Online Game Platforms Inspire Creative Approaches to Education


Educators across the nation are using online games as a model for education, with up to three-quarters of teachers employing digital games as part of their curriculum.

Some games are specifically designed for educational purposes, and teach subjects ranging from basic math and vocabulary to AP history. TurtleDiary was founded in 2012 to host math, reading, and science games for elementary school children, and co-founder Permender Singh said that injecting fun into learning boosts engagement and results:

When they can learn it as part of a fun thing, they learn fast. They don’t even know that they’re learning.

Others are designed to teach players about social issues outside the classroom. Clay Ewing, an assistant professor at the University of Miami’s School of Communications, creates games with students like a smartphone game called Zoo Rush that shows what it’s like to live with sickle cell disease. Joey Flechas of the Hiami Herald quoted Ewing on the evolution of gaming and learning:

They’re realizing that games are the cultural medium that the current generation responds to. For somebody who grew up on film and would say, “Oh, I remember watching E.T. in the theaters, and it was like a seminal moment in my life,” that same moment isn’t going to be described in film. It’s going to be talked about like “I remember the first time my brother and I played Super Mario Bros. It was transformative.

New research suggests that the popular and addictive game Candy Crush can provide a model for educational games, like using unlockable levels, measurable goals, and hints. Chris Havergal of the Times Higher Education quoted researcher Maria Varonis on the role of gaming in student engagement:

Instructors can and should draw students into the curriculum the same way the game designers have. Though the objectives might be different between the game and the course, the same drive, commitment, and reaction students have playing the former can be triggered in the latter if presented in a particular way.

Minecraft has a number of educational uses, including teaching programming and allowing students to build 3D models. An online course by Youth Digital, Server Design 1, is using Minecraft to teach the Java coding language to students between 8 and 14, according to Fox News.

11-year-old Simran Vora is attending a summer camp at UM and is creating using the popular game to design a quest. She said:

I really enjoy designing things, and I like to go on adventures.

Maggie Harrel, Director of Miami’s ID Tech Camp, said:

It’s not just about playing the games. It’s about customizing and making it what they love and what they want. At the same time, they’re learning all these tools that will be so helpful to them in life.

Teachers are also designing activities using World of Warcraft. Kurt Squire, a professor of digital media at the University of Wisconsin-Madison said that teachers using WoW have seen students get more excited about activities and use collaborative skills more often. He said:

They want to share strategy. They want to talk about what they’re doing. I think that’s the case, where reality defies some of our stereotypes.

According to Lee Banville of Games and Learning, the MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program and Education Arcade have released a guide that combines best practices in education with best practices in game design. The goal is to bring educators and game designers together in a way that creates effective and fun learning games.