See the New York Times article on the growing use of online video games for instructional purposes in todays NYT. The piece points out that such games are growing in popularity as a strategy for reaching various audiences with public service messages. With games ranging from highly produced multi-million dollar efforts to less ambitious projects costing several thousand dollars, the opportunities for game development are substantial.
Although the Times piece questions whether video games can be instructional, educators have long used games for diverse instructional purposes, and these games come in many forms and formats. Competitive games like spelling bees have been used from the classroom level to the national level, and they generated considerable student interest. Simulations such as mock trials and Model UNs have been used to structure learning interactions involving large numbers of students in coordinated efforts. Of course, the most sophisticated and advanced instruction in physical education organized is around interscholastic competitions.
The internet adds several very useful dimensions to educational games beyond the obvious one of providing a set of tools and technologies for building screen-oriented displays as game settings. First, an increasingly networked educational sector facilitates the sharing of games developed by teachers or students. Second, the network allows players to be widely dispersed and still interact in competitive or cooperative ways. Third, digital games allow for fine-grained and real-time collection of data on student performance and so bring possibilities for adjusting game conditions for student skill levels.
One important implication for teacher educators is the need to prepare teachers both to create and to select games to support their instructional agendas. As game development tools become more accessible, we might look forward to a growing collection of what could become increasingly central elements of teaching and learning. This should be fun and instructional.