It’s not often that we hear an education professional advocating that children play video games, but that’s what David Williamson Shaffer is suggesting in his paper, Video Games and The Future of Learning. The assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison argues that video games can have tremendous educational value, and that the education sector is woefully behind government and business in tapping their potential.
According to an article in Medical Daily, Shaffer maintains that video games can be helpful in many ways:
Video games, he noted, can help kids work with planning and problem-solving. Games that require players to search, negotiate, plan various approaches in order to advance to a new level, and implement strategies can help improve children’s brain development. The process of understanding game rules and learning by doing provides children with essential decision-making skills. Even creatively, children frequently have the option to modify and select character personalities in video games, allowing them the opportunity of self-expression. Some video games also allow children to design and exchange maps or other custom content, helping them build creative and technical skills.
For students with dyslexia video games may be particularly helpful. The Medical Daily article points out that recent research shows that “action-oriented video games may increase reading comprehension in children with dyslexia.”
In a study published in the journal Current Biology, a team from the University of Padua found that children who played action video games for 12 hours saw more improvement in reading skills than the average amount of reading during one entire year would have given.
Children, aged 7-13, were divided into two groups. The first group played nine 80-minute sessions of an action-packed video game, while the second group played a more easy-going game. Following the game playing, the subject’s reading skills were tested. Results showed that children who played the action-oriented video game read faster and more accurately, and performed better on tests measuring attention span.
So what could explain the findings? Researchers suggest two things: 1) that an action video game hones a player’s visual attention, and 2) that the game teaches children to extract critical information from the environment – both skills that are essential to reading.
Still not convinced? Evidence also suggests that video games can help children develop socialization skills, an area of difficulty for many kids with learning disabilities. Research by Cheryl K. Olson from Massachusetts General Hospital found that children with mild LD were likely to choose “making new friends” as a primary reason for playing video games.
In contrast to the common adult perception that video games are isolating, Olson’s research found the opposite to be true: “Video games create a common ground for young kids to make friends; allow kids to hang out; and provide structured time with friends.”