PAX East 2012: Educating Through Gameplay

I have always been a supporter of gaming as a resource for learning. More and more, people are taking notice of educational aspects that are inherent to certain game design and how games can be used as an entertaining way to teach concepts. One of the things I most look forward to at PAX East is the panels that feature “gaming for good.” Whether being used for charity, education, or other good works, these are always incredibly informative panels.
 
This year I attended a panel titled, Educating Through Play: The Future of American Education. The panel offered a sobering look at the current state of the US education system. In a first world society where technology surrounds us and information is quite literally a touchscreen away, why is it so difficult to teach the youth of today and why are some resistant to using games in an attempt to enhance learning? Three of the guest speakers were themselves responsible in developing and implementing games to foster and encourage learning. The panel offered a brief glimpse into the projects and left the audience wondering what else may be possible for the future.
 
To start things off, Primer Labs gave us a peek at Code Hero, a game that teaches people how to code. Code Hero transports the player to a virtual world where they can see the code used to create objects and execute actions. Players then use the code to influence the virtual space and complete tasks, thus offering a cause-effect reaction to cement the concept. Essentially, the player get to play a game while learning to make a game. Primer Labs recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign which brought in $170,954.00 in contributions.
 
   
Elizabeth Lawley was on hand to discuss the Just Press Play Project being utilized at Rochester Institute of Technology. The Just Press Play Project uses game layers to incorporate gameplay into the undergraduate experience for students enrolled in their School of Interactive Games & Media. The initiative connects the educational and social lives of students, provides incentives for educational achievements and creates a greater sense of community among peers, further encouraging students to help one another.
 
   
Rounding out the panel was Leslie Reed of Valve Software to show off Learn With Portals. If you have ever played Portal or Portal 2, you know these games are rife with problem-solving opportunities. Somewhere along the way, teachers also began to recognize the potential of using Portal to teach physics, mathematics, spacial reasoning and engineering concepts, among many other skill sets. Valve Software has been one of the industry heavy hitters to embrace education, going so far as to build a practical lab that teachers can arrange to visit as a school field trip. These field trips allow students to get hands-on experience with the technology and build their own structures to better cement the concepts expressed. In the near future, Valve expects to work more closely with educators as they build a network for educators to share ideas and curriculum in an effort to assist one another in creating dynamic tools for teachers.
 

 
This is only the beginning of what I hope will become a long and cooperative relationship between education and gaming. Game mechanics inherently teach skills in an entertaining way. The biggest obstacle to such an effort is the lack of concrete metrics. While there are plenty of anecdotal experiences that tout the benefits of gaming as an educational tool, there is a need for hard and fast demonstrations of measurable value. The only way to obtain this data is to keep on gaming.
 

Comments are closed.