Gaming the future of higher education

by Bryan Alexander, Senior Fellow, National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education

Alexander_BioWhat will happen to higher education in the future? Versions of this question have been asked with increasing frequency over the past decade, especially since the 2007-2008 financial crisis and the challenging economic environment for colleges and universities that followed. Demographic, political, technological, and institutional developments have added to an atmosphere of tension and impending crisis. High-profile conferences have summoned campus leaders and media attention to ponder the fate of academia.[1] State and national political campaigns energetically discuss details of college tuition, staffing, curriculum, and policies. The University of Virginia’s board controversially (and briefly) deposed a president over strategy concerning these issues.

Can we use gaming to improve our ability to think through these challenging times?[2] I pose this surprising question because of the parallel rise of another trend from the past decade. The uses of gaming for learning have been much discussed, experimented with, and developed since the 2003 publication of James Paul Gee’s landmark book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy.[3] There has been a flood of discussion about the various ways games and simulations can enhance skills learning, convey curricular content, be used in libraries, and serve as the object of an emerging academic discipline, game studies. Games, “serious games,” and simulations have reached beyond academia into the realms of policymaking, entertainment, and news media.[4] Gamification, the use of game mechanics beyond formal game content, is being discussed to influence business, policy, and daily life. To propose using games to think through education’s fate is actually consonant with the tenor of our times.

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Challenges to Games in Education Reaching the Mainstream

by Todd Bryant

Bryant_BioTodd Bryant is the liaison to the foreign language departments for the Academic Technology group at Dickinson College and an adjunct instructor of German. Much of his work centers on maintaining and updating The Mixxer, a site he created to help connect language students with native speakers via Skype. His interest in games began with his own use of World of Warcraft in an introductory German course, and he has helped others integrate Civilization IV, Inform7 and Peacemaker into various courses in the social sciences. You can follow Todd on Twitter: @bryantt and @MixxerSite.

Games have received a great deal of public attention over the past 10 years and with good reason. With his book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy,James Paul Gee laid out sound pedagogical principles used by video game designers that enabled them to create a product that was very engaging and at the same time extremely challenging and complex.[1] The book was extremely influential and organizations focused on games and learning were established shortly thereafter, including “GamesforChange” in 2004[2] and “Games + Learning + Society” in 2005.[3] Since then games have remained prominent in education. The number of articles matching the term “game-based learning” in Google Scholar has increased steadily each year from 604 in 2004[4] to 2310 in 2012.[5] Educational uses of games have received major grant funding from the NEH,[6] Catherine T. MacArthur, and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations.[7] They have also received serious attention from mainstream media including news organizations NPR[8] and CNN,[9] the New York Times best-selling book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World,[10] and as an exhibit in the Smithsonian.[11]

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