10 Gaming Trends That Are Transforming Higher Ed

Video games don’t always enjoy the greatest of reputations, though their ubiquity and decade-spanning permanence keeps garnering them more and more mainstream acceptance as years tick past — to the point where many academics and institutes of higher education open their arms to their learning potential. While these digital technologies only trickle slowly into college and university classrooms, it seems as if they won’t be exiting anytime soon. Today, educators are not only using existing technologies to make learning fun, they’re also working as animators and game designers to create customized games which supplement classwork and lectures.

  1. Homegrown virtual classrooms

    Tech-loving educators jumped on Snow Crash-esque sims and metaverses such as Second Life, hosting their classes online and reaching a global audience. But the virtual world’s broad, limitless nature ultimately proved too unwieldy, and many schools who once eagerly embraced Second Life have already transferred their enthusiasm elsewhere. Those with the resources have actually kept the very same concepts behind the digital community — they just transferred them to their own unique spaces. Custom virtual classrooms offer up all the very same perks as Second Life and its ilk, but none of the hassle present in a public forum. Specifically, nobody has to worry about a giant penis sitting in on a lecture about Renaissance architecture and distracting everyone.

  2. Role-playing

    Although role-playing games are often stereotyped as open-ended battles between orcs and elves and wizards, the highly flexible format certainly offers up far more diversity than that. Whether based on a computer or in real life, RPGs have actually seen a right fair amount of educational use — more than other games, anyways. Model UN, for example, is easily the most prominent example. Because of the immersive and thoroughly customizable elements, educators creatively harness the structure’s potential for a surprisingly wide range of subjects. For students complaining about finding no real-world applications for their lessons, the RPG route may prove exactly what they need to see otherwise.

  3. Wii PE

    Wii continues racking up accolades for its accessibility — particularly amongst casual and non-gamers. And the amount of interactive, athletics-oriented programming inspired some schools, such as University of Houston, to incorporate them into the curriculum. One hour of Wii Sports (or similarly physical game) here equals one credit hour towards the PE requirement. Campuses embracing the popular system do so with the hopes of encouraging physical activity amongst the demographic completely uninterested in traditional sports. But even beyond hooking up a Wii or two, many colleges and universities are expanding their offerings to include a broader range of available athletic programming — such as yoga, Tai Chi, bowling and plenty more.

  4. Custom games

    Especially adroit, creative educators utilize pre-existing video games — or create their very own — to keep students engaged and absorbed in their lessons. Some enterprising journalism professors at University of Minnesota, for example, hacked popular RPG Neverwinter Nights and whipped up an assignment centering on interviewing the villagers. Although either modifying or designing a game from the ground up requires a right fair amount of know-how and resources, those with the ability to do so might find an excellent way to get college kids interested and immersed. And the broadness inherent to the concept of “game” means almost every major (and minor!) imaginable can benefit from giving them a chance.

  5. Incorporating real-time strategy games into coursework

    While probably not as flexible as RPGs, some professors have noticed the educational potential of real-time strategy games. Civilization III gets assigned as homework in some Western Kentucky University history classrooms. Its emphasis on public policy, international relations and more make for an excellent way to show students how empires rise and fall. And given how the students themselves have to drive the nations to succeed or fail, such assignments really deliver on the “applying classroom discussions to reality” front. But any video game with such potential could easily substitute for Civ III, real-time strategy or not. It’s all a matter of finding the right fit for the right course.

  1. XP in lieu of grades

    Many games, particularly RPGs, measure success with experience points (XP), redeemable for sexy new items and unlocking appropriate challenges. At least one educator noticed how this system parallels moving up through classes and courses. And rather than rolling with the typical letter grade, he charted student progress with XP. Indiana University’s Lee Sheldon is pioneering this strategy, which still kicks around in a fetal state and has yet to really hit “trend” status. It makes perfect sense, though, as handing out As, Bs, etc. might not always measure exactly what the teacher wants — XP makes it easier to visualize progress in specific areas and make not of any deficiencies needing addressing. However, Sheldon does average everything out at the end of the semester and pass out letter grades.

  2. Location-based games

    Foursquare and Harvard left quite an impression when they announced their surprising partnership, which involves using location-based technologies to create fun discovery games. While not quite intended for classrooms, the mobile app hopes to better engage and inspire everyone affiliated with the University — not just students! Using the same badge-rewarding system as Yelp, Gowalla and similar sites, anyone plugged into the area can check in and earn different titles and digital decorations for various achievements. Some might scoff, but others will thrill at competing with other crimsons for the coveted “Mayor” position. Both the university and Foursquare believe their development (and the spirited competition that might hopefully result) will nurture a stronger sense of community.

  3. Library gaming rooms

    Both public and college libraries alike are hosting game nights — and even setting up dedicated game rooms! — in order to attract greater numbers. Regardless of whether or not their selections come with an inherently educational slant, these beloved cornerstones of knowledge are compiling some pretty impressive archives of equipment and games. And, of course, eliciting great success in the process. Considering how today’s college-age kids (not to mention those inevitably following them) grew up amongst multimedia, it makes sense that libraries would evolve to pique their interest. Without such flexibility, patronage might very well slip.

  4. Creativity assessment

    Standardized tests and more than a few in-class and homework assignments often fall short when measuring a misunderstood, oft-overlooked and wholly integral component of academic achievement — creativity. Although some assessments exist, most education professionals believe they don’t exactly yield accurate results. Some, such as Patricia Broadfoot at University of Gloucestershire, have made the controversial declaration that video games might prove far more accurate than Scantrons and floppy little booklets. Specifically, those with a more “open-ended” structure emphasizing problem solving, high degrees of engagement and thorough feedback. Pong might be out of the running, but this criteria means that Grand Theft Auto‘s sandbox structure possesses social and educational value. You guys have fun with that bit of trivia! Whether or not Broadfoot’s beliefs will phase into a full-blown trend remains to be seen, though.

  5. Game-centered syllabus

    Not content with merely infusing games into one or two lessons, some schools just outright wrap entire courses around them. And not just the expected design classes, either. “Entire courses” as in Oberlin College’s Super Smash Brothers Melee Theory and Practice for 1 credit. Or that one about Starcraft Berkeley offered a few years back. The reasons (not to mention viability) behind all these game-centric classes vary from school to school and professor to professor, of course. But that doesn’t lessen their potential any.

Facebook Comments