Experts push gaming as a ‘serious’ element of higher education

Using serious video games, and encouraging students to apply their knowledge in a digital world designed to simulate their future workplace, is gaining traction on college campuses, Aleckson said, but is far from an accepted learning practice.

In MindMeld, Aleckson and his coauthor, Penny Ralston-Berg, offer the case of college students who assumed the role of a cryogenics engineering consultant for a company called Cool-It. Each student would select a problem faced by the company and work through processes in a serious video game to present a solution based on the “right procedure, the optimum order, and the ideal cost.”

The student could present a variety of acceptable answers by the end of the serious gaming exercise, but only one solution to Cool-It’s business dilemma would be the most cost effective for the company.

Dave Gagnon, an instructional designer who helped create the Cool-It video game, said having students experiment with a variety of problem-solving techniques taught lessons that couldn’t be learned in a traditional classroom or lecture hall.

“We all wanted people to have the experience of a cryogenic engineer and get at that experience from the mad scientist point of view,” Gagnon said in MindMeld. “You lock into the kind of learning that is not about memorizing the cost of metals, and is not about solving math problems by hand. It is about knowing the relationships between things, and forming gut reactions about what to try.”

Andrew Phelps, director of the School of Interactive Games and Media at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), said advocates for serious games could grab their colleagues’ attention if they can strike a balance between the educational and training value of video games while keeping the games engaging for students.

“We would do them a disservice if we were only to focus on entertainment based applications,” he said. “Drawing a rich simulation from another domain often allows the educator to explore new concepts with students, whereas continual focus on forms and areas that the students are already familiar with can sometimes limit their imagination.”

Aldrich said the serious gaming panel scheduled to gather at Excelsior in May would show that video game-centric learning won’t be reserved only for tech-savvy professors familiar with popular video games.

Games, one day, will be so ingrained in higher education that they might no longer be known as games, Aldrich said.

“This is becoming the default media for content moving forward,” he said. “This will be the way to repurpose educational content around highly interactive atmospheres. … Passive content will be passed by some day.”

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