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Games as constructivist learning

When first contemplating the use of commercially available non-educational games into a classroom environment, it is reasonable to believe that the curriculum will have to be wrapped around the game. The idea that the game itself can actually move the understanding of the curriculum forward takes a little getting used to. However, from a constructivist point of view, using games in the classroom is not so great a leap.

Falance (2001) discusses how practitioners of constructivism believe in creating environments of learning through cognitive apprenticeships. Learners must interact with experts to experience how they think and solve problems. In many ways today’s commercial games follow this model. Gee (2003) argues that the underlying architecture of commercial games helps foster mastery of content by pushing players to the limits of their abilities, but always staying within those boundaries, creating a sense of both pleasure and frustration. In this way players gain new knowledge, and are motivated to continue to gain new knowledge.

Another aspect where game playing and constructivism coincide is in collaborative work. One of the most rapidly growing game genres is the massive multiplayer online role-playing game concept, like World of Warcraft. In these games, players are able to work on their own to learn and level up, but the game favors the use of team play. As social animals the act of sharing new information and learning experiences is important in contextualizing what we learn (Falance, 2001). These games provide us with an opportunity to not only learn from our immediate peers, but also to interact with players and students all over the world.

Games can therefore help to create a constructivist learning environment for students, and the teacher can become a facilitator of learning rather than a provider of non-contextual information. In order for appropriate learning to occur, the students must have an opportunity to reflect on what they have learned, and must be provided guidance to avoid missing the learning opportunity because they were too distracted by the game content (CitEd Research Center). Teachers must therefore provide guidance to students to understand how to apply the learning that occurred in the game back into the real world, and provide a safe classroom environment for students to explore these new concepts.
The rapid rise of new technologies actually creates greater opportunities for creating constructivist learning environments. The belief that the best way to learn something is through authentic interaction has always been hindered by the sometimes limited opportunities for interaction caused by socio-economic realities. However, the increasing availability of computers and the games that drive them creates new opportunities for authentic interaction for all students.

References
CitEd Research Center. (n.d.). Learning with Computer Games and Simulations. Retrieved April 15, 2011, from cited.org: http://www.cited.org/index.aspx?page_id=143
Falance, T. (2001). Constructivism. In K. L. Medsker, & K. A. Holdsworth (Eds.), Models and Strategies for Training Design (pp. 213-234). Silver Spring: International Society for Performance Improvement.
Gee, J. P. (2003, May). High Score Education. Retrieved April 2011, from Wired.com: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.05/view.html?pg=1

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