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Are Video Games Educational?

A new Israeli study challenges the stereotypes about video games

By: Zak Edwards
Published: December 2nd, 2013 in Health » Israel
Are kids hooked on video games?

Are we losing children to a much more relevant learning environment?

Israeli educational research lab Mindcet has started asking this question, wondering if prejudice against video games as violent and mindless are actually holding back children.

In a study released earlier this year, Mindcet interviewed nearly 1100 Israeli children on their video game habits and discovered something: kids play video games for entertainment, yes, but they are also playing them to learn.

Today’s children grow up with video games instead of simply watching the TV like their parents, and this interactivity has educators wondering about how it affects children’s problem solving skills and learning. According to Mindcet, educators need to start thinking about gamificatio - the integration of gaming into something else - in more productive ways, not just to teach kids using things they know, but perhaps to create healthier learning environments.

Of course, Mindcet aren’t the only people thinking about these questions; Shalom Life sat down with children’s author Steven Winkelstein last month to talk about his attempts to make Holocaust education more interactive for kids growing up with iPads and tablets rather than paper books.

Mindcet’s study targeted three areas that video games help children with development moreso than a traditional classroom and are working towards strategies that take advantage of these areas.

First, the narrative of video games provides incentive for players by making their actions and decision to play seem important and relevant. Saving a world using puzzle solving and other skills over filling an exercise book of math problems gets kids motivated.

Video games also have something Mindcet calls “failing up.” In game worlds, there is a certain expectation that players will fail and have to replay parts of the game in order to succeed. As opposed to school, which creates an environment that condemns failure, video games encourage alternative and critical thinking precisely through failure. Failing up, then, gives kids a safe environment to fail until success.

And, despite popular opinions otherwise, video games can also help students collaborate and develop social skills as games become more socially based. Multiplayer games necessitate cooperation, teamwork, and social etiquette to accomplish goals.

A caveat in the study, however, is that this is based on interviewing children, not educational experts, and does little to address how kids actually can learn from video games, and if games developed specifically for school curriculum will actually engage children. Despite The Times of Israel claiming that “that video games — even violent ones — are beneficial for children on a scale much bigger than originally thought,” using Grand Theft Auto as an example, such assertions are somewhat romantic. There is no conclusive evidence that extremely violent video games cause real life violence, but there is evidence that certain game environments can lead to addiction and expose children to high levels of abuse and intolerance.

As always, children require parental guidance and supervision for their activities online, but Mindcet is convinced that video games can be part of kids’ official education in the future, which is not a terrible idea nor, if you played Number Crunchers as a kid, that new of an idea.
Related articles: Video Games, Education, Mindcet, iPad, Google, Apple, Smartphone, Israel News, Health News
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