Game-changing News?

Increasing his capacity to think?

In a BBC article published online this week, a study of 14-year old boys revealed that the brain’s “reward hub” was larger in regular players. What does this mean for education and the advancement of “game theory?”

Implications fall on both the positive and negative ends of the spectrum. This reward hub, known by scientists as the ventral striatum, is strongly associated with emotional and motivational aspects of behavior.

On the positive side, recent studies of teens who are regular gamers indicate improved reasoning over their non-gaming counterparts. This is exciting news for teachers if it holds true! This means that when we make learning like video games, our students learn to think more effectively and make quicker decisions that are logic-based. However, I can’t help but wonder which games were played by the teens during this study. Was it Brain Age? Or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3? Seems like that could impact the results.

On the negative side, scientists believe this same reward hub is also responsible for determining a person’s predisposition to addiction disorders. Could it be possible that, by using gaming theory in the classroom, teachers could ultimately be contributing to a problem? Are we pushing our kids toward Internet or Video Game addiction?

I don’t think either finding is 100% accurate for the entire teen population. It’s really a “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?” question. Do video games improve reasoning while increasing addictive tendency? Or are already good thinkers with addictive tendencies more likely to become gamers? I think we may never get a definitive answer. And I think the chicken – and the egg – agree with me on that.

Who will win the age old debate?

The remaining question left for educators to ask is, “How do I use game theory to make the learning environment better, but minimize adverse side-effects?”

My answer: Make learning in your classroom fun, rewarding, encourage educational risk taking, and remove the fear of (ultimate) failure – just like a video game. But, for heaven’s sake, don’t leave out the L E A R N I N G.


Posted on 8 December 2011, in Digital Citizenship, Research & Stats and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. integratedintention

    Game theory and its application to education is something that fascinates me. I think it’s almost indisputable that substantive learning takes place for students playing video games – all with great enthusiasm! However, I don’t have many specific/practical ideas for making it work in my classroom. For example, I do try to remove student’s fear of failure. From my experience though, small gains are only made with great effort. It would be useful if I had better methods for removing fear of failure. Ideas?

  2. I’m not sure there’s a black or white answer to that question. I think there are many ways to help remove the “fear factor” for students. One is to structure assignments so that they aren’t “one and done” tasks. Rather than trying to answer your question with an answer, I will answer it with a question. What if we set up assignments so that there are many opportunities for revision before the grade is set in stone? Would they be less likely to fear an initial failure knowing there are still opportunities to improve before the teacher makes the final assessment of their work?

  3. integratedintention

    Yes, I have been experimenting with revisions. Most of the major worksheets my students first try at home, then work on specific parts in small groups and finally teach to their peers. They are only graded on effort in each part of the process (they use different colored ink to differentiate what was done when). We either build consensus towards the solutions (most of the time) or else I step in. Either way at the end of the process, they have all the correct solutions.

    No one can do these problems perfectly by themselves. Especially at the start of the year, when students make mistakes, where I often see opportunity they see failure. So while grades are certainly a contributing factor, I no longer believe that they are the only one – and maybe not the most important.

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