Applying Video Game Principles to Learning

James Paul Gee was one of the first early academic advocates for applying video game principles to teaching and learning environments. In a recent interview, he says “When I finally caught on to the theory of learning behind videogames, which is quite different from how we learned in school, it became to me a life enhancing experience.”

Gee claims there are numerous features of video games that make them excellent learning environments. First of all games let you fail and try again until you succeed. Secondly, they offer player choice and autonomy. Third, they provide ongoing feedback for success or failure – they continually assess performance until a task is successfully completed. Fourth, they can be collaborative, so that numerous players can participate in solving a challenge together. Regarding this last feature, Gee says, “The group is smarter than the smartest person.”

Regarding the ability to offer choice and autonomy, over the past few years I’ve been conducting a survey of students at the beginning of quarter. I find out what they’re interests and backgrounds are, and I let them choose a first, second, and third option for a final project. This lets me align them at the very beginning with an area of strong personal interest, and eventually place them within groups of students sharing common passions. At the end of the quarter students deliver a team presentation based on an area of knowledge or personal expertise that they have explored. They are also responsible for posting an article on the class wiki site, that becomes part of a permanent class archive/library. Their work is preserved for future students in the form of a class “knowledge base”.

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