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The Good Place: A society to match the scenery (Michael L. Umphrey on gardening, teaching, and neighboring)


Computer games and the future of schooling
   Virtual worlds allow real experience and real learning


The computer gaming industry has already grown to a $10 billion-a-year giant, according to researchers in Wisconsin. It has eclipsed Hollywood box-office sales and will soon surpass the music industry and home-video rentals.

We know two things: kids are going to play computer games, and the games they play shape their cognitive, emotional, and moral development. The important question for parents, teachers, and all citizens is who will create the games young people play, and for what purposes. Gaming is likely to be “the next big thing” in education--one of several emerging technologies that will have profound effects on how people learn. People who think the internet will not shake schooling to its foundations are a little like people in the first years of the twentieth century speculating that automobiles had far too many drawbacks to ever replace horses.

Computer games are not just mindless entertainment. They hold tremendous potential for education. The U.S. Army realizes this, and has become a major user of games as training tools. They even released the free game, America’s Army, as a recruitment tool.

Researchers at the Academic Advanced Distributed Learning Center (University of Wisconsin--Madison) say that games allow players to “step into new personas and explore alternatives.” They can create powerful opportunities for people to “try to solve problems they’re not good at yet, get immediate feedback on the consequences and try again immediately.” They are also “more engaging than textbooks or lectures.”

For a good introduction, you can read Video games and the future of learning.

Even better, watch a streaming video of the conference in Madison Thursday, where three of the top researchers in the nation talked about what’s coming (the video didn’t work here, but the audio was fine, and it was just three speakers). It’s an hour and a half (with questions), so pick a time when you want to relax and enjoy a tour of the near future.

Better yet, listen to it with a class of students and share with us what they say about schooling and computer games. I’m especially interested in hearing what the boys say. I’ve heard several comparisons of boys’ interest in computers today with the interest young men had in cars in the 1950s--their lack of interest in school and their interest in the digital revolution, at least one researcher says, will profoundly change education as we know it.

Update: Beck McLaughlin at the Montana Arts Council sent me information on a great resource: Theory of Fun for Game Design. This is a book by Ralph Koster, Chief Creative Officer for Sony Entertainment.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey

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