Let's see a dog eat this homework assignment.
Michael Guerena of the Orange County Department of Education informed Kotaku earlier this week of a podcast in their Technology in Education series that explores the potential for the use of video games in the K-12 classroom.
"If you look at a kid they'll go to bed early when they have problems solving a question on a homework assignment but they'll stay up late to beat a game level," says Dr. Henry Jenkins from MIT Media Lab.
"The worst thing a kid will say about a homework assignment is that it's too hard and the worst thing they'll say about a game is it's too easy. How do we bridge the gap between the two so that what's motivating about games encourages kids to learn?"
In addition to Jenkins, the twenty minute video (available here) interviews Dr. James Gee, Clark Aldrich, and GameSpy's Dave Kosak who reveals that he learned more about capitalism from Lemonade Tycoon (screen at left) than any book could ever hope to teach.
Although education games have been around since the eighties, Reader Rabbit and Math Blaster are rather limited in scope. Organizations like Muzzy Lane and the Education Arcade are currently developing games for classroom use that far surpass those early attempts.
These include entrepreneurial simulations, historically accurate war games, and MMOs that allow players to learn about and experience life from various time periods such as 18th century Williamsburg on the eve of the Revolution.
Game technology as learning tools have already extended beyond established genres. The MIT Teacher Education Program, in conjunction with the Education Arcade, is developing Augmented Reality games. These games "combine real world experiences with additional information supplied to [players] by handheld computers." One example is Environmental Detectives, a game in which students play the role of environmental engineers in search of the source of a toxic spill. GPS enabled Pocket PCs allow players to drill for samples, locate people to interview, and collect the information they'll need to brief the University president of health and legal risks within the time limit. Watch the video at the bottom of this page to see the game in action.
Trial runs at high schools and college universities have yielded positive results and while parents and teachers have been very receptive to the idea of educational game technology, the major game publishers have been slow to show support due to profitability concerns. Jenkins argues that educational titles like Sim City, the Sims, Zoo Tycoon, and Civilization are always included on best seller lists. The ultimate goal is to keep kids engaged while learning and the current generation of teachers, having grown up on video games themselves, will have no problem adopting these powerful tools into their curriculums... provided they're available.