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Internet Games

Gaming on the Internet

A Learning Tool or a Waste of Time?

By Ann Zeise

You bought a computer and Internet service in hopes that your son or daughter would spend time on it in educational pursuits. Instead all they seem to do is play games! They’ve long outgrown Reader Rabbit and now they are playing games online with dubious, violent plots, and with people all over the world, not all who use “polite” language. You are considering that maybe you should ban computer use for gaming, but your teen is getting their studying done. What can you do? Can you rationalize Internet gaming as educational?

In May, research came out from the University of Toronto that claimed that kids who played video games had better visual acuity and reaction time than kids that do not. They could react to things faster on computer monitors. The next step, of course, will be to see if these skills make kids better drivers or soccer players.

What is the lure of these games? They aren’t easy to learn. Each has a culture that expects a certain set of attitudes and a culture of what constitutes fair play. The rules must be figured out. It takes the anthropological skill of Margaret Meade to figure these out! Each game has goals, constraints, and consequences: a subset of real life, spiked with the elements of human imagination. A new player is expected to figure out the causal relationships between the population and the elements in this imaginary world, and figure out how his character can survive to reach the goal. This element of impending doom creates the excitement that isn’t found in “educational” games.

There is a geeky social aspect to the Internet games. My son has kept in touch with a Danish Boy Scout he met at a Jamboree. It seems his school in Denmark has no problem allowing Internet games in the morning when it is late at night in California. I get bombarded with questions about where world cities are, as Scott makes friends all over the world.

As the basics of the games are mastered, it then becomes a challenge to create new “worlds” with the programming tools issued by the game’s manufacturer. Players who create popular “maps” gain status. The equivalent of being ‘mayor’ is to be a game admin. The Admin gets to rule the players, trying to determine who may be using a “hack” to give them too many lives or too much power. Does this resemble modern political life to any one else?

What motivates your child to play endless Internet games? It may be they enjoy the escape into fantasy when the problems of life seem to be too much. For some it will be the need to show their prowess, as often those with a physical handicap have no problem beating the physically able in these worlds. The games are especially appealing during the “social hour:” Observe the bonding going on. Many love the mental exercise of the games after a tedious day. The players acknowledge good moves on the part of each other, confirming self-worth.

Ever read one of those job descriptions that require that one be able to juggle many tasks at once? Gamers must deal with multiple sets of information and still they seem not to be mentally overloaded. A well-constructed game will also have some kind of built-in coach-mentor making suggestions, such as “You are running out of gas.”

Homeschoolers are often taken to task about socialization. In multi-user, international games, kids learn to deal with and negotiate with and plan strategies with team members of many cultures. In many of the games, rogue players cannot win. With the growth of the world market, the odds are good our children’s co-workers will be half a world away. Interdependency among team members makes the game’s goals achievable.

Tons of money is being poured into Internet and console games compared to what is spent on “educational” software. This is why the deliberately educational games do not hold a child’s attention very long. It is worth searching through the Internet games for those that mesh with your family values. Kids will never know you slipped them something ‘educational.’ For a balanced life, establish limits, but do not worry that your child is not learning anything useful when playing Internet games.

Getting It Wrong: Slaying Myths About Video Games
What is most tantalizing to those of us in the Serious Games movement is the idea that we could instill the kind of fanatical devotion and concentration that games like WoW do, but do it with instructional content rather than just dragon slaying. Not that there’s anything wrong with slaying a few dragons once in a while.

7 trends that defined AAA gaming in 2013
The zeitgeist surrounding several gameplay elements and concepts aligned perfectly, making for a slew of hits that, while different in many ways, followed strangely similar concepts. The result was something unique: a handful of ideas that randomly popped up in seemingly unrelated games. Let’s take a look at 2013’s biggest trends, and the games they showed up in the most.

If you give a kid a Nintendo
So, what to expect when you give a kid a Nintendo? Expect imagination and interest and excitement and passion. Expect a virtual unit study, disguised in a video game box. But please don’t tell your child he’s been practicing reading, writing, spelling and math. By Mary Gold.

Books to Help You Learn More About Gaming

Games, Learning, and Society: Learning and Meaning in the Digital Age (Learning in Doing: Social, Cognitive and Computational Perspectives)

Games, Learning, and Society:
Learning and Meaning in the Digital Age
(Learning in Doing: Social, Cognitive and Computational Perspectives)

by Constance Steinkuehler (Editor) , Kurt Squire Ph.D. (Editor) , Sasha Barab Ph.D. (Editor)
This volume is the first reader on videogames and learning of its kind. Covering game design, game culture, and games as 21st century pedagogy, it demonstrates the depth and breadth of scholarship on games and learning to date. The chapters represent some of the most influential thinkers, designers, and writers in the emerging field of games and learning – including James Paul Gee, Soren Johnson, Eric Klopfer, Colleen Macklin, Thomas Malaby, Bonnie Nardi, David Sirlin, and others. Together, their work functions both as an excellent introduction to the field of games and learning and as a powerful argument for the use of games in formal and informal learning environments in a digital age.
Kindle Edition

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