It’s hard to believe that it was only two years ago that SITE started the IT Council committee on Games & Simulations. While mainstream acceptance of games as an educational medium is still a ways off; certainly, the role of games as a social phenomenon is now better understood. Just consider the past holiday season that saw an epic struggle among three boxes—PS 2, X-Box and Wii. The loser in that battle sold billions of dollars, while the winner sold billions more.
Did you know that 1/3 of today’s parents are gamers? (Makes sense when we consider that gamers are often classified as those 36 or younger. Weren’t 36 year olds classified as middle aged just a few years ago; now they’re gamers?) And, increasingly, games have migrated away from game “boxes” (such as those described above) to cell phones, iPods, and PDA’s.
As they have done for millennia, people continue find ways to play games and engage in simulations using devices that were designed for other purposes. For example, one of the seminal moments in our recent iStory Tour: Costa Rica trip was our discovery of geocache. Geocaching is a type of simulated treasure hunt using GPS devices. (Actually, it’s not all that simulated!) We simply learned what many others had already found out: with the proper imagination, you can turn almost anything into a game, and learn something along the way.
The phenomenon of online social gaming, where tens of thousands of people are at play at any given time 24/7 is close to mind boggling. Would tens of thousands of students spontaneously gather together to do homework? In fact, today’s youth are much more likely to play a game than they are to watch TV.
As a number of presenters have shared with us at SITE and similar conferences over the years, the cognitive processing involved in gaming is quite complex, and could (and often does) lead to rich learning. In the end, we’d make schools much more effective learning environments if we could harness the power of games as rich classroom tools.
While it does appear that SITE’s recognition of games and simulations as rich learning tools was percipient, it seems that almost every week we read some story about another educator discovering the power of games as educational tools. However, at the 2007 conference, we should maintain our vigilance to continue to find rich and meaningful ways to connect with today’s learners.
What do you think?
P.S. Please take a look at Wes Freyer’s blog where he’s recently posted some great discussions on gaming. (Wes, of course, has been instrumental in maintaining this SITE blog.)