Cutting Edge Kids

Man, how lucky are the youth of today? The latest generations of kids are so geared toward information assimilation that perhaps when they struggle the first place we should look to place blame is old methodology. Seriously. If they’re learning cool math, for kids to be taking notes and practicing problems the old way, or even listening to a teacher drone on in an old-school fashion might be counter-productive.

That’s not because these kids aren’t bright. On the contrary, today’s kids are perhaps the sharpest wave of youngsters ever to grace this planet. But just as they are geared for absorbing information streams from many directions, at a dizzying rate – they might be more resistant than their predecessors to info that comes in a package of lower vibrations, delivered in more conventional fashion. One way in which modern methods of instruction increasingly differ from our parents’ and grandparents’ approaches is the employment of digital games in school. There currently is a tremendous amount of momentum behind the incorporation of games into class-time and a measurable swell in the tide of emerging software products attempting to service this need. The idea that learning doesn’t have to be painful and can indeed be more fun is a popular one. Maybe our collective intuition knows that it’s not wrong for things to be moving in that direction.

(There is a new wave of tech-ready humans upon us. This video is a case-in-point.)

When I watch a kid learn a game like Minecraft by themselves, by trial-and-error and sometimes with a little bit of aid from observing others on YouTube I’m amazed at how fast they pick up on all the little nuances of play. All the different key combinations and various attributes ascribed to different objects – for me it’s quite overwhelming. Not so much for my 7-year-old who seems to just get it. I have no education degree or psychology degree to back up my assumptions but I still might wager that my child is constructed a little differently than I am – a slightly later model built for the information age with a greater affinity toward contemporary digital learning tools.

Trend Toward Making Learning Fun

There are a major proponents of using fast-paced digital games as learning tools. Although perhaps surprisingly, it’s still a controversial practice among educators. According to recent studies, 60% of today’s teachers are using digital games as part of their instructional methodology, with 18% using them daily. One study found that of the educators who were resistant to the use of games in their classrooms, many attributed their reluctance to general uncomfortability with that style of teaching. This begs the question, will that metric simply change as younger teachers enter the profession?

Government has also taken an interest in the trend toward making learning fun. In Washington state, for example, lawmakers are considering legislation that would officially pilot the utilization of such games in schools. Last fall, the White House and U.S. Department of Education hosted a “jam” promoting the development of them. While academia certainly does seem warm to the idea of embracing games as learning tools, studies so far have produced conflicting evidence as to the efficacy of them.

Early Indicators Promising Despite Lingering Questions

Some evidence has come to light that playing active games with other students can both motivate the learning of more difficult subject matter and encourage interest in less popular subjects. Several years ago the results of one study led to the conclusion that math video games successfully motivated middle-school children to learn difficult subject matter. Despite these promising early indications, the need remains for more standardized methods of evaluating games to measure their effectiveness.

Recently interviewed for an article in the American Psychological Association’s online newsletter, Vanderbilt University Professor Douglas Clark agrees with the need for standardizing the evaluation of games’ effectiveness. He pointed out that there are quality textbooks out there which adequately support the teaching of subject matter, and also bad ones. It’s likely the same with games. Little is understood by simply comparing the use of digital games to traditional reliance on books in the classroom. We must determine how to evaluate specific games for specific measures of effectiveness and various means of influencing learning.


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