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Video games can increase literacy in the classroom



3 October 2012

Are video games just a distraction in the classroom, or can they be used as a tool to increase literacy skills? And do educators have a responsibility to adapt methods of teaching based on culture and technology, or should more traditional methods be upheld?

In a special guest presentation at the Faculty of Education and Social Work, Professor of Media Education at the University of London’s Institute of Education Andrew Burn, has said that when children study video games in the classroom, they gain a deeper understanding of a wide range of concepts central to English.

“Games are often a kind of interactive narrative, sometimes even adapted from literature: there’s even a computer game of Beowulf!” Professor Burn said.

Professor Burn said he believed that making games and using authoring softwares in schools could promote similar creativity to writing poems and stories, and that the games are, in a sense, artforms, like literature and drama.

“Computer games are a relatively new artform, and vary enormously in genre and style. They are often the medium of choice for people to engage with large adventure narratives, historically-themed stories and horror scenarios,” he said.

“It has taken 100 years to for film to be considered as a legitimate curriculum medium: we shouldn't leave it so long with games if we want to engage with the cultural worlds familiar to young people.”

Professor Burn said the negative side effects of introducing games into the learning environment appeared to be negligible.

“There are no obvious negative effects to using games in the classroom. The ‘negative’ effects offered for games as a leisure medium - addiction, dumbing down, solitary pleasures - can all be levelled at certain kinds of literature too. It’s about discriminating choices, proper respect for popular culture, and sound pedagogy”, he said.

Professor Burn’s lecture outlined recent research projects and ‘curriculum interventions’ in which school students make horror games, adventure games, and games based on Shakespeare.

“I’ve worked with The Globe Theatreā€¦so that students could make games based on Macbeth. The 13 year olds who tried it out made some very interesting games, developing not only themes of blood and death, but also elaborate visual metaphors such as the sewers of Lady Macbeth’s mind.”

Dr Jen Scott Curwood, a lecturer in Secondary English and Media Studies agreed that there should be a focus on alternate ways of learning in schools.

“I think in this era of high stakes assessment, Andrew shows the value of children’s play, of children’s multimodal literacies and their gaming practices. Andrew’s research in both school context and out of school context helps to understand the literacy that children bring to bear on their learning,” Dr Scott Curwood said.

“Andrew’s talk at the University of Sydney has offered an opportunity for practising teachers, research candidates and scholars to learn about his important work. He is just brilliant.”