The Designer’s Notebook: Educational Games Don’t Have to Stink! (Ernest Adams)

First, I hope Adams has since (this article is from 2005) come to realize that the role of a teacher is not necessarily to use “his charisma to create interest and excitement in the student, and [to use] his attention to reward, punish, and compel attention back from the student.”

Good learning isn’t 25 students with gazes locked onto the charismatic maneuvers of a lecturer at the head of the class. Rather, it’s about involving the students themselves in the construction of their own meaning, understanding, and developing skill set. While I agree that teacher-student interactions are still an important component of the learning process and are something that cannot (and should not) be replaced by a computer, for effective and longlasting learning to occur, it must be student-initiated.

I also disagree with Adams’ view that “games don’t teach, they illustrate…Games are not useless in the educational process, but they’re not good at teaching per se. Games are good at creating understanding of knowledge the student already has. And they’re excellent at transforming abstract ideas into concrete experience. Games don’t teach, but they can help people learn.” I can understand where Adams is coming from; there are indeed many examples of games that were designed to create an experience, not necessarily to produce a higher score on a test. However, perhaps he draws too fine a distinction between teaching and learning, or rather, privileges one unfairly over the other. In fact, it sounds like his beloved experience with Dr. Suppes was an instance of great learning, whereby Adams and his classmates were exposed to readings and discourse that sparked their interests and inspired deeper inquiry. The games of today can support this kind of experience as well (see Learning and Teaching Scotland’s Game-based learning site, Futurelab’s Games and Learning resource page, and a recent paper by MIT’s The Education Arcade, Moving Learning Games Forward, which discusses various contexts in which games can be used for learning — to illustrate principles of dynamic systems, to encourage reflection and assuming of different points of view, etc.)

Games shouldn’t be considered wholesale as an effective learning platform; rather educational designers must strive to understand what exactly makes a game so inviting as “learning experiences” and then carefully, expertly, layer them into an educational system or ecology — comprising students, teachers, families, mentors, and yes, technology — without dampening that essential (and elusive) quality.


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