When you’re playing a game, you develop a natural inclination to engage with the world in different ways. So how can we use games in education to help students acquire knowledge and skills, question the status quo, and make a positive impact on the world?
Kurt is the Co-Director of the Games, Learning, and Society (GLS) Initiative at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. He’s also a Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a leading scholar in video game-based learning. He studies how video games function as learning environments and the social organizations that surround them.
“We design games around critical, current issues, with a goal of getting kids motivated and with the right skills to go out and solve the world’s problems as a direct result of playing the game,” says Squire. “It’s fundamentally rethinking how we do education.”
One of the key benefits of using gaming for educational purposes is the concept of choice, explains Squire. “Games provide people with ample opportunity to personalize learning paths, such as a range of assignments, or even the ability to create or co-construct assignments. They also bring together people of various abilities and interests. Greater choice stimulates creativity within the students, who must work together. All of this allows students to authentically participate and think more deeply about what they are learning, which ultimately leads to a better understanding of the subject matter. It’s also learning that happens everywhere—except in school.”
Gamification helps students develop important learning skills, such as pattern detection, problem solving, team building, information gathering, and information management, says Squire. “Games are really good at piquing a person’s interest. They provide an intriguing hook into complex subject matter, drawing you in so that you become immersed and involved. In a game, students have to build a team and design their own social systems. They need to explore different avenues to overcome a problem. They need to gather information and then make decisions to manage that information flow, asking questions such as: What information do I need? What don’t I know? What other information sources can I use to fill in the blanks?”
Squire points to a game he and his research team have created called “Citizen Science” that connects student learning to civic engagement. “In the game, students study endangered lakes, going through a series of quests to understand what is happening with the lake and how to change the lake. If they are successful in the game, they can save the lake and change the future. Through the process of the game, they learn about the root causes behind the endangered lake, the science involved in saving it, and who to talk to in order to get legislation passed to fix the problem.”
He also notes that the more authentic the output of a game, the better. “One thing we do is get students to actively participate in creating something for the “real world,” such as writing an article for a local publication. The more public the activity, the more effort a student will put in. They’re not just completing an assignment for the sake of the teacher. And that’s really the goal of education and why we’re all here—to produce people who can and want to learn.”