Computer games can be effective tools to support teaching and learning. By computer games I am really referring to certain types of games that are most appropriate for use in higher education. These games are effective because they have the potential to foster collaboration and active learning in diverse environments and circumstances, from face-to-face or traditional classroom settings to online virtual worlds. 

As student demographics continue to change it is important that instructors periodically reconsider their teaching and learning strategies to meet their needs. Researches refer to the present student generation as the “games generation,” “digital natives” or “net generation.” These students have grown up with computer games, television and other media and most importantly have used them for countless purposes including learning even though unconsciously. The current generation of students may, therefore, find the use of games in education very useful and engaging.

A quote in the preface of the book Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty by Elizabeth Barkley comes to mind. She recalled how in the past instructors were able to engage students with a little effort. “I lectured, they listened; they studied, I tested.” Student evaluations at the end of the course were just fine. Elizabeth Barkley returned to teaching after some years and to her astonishment found that the same teaching and learning strategies that she had used over the years were considered archaic. 

A newer generation of college students had emerged. According to Barkley, “Teaching today is tough.” This condition is reflected in the many books, journals, conferences and workshops all focusing on how to engage the present generation of students. No longer can a professor just lecture and have students listen. Newer and innovative techniques are necessary.

So why can’t we, instructors, integrate computer games in our curriculum to engage them? We should not forget that majority of the current college generation were born in the age of computers and are cognitively different from previous generations. Studies indicate that these students’ immersion in technology has fundamentally changed the way they acquire and assimilate course content or information. Computer games may also be useful for providing a context for repetition, training and skill development and especially recall of contents that will require some memorization. Other areas where games have great potential in higher education are in the development and application of high-level transferable skills, that is analysis, critical evaluation and team working.  

Providing opportunities for collaboration with others also enhances knowledge construction. Students learn best when they take responsibility for what they learn and how they learn, presented with opportunities for multiple viewpoints, have control over the learning process, provided with a context that is authentic, relevant and exposed to multiple modes of presentation and media. 

In general, games allow participants to engage in the learning process and to explore and navigate virtual worlds using rich media. Games may be used for a variety of purposes. Specifically, stimulation games provide authentic contexts for rehearsing skills that are transferable to real world situations while adventure games provide a forum and context for problem solving.

What are some of the games you are using in your classes? Or what are your thoughts regarding the use of games in learning? Please join the discussion.

Whitton, N. (2010). Learning with digital games: A practical guide to engaging students in higher education . New York, NY: Routledge.