Humans have always learned through play.From practising military strategy on an early chess board in ancient Afghanistan to creating games – and Kindergarten – to teach German children in the 1800s, play has long been an essential tool for learning.
We’ve come a long way from using chess pieces and simple wooden blocks.
Researchers at the University of Calgary's Werklund School of Education are studying how games are improving teaching and learning and technology is becoming essential equipment in any classroom.
From touching the screen to rolling the dice: Learning through games
At home, many parents try to limit how much time their kids spend playing video games. At school, however, computer games enhance learning and can be a powerful tool in the classroom.
Using games makes content stand out and be easier for students to understand – after all, games are meant to be entertaining and fun. And designing educational activities to include gameplay can promote collaboration, critical thinking and strategic planning.
“Playing video games can give you a much deeper understanding of how things work,” says Beaumie Kim, as associate professor at the Werklund School of Education. “Gamers engage in a lot of creative practices because they have to understand the context; they have to strategize.”
“Playing video games can give you a much deeper understanding of how things work."
With programs like Scratch, students can develop stories and games that express their ideas and creativity and share them in an online community, which may be a better platform than pen and paper for some learners. “In a regular classroom, I think students should have an option to do their work in different ways," says Kim. "Students who may be less comfortable with good essay writing can have an option to create a really good art piece instead which helps them to do more research."
Games may also help with the ‘transfer issue,’ that is, students who don’t see the purpose of what they’re learning in school and are unable to transfer knowledge and skills to other contexts of use. “It’s an issue education scholars have been trying to tackle,” says Kim. “Well-designed games have the potential to help with this.” They can engage learners to make a deeper relationship with the content, which can lead to a better understanding and the ability to use the knowledge and skills they acquire in another context.
Kim studies how all kinds of games—whether online or a good old fashioned board game—can teach creativity, problem-solving skills and enhance learning. “Depending on the situation, there are times that I prefer paper, but there are other times that I prefer technology," Kim says. "It's quite exciting that we have all these options and different ways of doing things.”
The global classroom: Quality education is a click away
With advancements in educational technology, online courses and distance education are bringing knowledge and learning opportunities to every corner of the world. Students can access quality education from pretty much anywhere.
"When we think about the original distance learning, the correspondence used to be paper-based,” says Jennifer Lock, professor in the Werklund School of Education. "You mailed in the package in the brown envelope and you got it back a few weeks later with comments written on it.” Then came the fax machine which meant assignments could go back and forth much more quickly.
“Fast-forward to today,” says Lock. “Now we have distance learning management systems where you can post your information inside a digital drop box and as soon as you post it, the instructor can download it, mark it and give you feedback.”
Teachers send audio messages or post drawings and they can add a more human element that’s missing from more traditional distance learning. “I can create a video or take part in a video talk about the topic and students see me and hear how I express myself about the topic,” says Lock. “This is different and richer than just using a straight text-based form.”
"How can we foster strong human connections using technology?"
Technology also brings outside perspectives into the classroom, enhancing the educational experience. Lock is working with Petrea Redmond from the University of Southern Queensland, Australia, to bring together Canadian, Australian, Russian, and U.S. experts to teach students an international online project. By sharing resources and comparing challenges and ideas, students can get a much deeper understanding of a topic.
There are many technologies that are enhancing distance learning, but rather than getting all excited about the latest shiny new toy, Lock is most interested in finding the best tool for the job. “How do we create these dynamic, engaging types of learning environments where we are really embracing the technology? And how can we foster strong human connections using the technology, so it feels like we're actually talking to another person?”
Technology will continue to advance and with it, the opportunities to further how to teach students-- whether they’re halfway around the world, or just up the street.
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ABOUT OUR EXPERTS
Dr. Beaumie Kim, PhD, is an associate professor and chair of Learning Sciences with UCalgary’s Werklund School of Education. Her work is focused on learners’ creating games as models of worlds for their own learning. Her research work is carried out in collaboration with teachers and students as design partners, and by observing their interactions, discourse and artifacts. Read more about Beaumie
Dr. Jennifer Lock, PhD, is a professor in UCalgary's Werklund School of Education, and associate dean of teaching and learning, currently on administrative leave. She returns to the position January 1, 2018. Her research interests lie in e-learning, technology integration in education, change and innovation in education, educational development and the scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education and experiential learning through making and makerspaces. Read more about Jennifer