How video games are helping education

Video games are often seen as merely entertainment.

But to some, video games are becoming an effective teaching tool in classrooms across the country.

Video games can benefit health, scientists told a packed house.Lars Frantzen/WikiCommons
Video games can benefit health and learning, scientists told a packed house.
Lars Frantzen/Wikimedia Commons

Daniel L. Schwartz of Stanford University makes video games a useful learning resource when paired with other teaching materials. He made this point at the AAAS annual meeting on Saturday, along with two other panelists who addressed how video games can have numerous benefits on health.

The basic structure of traditional video games depends on the idea of experience, Schwartz said. Video game companies are devoting time and effort into creating a world that users find addictive, creating a sense of motivation to continue through the game, Schwartz said.

School, Schwartz said, is based on explanation.

“You can’t really make a video game that stops in the middle and explains something, it just sort of ruins the video game,” Schwartz said. “But I don’t think that the conclusion is video games are useful for school. Good experiences prepare people to learn explanations more deeply.”

Consider military simulations. Learning happens during the debriefing, Schwartz said. Experience serves as a primer, and if you didn’t have the experience, soldiers wouldn’t retain as much from the exercises, he said. So teachers can apply this principle to teaching.

“We can think of the video games as future learning,” he said.

Video games are becoming vehicles for education themselves. “MinecraftEdu” is the educational version of the popular commercial game “Minecraft.” It’s aimed toward getting young children interested in quantum computing by adapting certain parts of the game.

“It’s a really complex topic for an adult, let alone a kid,” said Alan Gershenfeld, president of game publisher called E-Line Media. “We’ve had close to a million downloads. Teachers and parents are saying kids are asking me about quantum science. It’s fascinating.”

But mirroring that success may not be the easiest of tasks, Gershenfeld said.

“Having managed dozens and dozens of high profile computer video games, it’s hard,” he said. “Game design is craft, it’s not a commodity.”