Anyone for Tennis ?

Posted by Raj on Apr 8, 2016

Anyone for Tennis 

Video games, whether they play them or not, are well recognised as a form of entertainment for school children and even adults. It would appear strange if they were suddenly banned. It would be like asking people to do without their television – not many people do that ? The first video game was a version of tennis, nothing like the sophisticated games we have today, but nevertheless a video game. We are now in a position where we can consider using video games for educational reasons. Is this a good idea ?

In his article, ‘Good Video Games and Good Learning,’ James Paul Gee, mentions a video game called Pajama Sam, which helped his son overcome the fear of darkness. This led him to look at other video games and consider what benefit they can provide educationally. In his comprehensive article he suggests getting someone to do an activity that is long, hard and complex, is what is required as a learner and video games provide this. Also, he suggests video games lower the consequences of failure and are encouraged to take risks, explore and try new things. Fermat’s last theorem took decades to prove by Andrew Wiles and no doubt many different strategies were tried to get to a conclusion. Invariably, video games take a long time to complete and different ideas have to be tried. I have experienced myself the frustration of completing a video game. Over a period of 4 months (sporadically) it proved to be challenging and requiring all sorts of different ideas, at the same time remaining interesting. Matthew Peterson in his TED Talk explains how as someone who has to deal with dyslexia finds ‘Interactive software with informative feedback’ highly effective. The snippet demonstrating the multiplication of negative numbers was particularly interesting.

If I had £1million pounds to invest in educational maths video games I would create video games that were as true-to-life as possible. Teenagers look forward to the time when they can buy their own car and continually ask when they can apply certain maths concepts outside school. Seldom is time given to answer these questions and algorithms that are sophisticated enough to work through scenarios such as university life, or renting your first home could be true-to-life.

Not everyone enjoys playing video games. And this is something that can be done by a learner outside of a school environment, so it could be argued that there is no need to use video games. Recent experience of year 10’s in a computer room proved that interaction with computer software will not always hold their interest. A magic bullet it is not. Allowing students to work at their own pace is an opportunity that can be misused by some and the time not productively spent or even worse – disruption of the lesson.

Video games are ubiquitous today and if they can provide another tool for the teacher’s toolbox then why not use them ? Arguably, they provide a stimulating way of understanding topics in what otherwise might be a dry topic. Learners need to be engaged to progress and video games can be a means to an end. However, we cannot guarantee that they will always find them interesting, and if this means they get bored and not engaged then it would be time to put this tool back in its box. We know that Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton and Srinivasa Ramanujanwere were all brilliant mathematicians/scientists/geniuses. They excelled without having played video games, it would be pure speculation to suggest that they would have reached greater heights or progressed quicker had they been introduced to video games in today’s world. I would suggest a well-designed video game would be a welcome resource in the classroom, but I would wholly agree with Gee when he says, ‘No deep learning takes place unless learners make an extended commitment of self.’    

1 Comment

  1. pepsmccrea
    8 April 2016

    Some really interesting analysis here. In particular, your arguments around TV and the absence of games in the past.

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