing I have included below for you to peruse:

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References:

Bradford, Clare (2010). Looking for my corpse: video games and player positioning., The Australian journal of language and literacy 33 (1) pp.54-64.

Herger, M., (2012). Gamification Facts & Figures. Retrieved from; http://www.enterprise-gamification.com.

Kulman, R., (2013), Learning with Video Games, http://learningworksforkids.com/2013/04/learning-with-video-games-its-all-about-generalization/

The Parent Report Radio Show (PRRS), (2012). 4 June, Video game addition in teens and preteens, http://www.theparentreport.com/2012/06/video-game-addiction-in-teens-and-pre-teens/

Images:

Main Image: The Parent Report Radio Show (PRRS), (2012). 4 June, Video game addition in teens and preteens, http://www.theparentreport.com/2012/06/video-game-addiction-in-teens-and-pre-teens/

Image 1: Digital Use Divide, http://tech.ed.gov/netp/learning/

Image 2: Minecraft as a teaching tool, http://www.learningliftoff.com/transforming-way-learn-minecraft-amazing-learning-tool/#.V_haiPl95D8

Image 3: Benefits of gaming for your brain, http://www.gametruckaustralia.com.au/

Image 4: When gaming is good for you.  http://www.digitaltrends.com/gaming/body-versus-mind-gaming-and-your-health/

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