|This is a guest post by Dr Chris Headleand, Associate Professor and Director of Teaching and Learning, School of Computer Science, University of Lincoln. Follow Chris on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.|
During the past year, many people have probably spent more time indoors than at any other point in their life. As such, we have seen a massive increase in the consumption of entertainment media, such as live-streamed TV and video games. We have also seen more children homeschooled than ever before.
Games are often described as the inverse of learning, the devil on your shoulder luring you away from whatever you are supposed to be doing. There may be some truth in this characterisation, and indeed, games are a potential distraction for anyone looking to procrastinate. However, this doesn't have to be the case.
Games are arguably as old as civilization, seen on cave paintings, and observed across cultures. The link between games and learning is also seen throughout history. Games have been used to train and assess skills for thousands of years, and it's easy to see why!
Furthermore, many households may only have one computer but may have an Xbox (or other games platform). If someone is already using the computer, how can someone else get online to learn?
In this article, I will talk about three ways to use an Xbox to support learning.
The first one is just using your Xbox to access online learning materials. This is possibly the easiest way to use your Xbox for learning, but probably the least known.
Using this approach, you can use the Microsoft Office suite by logging into your 365 account on Edge. You can also enter meetings using Microsoft Teams. At the core of the Xbox is a reasonably powerful computer, and you should be able to do most cloud-based activities by taking this approach.
There are several great games on the Xbox store that can help you learn. However, learning games can be a little challenging to find! Sometimes the best learning games don't advertise themselves as such, and the ones that do are often so overt with the learning that they fail at being fun.
Your best option is to search for "Xbox learning games for [subject of your choice]", and you will usually find a list curated by a helpful neighbourhood educator.
For this article, I have included five of my favourites.
Portal is widely regarded as one of the best games of all time. It is a game where players need to solve complex puzzles to escape a series of challenges. It's a great way to develop problem-solving skills.
Minecraft is widely used for education, and you can even find open-published education resources to create great activities for kids. It's a great way to learn fundamental maths, problem-solving, art and construction skills. But add a little structure from an education resource, and you can use Minecraft to support many subjects.
Kerbal Space Program is a rocket simulation for some adorable aliens called Kerbals. You get to build rockets to try and get the Kerbals into space, and it is built on realistic aerodynamic and orbital physics models. There are loads of opportunities to learn here, especially developing awareness of Physics. NASA also got involved with the game, creating a realistic mission for players to get their teeth into. This game can also be a great tool for learning history, developing an understanding of the challenges faced by the early space programme.
Valiant Hearts is an excellent game for learning about the historical impact of the first world war. It is a story-driven game inspired by actual letters sent during the war. The theme is relatively mature, but this is just a great example of how exciting education games can be.
Farming Simulator is a game where the player takes the role of a farmer. It is a great way to learn about geography, the food supply chain, and resource management.
Multiplayer games can be a great way to develop valuable transferable skills. In the same way, that team sports can help individuals learn communication, teamwork, and leadership, the same is true of multiplayer games. One of my favourite games for this is Sea of Thieves, a pirate simulation game. In SoT, your "crew" (of up to 4 players) needs to do all the synchronous tasks required to successfully sail a ship. This activity requires someone to steer, another couple of people to adjust the sails, and someone else to operate the cannons. Success requires coordination, teamwork, and clear communication.
Video games and sports are also one of the first places where individuals will develop leadership skills. For my Sea of Thieves example, the entire crew needs to be (quite literally) sailing in the same direction. Without leadership, the game is actually very hard to play! It is also brilliant to see how quickly people develop these leadership skills when placed in this fun environment.
Video games also provide an excellent opportunity to develop mentorship skills. I recently saw one of my friend's children (6) teaching their little sister (4) how to play a video game. I saw all the classic hallmarks of excellent mentorship in this interaction - with goal setting, critical feedback, encouragement, and a shared developmental engagement. Parents and carers can help individuals develop these skills by getting involved and saying, "can you teach me how to play". Beyond helping someone set their transferable skills, games can also be a great way to connect and share an experience, leading me to my final point.
It's been a tough year, and there has been a tendency to assume that we must optimise every moment for maximum efficiency. Remember that you are not a worker bee, and neither are the next generation of learners. Everyone needs to take the opportunity to relax. Video games can be a great way to do that!
I hope this article can help you identify some great ways you can use games within a balanced education diet. However, I want to stress that games can also be just a fun activity and a great way to unwind.
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