Video games 'helping kids learn'
By REUBEN SCHWARZTeachers and parents should embrace video games as vital educational tools instead of treating them as distractions, says a visiting American games designer and author.
Speaking at an Education Ministry-funded conference for teachers last week, Marc Prensky said games can help kids learn how to make decisions under pressure, deal with large amounts of data, think strategically, and manage goals and people.
Even strictly shoot-em-up multiplayer games such as Halo or Quake are useful, he says, to teach "co-operation and listening skills".
Kids are learning from games anyway, beyond what they're being taught in school, so educators should try to incorporate them into the curriculum where possible, he says.
"Games are an illustration of an engaging learning system," Mr Prensky says. "Games are probably the most engaging activity we've ever invented."
To date, however, developers have found it hard to put in educational content "without sucking the fun out".
"We're just at the very beginning."
Mr Prensky says much of the negativity toward games is because of violent games that make up less than 10 per cent of games sold.
Many teachers and parents also associate video games with the "mini games" they played as children, which lack the complexity of modern ones.
"It's hard to get something that's more complex than Civilization 4 or The Sims 2," he says.
He gleaned the title of his latest book, Don't Bother me Mom – I'm Learning, from the experiences of a New Zealand family.
His company Games2Train works with the US military to develop training games.
The latest, called Stability Operations: Winning the Peace, puts the player as an officer trying to stabilise a chaotic nation after a war.
"It's very hard to practice that stuff."
Mr Prensky also advocates using mobile phones in the classroom and adapting the school curriculum to fit them.
Instead of banning them, mobiles could be used for oral learning and, if they have a camera, for data collection in science projects.
The conference was organised by Core Education, a non-profit educational organisation based in Christchurch.