Video Games in Education and UDL

Last week I was lucky enough to attend and present at the Educational Technology Council of the Alberta Teachers Association’s annual conference. One of the sessions I attended was about creating games in the classroom, lead by Kandise Salerno and Susana Gerndt from Sister Annata Brockman Elementary/Junior High School. I really liked their innovative approach by getting students to create a video game in class. One question that was asked at the end of the session was about how (or if) students were learning content through this process. This got me thinking about the purpose of gaming in the classroom and the impact it can have on different elements of teaching. There are different ways to apply gaming theory and practice to the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

Means of Representation

This is what the questioner was trying to get at in the ETCATA session. Is it possible to use a video game to teach a concept? I first stumbled on the idea that content could be delivered through a video game in the 90’s when I started noticing Grade 8 students who had a pretty substantial knowledge of WWII because they had been playing Call of Duty (PC version, not console). I have since heard a few examples of content being taught with Civilization (Ancient Rome with Civ IV) and World of War Craft (Professors hold Class in WOW). Not all trials were successful, and the ones that I heard about that I thought were effective were post-secondary classes. I have always wanted to put a Social 10 course about Globalization based on Civ IV (now Civ V), but was too afraid of the costs, risks and time commitment. However, I do believe that there is educational value in video games as a means of representation and, if it is implemented thoughtfully, would appeal to many students.

Means of Expression

This is the principle reflected in the way Gerndt and Annada used gaming. After students had learned about a historical time period, they had to add an element, or level, to the game that showed they had learned and understood the material (Granatstein would have been impressed). Through the creation of the game, students were learning valuable skills for the modern world, such as collaboration, critical thinking, and digital fluency, to name a few, all while expressing their new knowledge to the topic. In UDL terms, there are students that may find it easier to show what they know through creating a game that explains a concept rather than write an essay about it.

Means of Engagement

Gaming and game theory can also be used to engage students, sustain interest and self-regulate. Paul Anderson delivers an interesting TED Talk in which he completely redesigns his class around some of the principles of gaming. His thoughtful and innovative approach is definitely worth considering. I don’t know if it would work for all grade levels, and I also wonder if it would be as effective if every class operated on the same premise. Nevertheless, we can learn a lot about how video games motivate people that have classroom applications.

Three approaches to the ways video games can influence the classroom through the principles of UDL. These are not perfect fits, and there are many roadblocks and hurtles that make it difficult for us to use games in the classroom. Hats off to those committed teachers, like Gerndt and Annada at Sister Annata Brockman, who are bravely pioneering this innovative and exciting approach to teaching.