Imagine this: a student who's usually on his best behavior is caught playing a game on his cell phone during a lesson. Annoyed by the rule infraction, the fact that it came during a lesson, and the distraction it created amongst other students, the educator politely and firmly tells the student to, "Stop playing games and put the phone away." The student promptly obliges and apologizes, and the educator proceeds with the lesson—an admittedly dry PowerPoint presentation—believing that the room's full attention is being maintained.
But the room's full attention isn't being maintained, and the educator will probably learn of this point when it's too late, as students' lackluster test performances are issued formal grades. For as frustrating as cell phones and other electronic game devices can be to educators, the time has come to recognize that students' decision to use these items doesn't derive from disrespect or issues with authority. Rather, it derives from a desire to be entertained and in-contact with comforting, engaging entertainment.
Bear in mind that the vast majority of students today have had instant access to a literally endless trove of videos, applications, and games since being born. On average, a child receives his or her first smartphone at 10 years old. These phones serve as communication tools, providers of entertainment, and portals to an unlimited collection of data and knowledge. Kids aren't the only ones using smartphones frequently; the average American adult spends two and one-half hours per day on smartphone apps alone.
Most educators don't consider these points when reprimanding students for turning away from the lesson and turning towards digital games. Other educators yet maintain that there's nothing they can do to stop such distractions from becoming prevalent—short of banning cell phones and electronic devices outright, that is.
The truth of the matter is that students' preoccupation with games isn't a detriment to learning; if handled correctly, it actually aids the spread of knowledge. The trick, however, is seamlessly integrating games and active-learning activities into lessons; replacing PowerPoint presentations with interactive, hands-on lessons that reward stellar performances and incentivize learning.
Let's take a look at some of the benefits of educational games, as well as how these games can be tailored by educators to maximize efficiency relative to the students at-hand.
Educational Games Encourage Learning and Participation
The fundamental basis of the success of educational games—that is, most students enjoy fun, and their idea of fun has been tied to games since birth—is relatively self-explanatory. The old suggestion that educators make learning fun largely covers the logic behind the point. However, the impact of educational games on participation isn't often discussed.
Pleasant lesson plans and games will prompt the vast majority of students to participate voluntarily—that is, without being instructed to do so. Again, the prevalence of games in the lives of children and young adults cannot be understated; all these individuals have played games, and this bond defies income, background, and ethnicity differences, amongst others. Thus, amplified participation is another desirable byproduct of educational games.
What's more is that amplified participation, besides aiding learning itself, will produce a web of sub-benefits. Student satisfaction will increase; the classroom environment will be made more welcoming; additional friendships and relationships will develop; and students will associate the class and subject in-question with an opportunity to demonstrate their understanding and play an active role.
Suddenly, as educational games become more prevalent, educators may find that instances of cell phone and electronic device usage decrease dramatically. In short, tapping into students' love for games is a means of exploring the single bond that all children and young adults (along with many actual adults) share today.
Educational Games Prompt Discussion
Before some educational game implementation suggestions and guidelines are detailed, it should be noted that the games also provide the benefit of more frequent discussion. One of the biggest and most well-documented issues in the contemporary classroom pertains to students not asking enough questions.
Questions are the cornerstone of understanding—a necessary stop on the road to knowledge—and although a class that asks no questions is occasionally indicative of a "home run" lesson plan, more often times than not this lack of inquiries results from misunderstandings and an unwillingness to voice these misunderstandings due to the risk of being embarrassed.
Educational games eliminate this learning obstacle entirely. When one student answers a question incorrectly (or otherwise fails to meet the game's objectives and goals), the classroom's relaxed environment will allow the individual (and well as other pupils) to request an explanation. There aren't any statistics or studies that support this statement—a survey of this nature would be difficult to conduct and quantify—but logic and a basic understanding of students' motivations indicate that the fundamental idea is accurate.
When students feel comfortable, they ask questions; and when students ask questions, they are better able to learn and understand material. Incidentally, educational games aid learning, questions, and comfort.
Potential Pitfalls of Educational Games
Some skeptical educators—those who might be open to using educational games to teach, but who aren't entirely convinced—may well argue that the risks of these games far outweigh the benefits.
This argument couldn't be further from the truth.
The truth, in fact, is that educational games bring with them virtually no pitfalls. Of course, classes could become a bit too loud during particularly riveting games, and transitioning from games to traditional lessons could prove difficult. But taken as a whole, with respect to the positives and advantages of educational games, these drawbacks are minimal.
Moreover, educational games enhance students' trust in educators, and trust has been proven to be an integral ingredient in the recipe for learning success. Teachers who take the time to make the classroom more accessible and pleasant are likely to foster more profound professional relationships with students, and over time, this point, in coordination with a no-judgment style of educating, is sure to improve students' understanding.
Some questions can prove hard to answer, but educators are probably aware of how comparatively damaging the questions that aren't asked can be. When they're properly administered, educational games don't have any pitfalls; the questions and conversations they evoke only stand to amplify the quality of learning in the long term.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that there's never been a better time than today for educators to encourage learning by bringing games into the classroom. Contemporary students don't just turn to games for entertainment during school hours; they turn to games for entertainment during all hours of the day, and by robbing students of this interactive outlet, teachers are all but asking for their traditional lessons—valuable and well-thought though they may be—to be ignored.
The best part of all is that longtime teachers—and particularly those who aren't sold on educational games—don't have to turn their lessons upside down. Small, incremental, result-based changes can be implemented, and over time, if these changes are made as results are produced, a dramatically different and more efficient classroom will be created.
Thanks for reading, and here's to the many benefits and advantages of educational games!