Teachers Waffle, Unsure on Using Video Games in Class

Education insiders can be considered gaming skeptics, and now The Hechinger Report has made an attempt to understand why. Many futurists in education have touted the potential of video game technology to transform the way students learn — most recently during NBC’s Education Nation summit — yet there is still doubt that the gamification of eduction will have a positive impact on student achievement.

Mostly, the skepticism is fueled by a lack of solid data. Research that backs up the rosy projections is still thin, and even the argument that games can increase student engagement don’t sound convincing. Engagement is difficult to define, much less measure, and there’s still nothing that links increased engagement with improved academic outcomes.

In addition, anecdotal experiences relayed by teachers who have tried using games as instructional tools haven’t been very encouraging.

Todd Beard, a K-12 technology teacher in Flint, Mich., said his students have trouble transferring skills they learn playing educational games in class to paper-based tests. While his students may appear to master skills during a video game, they forget it when they’re taking an assessment later. Beard tells his students, “It’s the same thing, you just did that,’” he said. He believes his students aren’t as invested in tests because they aren’t as fun as the games. “I feel like they’re learning [skills], but I have to prove that on an assessment,” Beard added.

There’s also a general distrust of video games that many on the front lines of education view as a distraction and competition for children’s time and attention. According to a report published by the National Institutes of Health, school-aged children already spend 7.5 hours of every day consuming entertainment media — including video games — so adding more hours of screen time to the day, even in service to academics, could feel like overkill to both parents and teachers.

And, as always, it comes down to money. Using games requires an investment in technology that many schools are unable to make at this time. Requiring the purchase of gadgets used for gaming or asking students to bring technology from home is problematic; the former is an expense many school systems can’t afford at a time when budgets are shrinking, and the latter might leave out those from low-income families.

And while video games may be the future of digital learning, teacher Sahadevan says there are still basic issues that need to be fixed in education before more teachers will utilize technology. “We can’t get books in classrooms,” Sahadevan said. “Unless they’re going to give all these programs for free, its like dangling candy in front of a kid. We want it, but we can’t get to it, and that’s a problem.”