Gaming and learning at school: No clear answers
Posted on April 15, 2014
Among the many concerns that parents and others may have about children’s gaming activities is the effect that it may have on their academic achievement. Are games taking time away from school and homework? Are they reducing children’s ability to concentrate, think, or interact socially? Or are the claims for the learning benefits of games actually true?
As usual, the answers are much more complex than the questions. Recent moral panics might encourage us to counsel caution around video games and fear their impact on children. On the other hand, it is tempting to accept recent findings suggesting that games can have positive effects on the ‘executive functions’ of children, which in turn improves their academic achievement.
This research has two interesting aspects: conducted in Buenos Aires, it focussed on low socio-economic status students, who often experience challenges outside their control. Secondly, it suggests that gaming may moderate the effects of low attendance at school, though video games are not a substitute for attending school!
Even more recent research conducted at Flinders University, reported in today’s Advertiser, smashes the myth that games simply reduce academic achievement, but stops short at suggesting that they have positive effects. This research is great because it is a large analysis taking in lots of data.
The main finding of this research is that ‘Despite widespread suggestions that video-gaming negatively affects academic achievement, the evidence is inconclusive’ (Drummond & Sauer 2014). This is useful research because above all it counsels caution, suggesting that we don’t leap to conclusions about the effect of video game use, no matter how good our intentions are.
Most importantly, this research found some variation in the relationship between gaming and academic performance across schools. In other words, it may be something about the school that influences whether gaming is beneficial or harmful. This further suggests that we need to be careful in making assumptions or generalisations about the value or harm of gaming.
In short, there is no substitute for parents being engaged in their child’s gaming activities – observe them, play with them, and discuss what they’re playing and the experiences they are having with games. Obviously if the amount of gaming significantly impacts upon the time on task in schoolwork, that’s not a good look. Some types of games might be more beneficial than others, so it might be useful to encourage problem-solving games, or puzzle games, or narrative-driven games, to develop in children a richer sense of the life of the mind. Ultimately they will grow up needing to regulate their own media usage, and so some careful guidance, boundaries, and explicit development of this self-regulatory capacity will serve them in good stead for years to come.