Video games can reshape education: U.S. scientists

Teachers and parents who view video games as addictive diversions that lead to teenage sloth should think again, a group of U.S. scientists says.

Teachers and parentswho view video games as addictive diversionsthat lead toteenage sloth should think again, a group of U.S. scientists says.

After a year studying the games and their effect on children, the Federation of American Scientists said a new vision of video games could redefine education and captivate students so they will spend hours learning on their own.

The group found many video games require players to master skills in demand by today’s employers.

Italsocalled for more research by the U.S. government into how the games can be converted into serious learning tools for schools.

"This is an investment that the private industry simply is not capable of taking," said Henry Kelly, FAS president and a former White House science and technology leader during the Clinton administration.

"This is the kind of thing where the federal government has always acted in the past, to underwrite basic research that you need to drive an important movement forward."

'Hey, something's working here'

The games teach skills such as analytical thinking, team building, multitasking and problem-solving skills, said Ben Sawyer, co-founder of the Serious Games Initiative, which tries to find ways in which video games can be used in learning and health.

Sawyer, who is based in Portland, Maine,said educatorsoften fear the prevalence and powerof video games, but instead should view them as a vast resource waiting to be tapped.

"This is not an, 'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em' message," he told CBC Thursday. "It's, 'Hey, something’s working here.'"

But it mayprove difficult tosecure costly research funding about video games and break down the barriers of howeducators perceive them.

Marketplace obstacles

Educational games also faceother obstaclesto reaching children's consoles beyond people's attitudes toward the medium.

Schools, colleges and universities make their own buying decisions, and are likely to be dubious about the value of games.

The gaming industry has already figured out that educational games don't make money in the consumer marketplace.The new approach would instead market them directly to schools.

Doug Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association, told the Associated Press that there will soon be 75 million Americans who are 10 to 30 years old — an age bracket that grew up on video games.

"Common sense tells us that a medium so basic to the lives of these 'millennials' has potential beyond the living room," Lowenstein said. "We would be crazy not to seek ways to exploit interactive games to teach our children."

45 million U.S. homeshave consoles

Many children find video games are like second nature to them. Unlike the kids' human teachers, the games never lose patience.

Typically populargames such as Electronic Arts' Madden NFL 2007 football titleorTony Hawk's Undergroundskateboarding gameswon’t help. The games would have to be created and evaluated with the goal of raising achievement, Kelly said.

TheFASlet reportersplay severalgames this week, including Discover Babylon, a cultural game that incorporates artifacts from exhibits at the Walters Museum of Art in Baltimore and transports the player to a virtual reality of ancient Mesopotamia.

Such games already have a potentialaudience; more than 45 million homes in the U.S. have video-game consoles.

"If we can't make the connection, shame on us," Kelly said.

What's needed, he said, is research into which features of games are most important for learning — and how to test students on the skills they learn in games.

Sawyerworkedon the FAS proposal, which he said saw the potential that many educational video game proponents have been trying to point out for a long time.

Sawyer cited the simulated worlds of games such as the Civilization seriesand Age of Empires as examples of rich, multi-textured games that require a cognitive style of play versus eye-hand style play of most sports and action games.

"It's also a way to get them into the history involved in the game," he said.

Parents need to be 'engaged'

A study released earlier this monththat examinedthe school performance of 4,508 U.S. students in Grades 5-8 and their "screen time" spent viewing television shows, movies and video games found that school performance declined as the amount of time spent in front of a screen on weeknights increased.

But Sawyer said it should come as no surprise that kids spending too much time on anything other than homework suffer in their performance at school.

"Nobody learns if they don't do anything," Sawyer said. "If a kid is playing too many games, then someone has to intervene."

The most significant obstacle to video game learning, he said, is the parent who doesn’t participate in the "media literacy" of their children’s interests and often doesn’t see the benefits the games offer.

"They have to be more engaged, or they risk their children tuning the good things out," he said.

With files from the Associated Press