Deidre Witan and I have recently been part of some interesting chicken-or-the-egg discussions. They typically go in this cycle:
“If more games were used in classrooms, students would be more engaged and would learn more.”
“But students will never learn until the curriculum changes to better reflect what they need to know.”
“But the curriculum will never shift until we have new models for teaching.”
“But we won’t have new models unless we embrace technology and make use of it to create games, so students can be more engaged.”
…and so on. In brief, here are the two sides to the argument. You can decide which came first.
The curriculum must change first
Our current school curriculum is based off a creation from the mid-1800s, after the industrial revolution. The intention was to ensure that every student, by the time he or she reached 6th grade, had basic numbers and letters. From there, students might go to work in factories or on farms, or they might continue through school and specialize.
However, as school reforms took place in the early and mid-1900s, and as our culture shifted away from farming, students began staying in school longer. The curriculum expanded to incorporate increasingly large amounts of “mandatory” or “base line” information.
Today, students are so busy learning spelling and vocabulary and addition and multiplication that they barely have time for technology – the newest mandatory information. Until the curriculum changes to better incorporate technology at the expense of information that students no longer need as they did in the 1850s, it doesn’t matter how it’s taught.
We need the tools first
Although it’s true we live in the information age, and technology changes faster than the speed of light, technology is something to be embraced as a method, not as a subject. Computers and tablets and mobile phones are new to the teachers as well as the students, and the teachers can’t be expected to change their method of teaching until there are appropriate ways to teach their curriculum via these new technologies.
Although many educational games exist, from the old classic Oregon Trail, to the free-flowing Second Life, to the newest fad Minecraft, schools are not being given budgets (by and large) to incorporate these games and technologies into the classrooms. If a game could be created that wowed administrations enough and was demonstrated to be significantly more effective than paper and pen, schools would be able to increase or rearrange budgets in order to get it.
Round and round we go
Unfortunately, no one has created a brand new curriculum, or a perfectly “wow”ing game, making this a tough debate to end. But what’s key for game designers to note is this: even without the curriculum changing, we can still pick and choose what to build games around. Learning cursive may not be the best use of a 2nd grader’s time anymore, so we can focus game creation instead around typing skills or spreadsheet manipulation.
The sky’s the limit – a good problem to have.