Should Computer Games Be Used For Classroom Instruction?

When you first step into a classroom, one of the first things to catch your eye is usually a list of rules. Most of what you see is expected; after all, very few classrooms allow disruptive behavior, late homework, and missing materials– you just don’t question those things. However, there’s one rule that you just can’t help but question: written in bold lettering as though it were the golden rule itself is, bluntly, NO ELECTRONICS.

Wait, isn’t one of the required items for this class a calculator– an electronic device? Besides that, if my phone has a calculator, why can’t I just use it? Why are electronic devices deemed such unholy tools within the context of the classroom?

Indeed, it does seem as though classrooms have a complete aversion to technology; portable computers such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones are instantly banned, seen as a distraction from learning.

However, is it possible that this conclusion is not only incorrect, but actually the opposite of the truth? Is it possible that these devices could actually be used to enhance, rather than distract from, the learning experience?

To come to a conclusion, it’s imperative that we discuss the problems surrounding traditional education. One of the main problems we see in classrooms, particularly those of young children, is in the form of attention; young children typically do not possess the mental capacity for sitting still for hours straight listening to a teacher’s droning. After all, wouldn’t most children prefer to be playing?

Though this may be seen as either an attention problem or a lack of self-discipline, there are developmental theories surrounding children and their play. According to Susan Tice, B.A., the Public Relations Director and Product Manager for International Playthings, Inc., the main thing that entices children is the ability to have control:

…If a toy plays music, toddlers want to be the ones who do whatever is necessary to get music to play. They are more mobile, so they enjoy toys that can go with them, such as a walker, ride-on toy, push toy, and so forth.

While we often view play and education as being two separate parts of development, they actually go hand-in-hand and maximize the benefits of learning when paired together. While we often see this in a preschool setting that focuses on basic cognitive and social development, this goes for people of all ages, from birth to adulthood; it’s what makes programs such as Duolingo and Lumosity so enticing for adults: they turn language and cognitive development into interactive, challenging games.

Perhaps, we as a society have spent so much time criticizing the ease of modern technology that we’ve failed to see their benefits in a classroom setting. After all, they’re nothing new; many children of the 80’s and 90’s will remember learning about history and logic by playing the game Oregon Trail, and many of us 2000’s kids will remember games such as Brain Age that entertained us and promoted cognitive development. Interactive science labs online can also be used to enhance understanding and allow schools lacking in resources to still utilize a hands-on approach to the sciences.

It doesn’t end with educational games, either. Take Minecraft, for example. While a parent may complain that their child spends more time playing the hit video game than they do studying, what they probably fail to realize is that their child’s brain is being enriched with content allowing creativity, problem-solving and hand-eye coordination. Children who play on public or local servers may also pick up on social skills through collaboration on in-game projects. For older children, creating in-game servers can be a great introduction to coding. The benefits of Minecraft have not gone ignored, as many schools have begun to integrate the game into their classrooms, and an educational edition was even released for this use.

In the end, it’s important that we embrace technological development in our classrooms and see the educational value in having fun; no longer must school mean sitting down for hours in front of a pictureless textbook. Instead, school can be a place where children are able to learn through engaging experiences that turn learning into a lifelong desire.

Originally published on The Odyssey. All rights reserved.