Educational Video Games
In the last few years, there has been a great increase in the number and variety of educational video games available for children. From software to apps to educational game sites, there are numerous possibilities. For young children, games focus on building skills such as alphabet recognition, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, early reading, counting, and basic computation. For students who are a little older, the complexity of the questions posed increases, and concepts may be presented in a more language based format, without the reliance on sound and music to give prompts and clues. It is clear that such games help students build and consolidate skills they require in reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic, (3 R’s) but do these games also elicit critical thinking and problem solving? How long will such games hold the attention of children over time?
As children get older, they lose interest in the typical question and answer format of many educational video games they previously enjoyed. Instead, they will look for games where they are asked to engage in the content, solve problems posed, and use decision making skills to succeed. This is why we see so many adolescents engaged in role playing games on video game consoles. They are excited by the possibility of making choices that will influence the outcome of the journey they are on.
David Shaffer is an educator who believes greatly in the power of computer technology and digital applications in helping students prepare for a future in an increasingly competitive global economy. He introduces readers to the possibility that ‘Epistemic games’, which are a simulation of professional training games, may be the key to preparing our students, including those with disabilities for a successful future. In the article, Epistemic Games as Career Preparatory Experiences for Students with Disabilities, Shaffer argues that well-planned games will support students as they prepare to enter the work force. He refers to these games as “epistemic”. “Epistemic games are a simulation of professional training in game form. As such, they help players try on or assume different professional identities and learn to think and act like professionals in that community. In these games, players become professionals-in-training to learn what it means to think like a professional: to ask questions, solve problems, and explain and justify answers the way people solve problems in the real world. The opportunity to become a member of a profession through this format can help them develop a more realistic view of themselves as capable workers.”
Although the word “epistemic” does not appear to as be widely used as the word “simulation”, Shaffer’s epistemic games are very similar to game simulations, which have actually been used in post-secondary and career training institutes for quite a long time. Game simulations have been used in the following ways:
- In space programs, astronauts train on simulators before they begin their missions
- In the military and in police academies, officers learn attack and defense strategies through simulations
- Pilots receive some flight training through simulations
- Doctors and nurses receive medical training using simulations, learning about dangerous and invasive procedures without using a live subject to do so
- Many businesses use simulators to train new employees
- Post- secondary institutes use simulations to teach students a great number of skills such as those mentioned above
As technology advances, educational game simulations continue to develop, becoming increasingly more realistic and interactive. We will begin to see an increase of such games both in and out of the classroom, available for self-paced learning at home. Simulations support students’ development of critical thinking skills, and can play a part in K-12 education as successfully as it has in post-secondary institutes.
Simulation Games by GoVenture
One company that has been working for the past decade on creating and developing educational simulations or “epistemic games” is GoVenture, developed by Media Spark Inc. Many of their simulations are designed to recreate the challenges of owning a business, managing finances, or entrepreneurship. Other simulations include Point of Sale, which can be used to run a CarWash or fundraising event, and a Simulation Designer, where either the instructor or the students can customize the learning environment. GoVenture offers a free trial for those who are interested, and there are short video tutorials that show how each game works. GoVenture also continues to create new games, and apps for both iOS and Android. All games are available for a free trial. A newer product by GoVenture is the GoVenture Health series, which differs from the game simulation form. GoVenture Health consists of interactive e-books, where students are presented with information in a highly visual manner. Peppered throughout the presentation are short quizzes and there are games at the end. I find this format particularly useful as an instructional tool presented by the teacher on a data projector or interactive white board. It supports students in the early stages of acquiring information, but is not as conducive to the development of critical thinking skills as a simulated game environment.
Simulation Games by EverFi
EverFi is another site which teaches financial literacy through an interactive learning platform. It offers a variety of simulations which immerse students in epistemic learning environments. Each simulation available is a 4 to 6 hour performance-based course. Students engage in real world simulations, earn badges, and there is rich assessment data available for teachers, parents and students to see. Simulations are geared towards students from middle school to post-secondary. It is simply a matter of selecting the most age-appropriate game. Other simulations include: Digital Education, Civic Education, and Substance Use and Abuse.
Simulation Games Support Career Preparation
When students are engaged in playing simulation games that are epistemic, not only do they wonder and ask questions, but they must test their ideas for possible solutions. Ideally, students are able to interact in environments where they can use problem solving strategies to move forward in the game, and learn from his/her mistakes. Students can see the consequences of their actions rather than simply hypothesize and wait for the answer to come from the teacher. Simulation games transform the teacher’s role from one of instructor to the role of facilitator. As an experienced teacher, I have seen the benefits of a hands-on environment, where students can engage with concepts they are learning through the use of manipulatives, experiments, construction projects, and art activities. However, certain concepts are difficult to recreate in a classroom, and simulated games can support students as they learn about flight, managing finances, city planning, weather patterns, bridge building, frog dissection or running a store. Simulation games are an essential addition to a classroom equipped with tools conducive to critical thinking and project based learning, and will play an important part in preparing students as they move into adolescence and adulthood. Offering simulation games to young learners encourages them to ask questions and solve problems, and supports career preparation.
Shaffer , David Williamson “Epistemic Games as Career Preparatory Experiences for Students with Disabilities” Journal Of Special Education Technology Vol. 22, No. 3: 57-69
EverFi – EverFi is the leading education technology company focused on teaching, assessing, badging, and certifying students in critical skills. Click Here
GoVenture – GoVenture programs are designed for youth and adults, and for self-directed or facilitated learning. They can be used on their own or as components to enhance other courses, learning, and entertainment experiences. Click Here
Image: Ignition by EverFi