Actually Educational

Post from Jean Thilmany:


Jean Thilmany

Could children, if given the chance, help create suitable and amusing educational computer games? And, perhaps more important, would they maintain interest in an educational game they had input in designing? Would they want to play it more than once?

Happily, the answer to all those questions seem to be yes, according to Wolmet Barendregt, an assistant professor at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden who conducts research on children’s game playing. She looks at how game makers can support learning and include the children in the design process.

This is a quite relief to me, as I have a child in first grade and another in preschool and sometimes (often) I fear computers and educational software and games are thrown at them willy-nilly. I’m concerned that there is a rush toward online learning without enough thought as to how young students actually learn and what they’re interested in. I’m glad researchers like Barendregt are studying that question.

Many educational games are lessons, with stuff added so that they will resemble a game. Kids can see through that, Barendregt said. She also said that the risk of so-called educational games in general is that they are either too educational and boring, or fun-filled without any learning opportunities.

She and her research team also found game design affects interaction between children and parents, especially when there is a difference in skills. She seeks a deeper understanding of how different game design affects how you play together and what mechanisms can and cannot be used for educational games.

As someone who feels, perhaps wrongly, that too many computer games—and that includes those on iPads and smartphones—are billed as educational, I salute Barendregt and her colleagues on their even-handed research into educational computer games. She’s convinced me they aren’t going away and that I need to be brought around to their necessity and use.

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The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

September 2012

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