Video Games in Education Round Table

I attended the Overview of Educational Roles of Computer Games academic paper roundtable yesterday. It was well attended, as you can see. By the time I got there the table was full and I grabbed a chair from the other table in the room (unfortunately nobody showed up for that discussion and eventually the presenter left… and soon we had all her chairs). There are many people sitting behind me in this picture, and soon others filled in behind those you see here. (Yes, that’s Stacy Deeble-Reynolds and Ranjit Mayadas in the foreground – well, the backs of their heads anyway.)

The session wound up being structured around introductions, as the facilitator, Dr. David Moursund, interjected comments about each person’s interests. Some interesting things were covered. A paradox that came up early is the suggestion that tricking kids into learning (by using a video game) is not ideal, particularly when it comes to helping them develop higher order thinking skills, metacognition, and awareness of their own learning. However, students resist anything that is explicitly educational, even video games. I’ve seen this, too, and don’t know the answer. I think it may just be that an educational game will at least be better than an educational lecture. :)

There was consensus at least, that relying on extrinsic motivation was not ideal.

We also discussed the conflict between wanting each person to discover things that are important to them (part of what I mean when I talk about opportunities for inquiry) and wanting them to learn the things society expects (read, at least in California, as “the standards”).

There was some discussion of what makes a game educational. Moursund said that a good educational game should help kids learn about their learning, and he said even a game like Monopoly could do this. Several people concluded that the difference between an educational experience and simple game playing is the teacher. I suggested that it the learner is the first important factor, and if the learner isn’t able to make the leap from the game to thinking about their own learning, it then depends on the teacher. James Paul Gee, for instance, needs no teacher to find educational value in a commercial entertainment game. However, I’ve talked to students about some of the same games Gee writes about, and usually they don’t believe they are learning anything useful from the games. It may be that creating environments where students write about their game playing and their learning might support this kind of thinking. It also occurred to me that in the case of a player who can’t extract meaning on their own, and who doesn’t have a teacher, the games must help scaffold this process for them.

We touched on the importance of games literacy for teachers. Others also mentioned project based and problem based learning, and the importance of individualizing instruction – even in games.

There was also discussion about creating communities with games, and among instructors who use games. I was hoping we’d start a mailing list or something by the end, but the group disintegrated quickly. Still, I got to hear a lot of interesting people introduce themselves and their projects. I also had a few good conversations at the end of the session. I was particularly happy to meet Courtney Peagler, who is working on a curriculum to teach educators about using games with their students, and who it turned out was also attending Will Richardson’s read/write web presentation in the next hour. (My post on that is coming.) It’s always great to meet someone who has similar passions.

In general, this round table session was much more interactive than most. In fact, it felt a lot more like an event at a residency with Walden University than a conference event. However, this was a surprisingly contentious group, and unfortunately I found Dr. Moursund a bit too… professorial. At first I saw his interruptions as good facilitation, but in the end I wish I would’ve heard the others speak more. The conversations here have been the most valuable for me. I do have to thank Dr. Moursund, though for hosting this round table, and for sharing his writing – and sources – with us. He pointed out a few to me in particular that I expect will be useful.

4 Responses to “Video Games in Education Round Table”

  1. Dave Thomer Says:

    I’m pondering this quote:

    “A paradox that came up early is the suggestion that tricking kids into learning (by using a video game) is not ideal, particularly when it comes to helping them develop higher order thinking skills, metacognition, and awareness of their own learning. However, students resist anything that is explicitly educational, even video games.”

    I wonder if the problem here is the notion of something that is “explicitly educational,” as though being something that you can learn from excludes the possibility of being an enjoyable activity pursued for some other reason.

    What’s the context in which the “tricking” takes place? Are you talking about assigning kids to play a game? Giving them the option to play? Talking to them about games they already play?

  2. Mark Says:


    Thanks for the comment. The context was this: one of the participants mentioned the common observation that students can learn without realizing it if they are playing a game. The facilitator suggested that this doing them a disservice because we would not be helping them learning about their learning (and thinking). He would prefer we make the learning explicit. But, another participant pointed out that if a kid is given the choice between an entertainment game and an educational game, the kid would choose the entertainment game every time.

    My feeling is that this choice is not as important as the choice between a traditional lesson (with books and lectures) and an educational game. :)


  3. Dave Thomer Says:

    If I can put on my Dewey hat, it seems to me like it’s not really a question of tricking. It’s a matter of engagement. I’m as analytical as the next guy, but there comes a point where the learning is in the doing, and the reflecting can come later. (I’d point back to those passages from Bennahum as an example.) I agree that the project of thinking about thinking is one that we should encourage our students to undertake, but not on a constant basis. Once you explicitly say “the goal here is educational,” you’re no longer connecting the learning process to the goals the student has.

    Now maybe there’s a flip side, in that if we can demonstrate that paying attention to the math lesson or the reading lesson will help the student play the game better, then we find a new way to engage the student.

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