Game Changer: Bringing Virtual Worlds into the Traditional Classroom

Game Changer: Bringing Virtual Worlds into the Traditional Classroom

December 19th, 2013
TeacherTube

MinecraftRecently, we discussed how technology and social media can be effective teaching tools when used appropriately in the classroom. Continuing this discussion of edutainment, it is important to bring the idea of gamification into the conversation. Gamification refers to the use of game design elements in non-game contexts. Particularly relating to education, gamification refers to using video games and game-based learning to peak student motivation and achievement in the classroom.

Much like the rise in any ‘new’ pedagogical tool, critics have voiced their opinions and concerns regarding the educational value of the genre. While games such as Grand Theft Auto are not particularly appropriate in the classroom (although they could be used in postsecondary studies of feminism and violence in the media), recent studies have shown that integrating video games in the classroom hold significant educational value.

Today’s culture is seemingly drenched in technology and new media, and we have seen both the negative and positive consequences of this phenomenon. Rather than fighting an uphill battle, it is important that we take advantage of this media surplus and use it to our advantage. Leonard Annetta discusses their educational importance in his article Video Games in Education: Why They Should Be Used and How They Are Being Used:

“Today’s K–20 students have been called, among other names, the net generation. As they matriculate through the education system, they are often exposed to materials and manipulatives used for the past 40 years, and not to the digital media to which they are accustomed. As student scores continue to regress from Grade 3 to Grade 12 and technical jobs once housed in the United States continue to be outsourced, it is critical to expose and challenge the Net Generation in environments that engage them and motivate them to explore, experiment, and construct their own knowledge.”

If we are to prepare our students to be successful 21st century learners, we must provide them with the highest quality resources to do do. As Annetta argues, these resources include video games, noting that “…the use of sophisticated information technologies in every aspect of education has the potential to provide a powerful lever for this transformation.”

One video game that is gaining particular interest in the education community is Minecraft. Minecraft’s Gamepedia Wiki page defines the game as a “sandbox construction game…[that] involves players placing and breaking various types of blocks in a three-dimensional environment. The player takes on an avatar that can break and place blocks, forming fantastic structures, creations, and artwork.” Daniel Short argues the game’s educational importance in his article Teaching Scientific Concepts in a Virtual World – Minecraft. Published in September 2012’s issue of Teaching Science, Short explains how the video game is useful in teaching all areas of science education, outlining the virtual world’s value in areas of Biology, Ecology, Physics, Chemistry, Geology, and Geography. Organizations such as MinecraftEdu have made it their mission to show teachers and school professionals the educational value of the game, offering teacher kits and professional development opportunities to help “unlock the power of Minecraft” in classrooms across the world.

The power of video games is not a new phenomenon, especially when it comes to boys and young adult males. In a time where school curriculum is so strictly focused on academic success rather than student achievement, bringing video games and other aspects of pop culture into the classroom is a an essential tool for peaking student engagement, achievement, and overall success.

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