As educators teach the first generation of the 21st century, technology continues to play an integral role in the process of forming, directing and inspiring young minds. In online, hybrid and in-person classrooms, the integration of devices as part of everyday school supplies is the norm for students, and technology is as important as pens and pencils.
Regardless of the level at which they work, all teachers will need to stay up to date on the tools that benefit students with digitally enhanced modalities of instruction. As new technologies emerge, so will the pedagogy that surrounds them. Therefore, educators and school leaders would do well to pursue new approaches to teaching and learning, even as students are drawn to innovative platforms and interfaces.
Learning With Digital Tools
The completely online Master of Science in Education – Teacher Education – Curriculum and Instruction – Digital Teaching and Learning program from Youngstown State University (YSU) offers solid guidance for maximizing the use of digital tools to strengthen the skills students will need as they advance through their lives and careers.
Coursework for the M.S.Ed. C&I – Digital Teaching and Learning program covers a range of topics including digital literacy, programming and curriculum design. Students have opportunities to design apps and games that support specific academic disciplines or overarching skills like critical thinking and problem-solving, foundational to learning beyond the classroom.
Teachers can earn this graduate degree online while still working, thereby applying the cutting-edge digital tools they learn in the online program to the work in their classrooms. YSU faculty update the curricula to keep up with the constant state of change at the heart of technological advances.
Engaging Students in New Ways
The course titled Gaming for Educators provides a deep dive into the myriad ways in which digital games play a role in the educational process. Students research game techniques in order to better understand how characters and storylines connect to the lessons at the heart of these games. Given the proliferation of video games in the daily lives of youth, gaming tools are in a unique position to support and enhance the educational goals of today’s students.
A key component of many of these games is the drive to help students become confident problem-solvers so that they can take on new challenges eagerly and creatively in any future professional track or personal endeavors.
Research illustrates the importance of games presenting players with novel puzzles or complex situational processes that require consideration and experimentation in order to advance. One study on how video games enhance problem-solving skills and confidence explains, “The ability to choose different solutions to a difficult problem and then see the effect those decisions have on a fictional game allows students to experiment with problem-solving in a relatively safe environment.”
There are many benefits to gaming tools, but encouraging young minds to approach all problems with intrigue and curiosity is especially key to maintaining lifelong learning. “You not only have different types of games that teach you everything from algebra to memory, but you also can solve these problems in a variety of ways,” the study continues. “This is a great flexible approach to problem-solving in real life.”
Get Your Game On
In a recent article, CNET looked at several games from the perspective of the educational benefits they offer students. Games like Minecraft, which has several different modes of play, provide players with opportunities to experiment with approaching various situations. By considering the outcome of certain choices, players grow increasingly comfortable with the process of solving various problems.
Oregon Trail is a classic game that has gone through many iterations over the past 40 years. The narrative of pioneers traveling across the continent emphasizes key concepts of planning and long-term thinking to help them survive the rigors of the journey.
The creative puzzling of a game called Portal allows players to develop solutions around physics and spatial constraints, growing more advanced as players adapt to each new level. Similarly, the increasing difficulty of the levels in Zoombinis forces players to use logic and pattern identification to find solutions and move ahead.
Then there are very successful composite story-based games with engaging characters like Dora the Explorer or Professor Layton. Such games use maps, puzzles and riddles to challenge students as they test themselves.
There are many chances for educators and designers alike to become part of the process of building better educational games for the next generation of students. Programs like the Educate to Innovate campaign from 2009 have challenged educators to develop STEM skills outside the classroom. Funded by the MacArthur Foundation, the Digital Media and Learning Competition is another important contributor, encouraging game designers to incorporate similar skills.
Games like LittleBigPlanet are the result of these initiatives, bringing together problem-solving, spatial orientation and logic for young players. An advanced education degree in curriculum and instruction and digital learning can equip professionals to support young learners using the modern tools of the 21st century.