Sunday, September 07, 2014

Learning, Games, Simulations, and Such

A decade or so ago, it was a novel idea to suggest that learning could happen through playing electronic games and simulations.  

Of course, teachers have created competitive situations for years and made all sorts of fun games for students.  But the entry of digital technology really changed the stakes.

Some games such as SimCity and Civilizations introduced the idea of how powerful these tools could be. But it doesn't seem like the discussion has greatly advanced. 

There seems to be a general confusion between simulations and games.  Simulations are technology based models or simulations of reality. Often they give the students control over some variables.  What is or isn't a simulator is an endlessly interesting question.

Take the PHeT simulations and the ExploreLearning Gizmos for instance. They are both great tools for students to explore how math and science works. Not games, simulations.

Is a music synthesizer a simulator? What about the Digital Frog and other digital tools intended to supplement or replace actual dissections?

Games are games. They have scores, competition or competitive play, immediate feedback, and often dramatic touches to enhance interest. Try playing PacMan with the sound-off and you'll see the importance of pucca pucca.

VocabularySpellingCity claims to be a game-based learning site. Their focus is on using elements of popular games and casual games as a way to motivate students to focus on their vocabulary and spelling words and the letters involved.  Their most popular games:
Word Search, Unscramble, Parts of Speech, Hangman (HangMouse), Crossword Puzzle, Handwriting Printables, Word-O-Rama Game Show Aim-2-Spell , Test and Teach , Coackroach Spelling , Letterfall and Word Find.

Game elements include: high score tables, immediate feedback on mistakes or successes, sound effects, and clever animations.