I was fortunate to attend the first annual Game On! Texas symposium put together by the Skillpoint Alliance on April 7. By the end of the day I had started to re-think how I thought video games could be used in the classroom.
The symposium brought together educators, developers, and community activists, primarily from Texas, to discuss how video games could enrich the education of school kids. Even Texas Governor Rick Perry gave the opening keynote to show his support for the event and the ideas it promoted.
Some of the speakers discussed the potential of video games as a learning tool. In particular Alan Gershenfeld, the Chairman of the Games For Change festival, talked about Impact Games. He described Impact Games, as games that use a challenge and reward system to motivate students. These games also teach that failure is not only an acceptable, but also a fun part of the learning process. However, the overarching theme of Game On! Texas focused more on encouraging children to purse a career in video game production, and less on utilizing video games creation to aid children in their learning.
Throughout the day I began to see teaching video game creation in high school as part of a well-rounded education, not just a technical trade. High school educators at the symposium were looking to improve their student's employment opportunities, but I think specialization should be saved for college. While I can see how learning C++ versus the Unity Engine, would be an important decision to a budding programmer, this myopic debate misses the larger potential for gaming in education.
Some of the speakers there were promoting their college's video game programs, which were impressive. Peter Raad from Guildhall made a key point while talking about his program. He remarked that the acronym STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, should be changed to STEAM. The A recognizes that the arts are also an important silo of learning. Why not go further?
The process of video game creation could be part of a well-rounded education. By incorporating research from a history class, drawings from an art class, and calculus from a math class, video games would inspire learning. It made me think that video games could be used the way research papers are today. I'm not trying to knock the Game On! Texas symposium, on the contrary I think it was a great beginning for a new forum where educators can connect with developers.
There was a huge amount of interest from the high school education community. They understand that video games have a great appeal to students, and ultimately they want to help their students. Maybe it’s time to think about video games the way we have been thinking about writing papers. Imagine drafting an outline, doing research and then instead of writing a term paper, you write a simple game. Now that would have kept me more motivated and interested in my high school classes.
Hopefully future Game On! Texas symposiums will lead to partnerships between educators and developer that will make research video games a reality.