Gaming culture in computer science

At the PAX South Gaming Conference held on April 10, 2017, ideas on innovative games and how they can be effective teaching learning material, were discussed by gamers, teachers and computer enthusiasts. The podcast of the discussion can be heard on http://ow.ly/dilu30aIjQf.

Part 1 of the podcast explores ideas for education that grew from the recent PAX South gaming conference. Some games helped to enhance 3D visualization in the child, while some were ‘trippy looking fast paced logic games’. The images of persons from history books were made of pixels and each pixel contained a little bit of the history of the person. There was a room called the Game Space that had musical instruments for anyone to play. There was also a ‘kitsy cartoon digital version of chess that could encourage little children to play the game of logic and strategy development’.

The podcast then dwells on the ideas of taking video games in education to the next level.

Part 2 of the podcast has tips from TEALS (Technology Educations and Literacy in Schools), a group supported by Microsoft Philanthropies MEA that supports CS education across the USA by teaming computer professionals with teachers of computer science in schools. Many of the TEALS members are avid gamers and game developers. In the podcast we get to hear excerpts of presentations by John Gennone and Brett Waltsman from TEALS. One of them says, “I believe in the cognitive and social benefits of games and what they can provide.” They claim that 10 hours a week of playing action games on the computer enhances cognitive skills for months. The students are more engaged when they are gaming, they are more motivated because they get an immediate feedback and most importantly, they get an opportunity to try multiple times till they succeed. In a traditional classroom situation, they are expected to get it right in the first go. So shifting from a traditional classroom environment to a gaming environment offers a paradigm shift in the learning pattern. The student is not ashamed of failure any more. He can try and try till he gets it right.

computer-gaming

Games can be used in teaching learning design in three ways. The first is game playing, where the student is a consumer of games already available to him. The second is game creation or modification where he modifies or adds to already existing games and the third is building a game from scratch. The student can take up a chapter from the textbook and create a game about it. He can, of course, take a cue from already existing games. To begin with, these games can be as simple as reviews of practice games based on a chapter. However, creating a more challenging game can become contrived. For example, if the student takes a dungeon game and converts it into a kind of treasure hunt based on the textbook chapter, it can get a little artificial. But the student still learns the concepts well by applying them in the gaming programme.

The most challenging application of games as a TLM is, when the learning objective is integrated with the game design process. This is when gaming becomes very specific to the computer science curriculum. Game designing assignments can become integral to any computer science curriculum and computer science students/teachers can collaborate with other subject students/teachers to design subject specific games. An open-ended social studies research project can involve creating a new culture or society that does not exist in reality. A physics game can be developed on gravity or conservation of momentum or simple machines. These simulated games may prove to be more effective than real life experiments. Many complex experiments can be simulated which would be very difficult to perform in real life. In the process of designing these games, physics students will learn the principles of physics and computer science students will learn robust, bug free programming.

TEALS has created a Mindpack Models Project that can be adapted to create games in different subjects. This is an open source project and students can work on codes that somebody else wrote. Games have proved to be a very effective way of understanding complex real life situations that depend on multiple factors – be it the stock market, the weather forecast or climate change.

The podcast discusses the advantages of shifting to a gaming environment from a traditional classroom environment.

Compiled by Subha Das Mollick

Listen to this podcast on teaching Computer Science. https://soundcloud.com/piuswong/active-learning-in-computer-science