Games in education
While dedicated research into the relationship between playing video games and education may still be relatively new, games in many forms (both digital and otherwise) are already widely used by teachers, parents, schools and other institutions with an interest in learning.
Many organizations such as the Institute of Play in New York and MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten have developed an appreciation for the role that games can play in facilitating unique learning environments that support the development of higher order skills; skills such as the ability to solve complex problems or interact critically through language and media.
Researchers such as James Gee, have written extensively on the potential value of games as risk-free virtual environments that encourage discovery by trial-and-error and iterative effort. Games, according to Gee, can be highly useful in promoting alternative ways of thinking that move beyond traditional academic disciplines.
Since its inception in 2014, the Australian STEM Video Game Challenge has engaged with students, teachers, parents and community organisations across Australia, facilitating opportunities for learning and creativity across the four STEM disciplines.
At various points throughout our short history, we’ve managed to capture a variety of case studies and interviews that document experiences participating in the competition from a number of different perspectives.
The Four P Model
In a 2014 paper, Mitchel Resnick, a leading researcher at the MIT Media Lab, outlines a ‘4P’ approach to using video games as a tool for creative learning. These ‘Four P’s’ – Projects, Peers, Passion and Play are strongly aligned to the Constructionist approach to education; emphasizing the ‘value of learners playfully creating personally-meaningful projects in collaboration with peers’.
These ‘Four P’s’ are also present in the way Australian STEM Video Game Challenge positions itself as a teaching and learning exercise:
People learn best when they are actively working on meaningful projects – generating new ideas, designing prototypes, refining iteratively.
The Australian STEM Video Game Challenge is, first and foremost, a project.
It has an overall goal – something for students to accomplish and work toward over time, learning and adapting as they go.
It requires ideas – some big, and some small – and a willingness to engage in trial and error; to try something new, or to approach a persistent problem with innovation and creativity. It has milestones and dependencies (both imposed by the broader goal, and of a personal nature) which help to give the project meaning.
Completing the Australian STEM Video Game Challenge, (submitting a working game) is also akin to completing a project – students are rewarded with a tangible accomplishment, and evidence of their efforts.
Learning flourishes as a social activity, with people sharing ideas, collaborating on projects, and building on one another’s work.
The Australian STEM Video Game Challenge is a team activity, and we strongly advocate collaboration and cooperation between students as they engage in the process of developing a game. Shared learning, self-directed learning and peer-directed learning are all valuable skills that have application beyond the classroom.
The ability to cooperate and collaborate with others in order to solve problems or accomplish a given task is an increasingly important skill, as is experience with group dynamics (including tensions and conflict). Real-life video games are rarely developed in an isolated, individual environment - a concept that is strongly emphasised in our approach. The Australian STEM Video Game Challenge exists as a way for students to learn from, with and around each other, and work together to create something new, interactive and exciting.
When people work on projects they care about, they work longer and harder, persist in the face of challenges, and learn more in the process.
The Australian STEM Video Game Challenge exists to inspire students to take on something new and innovative. It operates with a desire to engage students with new concepts and ideas, and provides an objective that can be used to develop, direct and harness new and existing passions.
At its core, the competition provides an opportunity for Australian students to interact with new technologies and learn new skills to achieve a goal. The process of creating a video game (especially for the first time) is very much driven by curiosity, inquiry, iteration and experimentation – catalysts for students to find new passions and explore them!
Learning involves playful experimentation – trying new things, tinkering with materials, testing boundaries, taking risks, iterating again and again.
Video games provide an excellent environment for taking risks and making mistakes; for trial-and-error learning, and for hypothesizing, testing and evaluating. The process of designing a video game involves a continuous loop of creating, testing, altering and refining; while virtual environments have the capacity to provide almost instantaneous feedback on decisions, alterations and refinements.
The Australian STEM Video Game Challenge embraces ‘play’ as a mechanism for learning, but also as a way of helping to develop an appreciation for play-related concepts (rules, boundaries, the benefit of trialing new approaches to the same problem).
Play is often fun - and the Australian STEM Video Game Challenge is all about using fun to promote and enhance learning!