Games in Every Classroom

Books have long been an accepted part of every classroom. I have visited schools all around the world and see the same picture everywhere. Books are a common staple in the educational experience for students and teachers alike.

I don’t just see textbooks in classrooms, but rather all different types of books. For example Tom Sawyer, a work of fiction, has now become a standard in many classrooms in Europe and the U.S. From art books and reference books, to law reviews, business case studies, policy books and of course biographies, to history books and non-fiction books, they have become trusted resources.

When I went to school, our teachers would augment books with television and movies as a tool to drive engagement and make course content more relevant and exciting to us. At the same time they were trying to help us as students achieve a higher level of content mastery.

Teachers all over the world have but one goal–to empower students to succeed. Everywhere I look I see teachers trying to enhance the classroom experience for their students so that they can become more engaged and better retain the information they are learning. I regularly hear comments made about what teachers should do or what tools they should use, yet most of these recommendations come from people who aren’t teachers and have never been in a classroom.

As teachers can attest, you can’t just try something and hope it works. Imagine the conversation with the parents: “Sorry your child flunked math this year, we tried this new xyz… and it just didn’t work for our students. We will try something different next year and see if it works better.”

Instead of trying to prescribe something to teachers and tell them what to do, we should work with them to understand what they are already doing, how they are doing it, and what they really need. For example, teachers don’t just have one book for any given subject. There are different books for the same curriculum, giving teachers a choice in how they approach the subject in a way that they think will be most impactful for students.

Games for the classroom should be no different; we should make a variety of games available to teachers and students so they have a choice. Where once we relied on TV and movies to offer another avenue of content delivery, today games can meet that need.

What would a world look like where every classroom and every teacher from pre-K to university would have games available to use as part of the teaching and learning process? In my opinion that would mark a monumental step towards utilizing a proven medium to enhance and improve the education experience and outcomes for teachers and students.

However having said that, mass acceptance of games requires several considerations. First, there is testing. While I have never seen a study that demonstrates the efficacy of the book, testing game scenarios with teachers is important. When testing and validating games, we need to keep in mind that, just like books, games can be used in a variety of ways. Testing every possible scenario might be difficult, but working directly with teachers who are using games can help other educators gauge effectiveness of the games and spur ideas to present content in a different and engaging way.

Another consideration is support and maintenance. Something as simple as an update to an operating system can cause a game to no longer function. Fixing the problem shouldn’t be left to teachers or students, not to mention it likely requires funding. Who will help a student or teacher on a Sunday at 2am when they are trying to use the game and have a simple support question? What about the analytics data, bandwidth and/or cloud storage so students can play anywhere? What about supporting materials like lesson plans, textbook mapping and classroom exercises? How about efficacy studies?

Lastly, funding is critical. A well-designed game-based curriculum requires someone to oversee it, as well as additional technology and that requires a mechanism to fund it. Too often I hear that learning games should be free, and while I find great merit in that philosophy, I have yet to see an effective system that allows those who develop, maintain and support learning games to be compensated for their work and expenses by giving their games away. I believe they deserve to be fairly compensated for their work.

While great strides are being made on the game-based learning front, it will take collaboration on the part of teachers, parents, designers, developers, publishers and policy makers to come up with a system that addresses development, testing, support, maintenance and funding for new innovative education technology. Only then can we hope to put games in every classroom.