As my first New York Comic Con Panel ever, it was quite fitting that it would blend my two passions together: gaming and education. “Gamers and Education” offered various perspectives and realities about how technology, and more importantly, gaming have and will impact the educational experience for students. Below are some of the items discussed and even some applications that I see in my school now.
The panel began with Garrett Fuller, Software Configuration Management for Educational Testing Service (ETS) and Industry Relations Manager of MMORPG.com, where he proposed that “technology has caught up with us” and that “it’s amazing to see the type of education now”. For the older generations, finding information required going to a library and checking a physical book out. Today, anyone with a touch of a finger on their phone can quickly find the answer that they’re looking for. Think about this – students today have always had the internet, cell phones, Google. The thought of a world without these seems like an impossibility for them.
Fuller then postulated that virtual realities will be in the classrooms by 2040. Sounds far away right? Well – not so much. Technology is already quickly monopolizing class space in a positive way. SMART Boards, tablets, laptops, various programs, and much more are already in the classrooms and are allowing students to thrive. As an education, Fuller stated (correctly I might add), that educators want to put the technology in the room. And who wouldn’t? Students are constantly on their phones and checking out their devices, so why not use that angle towards learning and discovery in the classroom?
Virtual reality is on the verge of hitting critical mass. With the oculus rift and other VR items showcasing to the general public this holiday season, it’s only a matter of time until it falls in price and becomes a standard item in the gaming and educational worlds. Imagine an English class where you not only read Hamlet but actually see and experience Hamlet. Or a mathematics classroom where you see Pythagoras discover and form the Pythagorean Theorem.
Even at my school, students are bringing the gaming world into the classroom faster than the teachers can think of. Students in the World History class were simply given a project to create a diorama of an ancient Greek town (houses, stadium, religious locations, etc.). Some students worked with clay, others with LEGO bricks, but something new emerged last year – Minecraft. Now, many of the teachers in the Social Studies department had no idea what Minecraft was, let alone its impact in the students’ social culture. After some meetings, explanations, and exploration of their own, the teachers decided to allow Minecraft towns as a viable and fair method of creating a diorama. Those students, who were already in love with the game were now able to create, craft, and invent, an entire ancient Greek town in a medium that was so familiar to them – and boy did they look amazing!
Sue Parler, an educator with 37 years experience, next spoke about having students find their passion – in many of their cases, video games. “Games allow for the freedom to fail and then respawn”. This was especially moving because people are horrified of failure, but instead should embrace it as a learning opportunity to do better next time (like those tricky Super Mario Maker levels). She even made specific analogies to The Legend of Zelda – you’re often not “babied” in the series and must use the tools in the game to discover secret levels, unlock more tools, and develop your skill base to defeat foes. As a huge Legend of Zelda fan, I certainly appreciated the comparison. Sue also emphasizes this with her various engineering classes, where the students discover various principals through games. Friction, gravity, forces, and more can be achieved with Jenga – who knew?
Lastly, was Justin De Voe, an educator from a last-chance school. Students in this school are either over the age limit from a standard school or do not have enough credits. Here, the curriculums are centered around the student so that they can reach specific milestones in order to succeed. Dennis Rodriguez, a student at the school, loves video games. To channel his passion into an educational experience, he wanted to craft a video game around various literary characters (Tom Sawyer, Katniss Everdeen, etc.). Each character would have a skill tree, various abilities, and specific talents that can allow progress through the well-crafted story. All of these aspects had to be substantiated and cited, so Dennis needed to prove all the abilities through citing specific books, reflecting on the ability, and concluding its relevance in the game. As the final project, Dennis presented this idea to the staff members, where he did a mock-pitch to them about his idea. This entire project fulfilled all his English Language Arts requirements, all the while Dennis had an amazing time crafting this.
Gaming has often been the polar opposite of education. However, even in my time as a student and now educator, I can see them starting to merge. The years of pushing games away is disappearing. I’m excited and motivated to blend games into the classroom to provide a light-hearted and open environment for learning. Hearing all this in the panel has continued my love of both gaming and education. I can’t wait to continue blending the two and allow my students to explore the worlds of mathematics with some fun and creative learning opportunities. Let’s bring on the learning!