WEST LAFAYETTE, IN — Parents wondering how to keep their children engaged in summertime learning should consider their laptop computer or video game console, says a Purdue professor in the College of Education. Bill Watson, director of the Purdue Center for Serious Games and Learning in Virtual Environments in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, says video game design theories follow concepts similar to instructional and learning theories.
Video games can offer educational content, depending on the style of game. Motivation to win the game prompts children to take in and learn information the game provides.
“One reason I support video games is because I think they’re an excellent model for learning,” Watson says. “When you play a game, you are going to learn. If the game is designed with educational content in mind, you have to learn that content in order to win the game.”
Watson suggested games that require strategy, thinking and reflection as the best options compared to “twitch” games where players essentially “run over to something and blast it.”
And the games don’t need to be specifically education-oriented.
“This may be something never considered by the game designer, but by putting a lens on it you can use this as a tool to promote different sorts of learning,” Watson says.
A variety of educational points can be pulled from games, ranging from Lemonade Stand and Oregon Trail from the 1980s to recent hits like Minecraft, Civilization, and even The Sims, one of the best-selling video game series of all time. Watson noted Lemonade Stand has been used to teach core economic lessons at the high school and college level while the Sims has been adapted for learning about sociology.
While game competition provides the motivation to learn, video games are not a magic bullet that prompts a child to take in the correct information. Watson says parents must provide the structure to help children pull the appropriate information from games by speaking to them about how they played, including reflection on their decisions and what they would do the same or differently next time.
“You’ve got to talk about it,” he says. “Just get them to reflect and consider the different strategies and processes they bring to it. You’re doing problem solving when you’re learning how the game system works and how to win it.”
Playing video games, however, is only part of the advantage technology can provide during the summer months and year round. Online websites such as GameSalad, Scratch and Inkle make the possibility of creating video games an easier prospect for children.
Watson says children today are growing up in a “maker generation.”
“Kids today have more accessibility to be able to create their own games,” Watson says. “And if you’re designing your own games, you have to understand what you’re going to teach through it.”
Generally, in education, the more time you spend trying to learn something, the better you learn it. That’s not a huge leap, Watson says, acknowledging the concerns about too much screen time for children.
He cited the American Pediatric Association’s standard of two hours of screen time or less for children and stressed parents should make efficient use of the time.
“If you’re giving them screen time, it would be highly, highly engaging to create something,” he says. “So why not have the screen time devoted to educational purposes?”