A few months back, I blogged about “The Wall.” In the minds of many, play and work (or learning) are mutually exclusive ideas. This continues to haunt me as I filter through the comments on a video of students in my district sharing their Minecraft creations on YouTube. It’s not just adults who struggle with the idea that game play can be a fertile ground for learning. Even our youngest learners are conditioned to believe that school isn’t a place for play. Learning only comes from textbooks.
Sadly, many of us, in our efforts to pioneer game-based learning in our classrooms are reinforcing that wall. As I read about other educators’ game-based learning projects or have discussions with teachers who have well-meaning notions of bringing Minecraft or other games into their classroom, an all-too-common thread is emerging: ”After they’ve successfully completed their assignment, I’ll let them play ____.” I even see teachers using this approach with skill-and-drill “educational” games.
And so, another brick is added to the wall. This only widens the gap of relevancy between what happens in the classroom and what happens outside of school in the minds of our learners. Incentivizing play in learning relegates video games to a dessert tray that can only be sampled once you’ve eaten your spelling words and finished all of your algebra. We’re doing kids a long-term disservice in their thinking.
My plea to educators, especially those brave enough to explore game-based learning: make video game play a part of how you do business in the classroom. Don’t make it a reward. Good games can stand on their own pedagogical merit. We often talk about fostering lifelong learning in kids and we need to encourage them to be critical and thoughtful consumers of media, including video games.