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.
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.
This is a really neat site made by Raytheon for STEM teachers/students. It has some of the best educational games I have seen. The games are “real world,” thoughtful, easy to navigate, and cute. I signed up as a 6th grade girl and ended up playing a math puzzle about re-arranging clothing racks in a store and a “Jewel adding game.” For physics, there was a really neat roller coaster simulation that was almost the educational version of Roller Coaster Tycoon (an outstanding computer game). The site is quite huge so I only skimmed the surface.
Here is a screen shot of the rollercoaster builder: