“what video games have to teach us about learning and literacy”

1.     Objective

Once he had demonstrated

  • that “the best and most lasting learning is motivated by emotion and solidified by practice”(p.78),
  • that “the traditional passive method of college teaching (i.e. lecturing) is less effective than active learning in developing higher-order cognitive skills.” (p.92),
  • and that “the best teachers focus on challenging students in a supportive environment where failure is tolerated” (p.93),

Bowen (2012) had also pretty much demonstrated “what video games have to teach us about learning and literacy” (Gee, 2003). This is also the title of Gee’s article in which the author explains that computer and video games are learning machines.

Here are a few more examples of the good learning principles that are incorporated in good games from Gee’s article (p.2):

  • “Good games give information “on demand” and “just in time” not out of context”. That reinforces Bowen’s claim that high-quality feedback is “frequent, immediate, discriminating, and loving”. One can argue that the loving part is probably absent from the video game feedback!
  • “Good games operate at the outer and growing edge of a player’s competence, remaining challenging but do-able. Games are also pleasantly frustrating which is a very motivating state for human beings”. It creates what Bowen considers essential in the learning environment: an environment where anxiety is low and motivation is high.

2.     Reflective

I have a 10 year old son and when I see how motivated he is when he plays video games, I think that if we could get the same level of engagement for educational games on the computer as we get for other games then let’s do it. In the video entitled A Split Screen Strategy: Creating the Capacity for Teachers to Innovate (Education evolving 2012), Ananth Pai is a 3rd grade teacher. He has incorporated games to teach his students about reading and mathematics. The result is that within 4.5 months Mr. Pai’s class went from being a below average 3rd grade class to a mid level 4th grade class. A lot of adults are as addicted to or simply motivated by video games as children are. Motivation is a serious problem in education today. Does it mean that we have to do everything it takes to increase our students’ level of motivation? It took me a while to be convinced that gamification is mainly a good thing in education because games may contribute to create the “society of 2-year old” or “instant-gratification” where we can’t cope with anything too serious or uncomfortable. However, Bowen convinced me that learners have changed and that we have to “speak the same language as them” which means that if video games are part of their life and since they include good learning principles, we should use them.

Regarding exams and the fact that traditionally they are a source of anxiety for most of the learners, I have to say that I spent 10 years studying in university in my twenties. Four of these were dedicated to my PhD, so no exams were involved but during the six previous years I had to do many exams. Being a very anxious person, I can tell that I never got used to the traditional ways of being assessed and I never thought I was doing my best during those anxious moments I had to answer questions in a limited time.

3.     Interpretive

In the section entitled Games for Assessment, Bowen (2012) mentions that “games are challenges whereas exams are just scary”. It is so true: If games are used for assessment, it may lower the level of stress often triggered by assessments. However, if we use games for assessment, we must make sure we develop meaningful assessments achieving course objectives. In other words, it is one thing to focus on lowering the level of anxiety but let’s not forget what we have to assess. Getting side-tracked with games is one of my concerns about gamification. However, maybe it is not harder to make sure that the objectives of the course and the assessments are aligned in a game than it is in a regular assessment format.

The other concern that I have is more in terms of the work it takes for the instructor. As much as I can see all the positive aspects of video games for learning, I don’t feel like I have enough imagination to create a context for a game, especially when it comes to designing online games. Although Moodle, for example, has some basic games available as tools for learning activities, they are not very fun games. Some progress has to be made there.

4.     Decisional

Because I know very well that gamification is a way to increase motivation among our students, as with some of my learners from the literacy center where I work, motivation is a huge concern for me; I want to learn more about it.

While I was designing an online French course, I already discovered a useful website http://en.educaplay.com and I want to do more research for tools allowing the design of games as learning activities. I also want to explore the different LMS and see what they offer for that.

I had used some CAT in the form of games such as a Bingo Table, but really my imagination is limited. In order to increase it, or at least use it efficiently, I am also planning to take a course about how to improve the use of my imagination.

I don’t believe that designing a learning activity or even an assessment that has the form of a game is enough though. I really believe in something like “instead of an exam every week for 10 weeks, there are 10 levels of the game” (Bowen, 2012, p.173) because it is a way to sustain motivation throughout the whole learning process. Video games are everywhere; people can choose to play a different one every day. In order to maintain a high level of motivation, we have to find something that is really good. Another skill that instructors have to develop, I guess!


Bowen, J. A. (2012). Teaching Naked. How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Students Learning . San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Education / Evolving. (Nov 2, 2012). A Split Screen Strategy: Creating the Capacity for Teachers to Innovate. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KimG8igaZIA

Gee, J.P. (2003). What Video Games Have To Teach Us About Learning And Literacy. ACM Computers in Entertainment, Vol 1, No 1, October 2003, BOOK01.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s