Revisting the past: Kurt Squire, Civilization, & the classroom

Changing the Game: What Happens When Video Game Enter the Classroom?
From Innovate: Journal of Online Education, August/September 2005

I had a chance over this summer to catch up on some reading thanks to long flights to and from conferences. After reading through this article from 2005, I wondered how much our dialog over videogames in education has changed? I think the scope and acceptance of educational gaming has increased since then. The amount and focus of scholarship has certainly strengthened as well. While the article is dated the findings and Squire’s analysis is still relevant today.

Even today, his introduction reads as an important overview for anyone concerning videogames and education. After the overview, Squire discussed his experiences implementing Civilization III into the classroom. Much has been written and presented by Squire on these experiences, but tracking them back to his initial experiences in 2004/2005 provide useful insight.

Like many educational applications of games since, some pieces of the game and the lessons attached to them connected with students… others didn’t. Squire discussed how some students opted out of the game from the very beginning and were skeptical of the educational value. This continues to be a challenging balancing act with video games in classrooms. Are they not “fun” enough to engage some students and are they not “educational” enough for students concerned with standardized test scores and entrance exams. The break from traditional curriculum turned off the high performing students . These students had “mastered” the traditional system and saw little value in something that broke out of the traditional mold.

I can understand the perspective of these students, since I was one of them. I choose a traditional world history class in high school over a teacher who used the original Civilization. I was concerned with grades and an effort was not made to explain how games teach process, not just events. It is often the process that sticks with us longer than the detailed facts of an event. I remember more history based on the long hours playing Civilization late at night testing out the situations and details I learned during the day in class.

Outside of students stuck within the traditional system, Squire found players with histories of lower educational performances did well with the games and gained meaning and understanding of events, situations, and processes from the game. Success in the game unit increased the students’ confidence and ultimately their success in the overall class. As Squire correctly described the situation, the game, discussion, and reflection created success in those who were failing school – or for those where school was failing them.

Squire points out that there is not a silver educational bullet, and today there still isn’t. But games and gaming should be part of the answer. He discussed how to create a curriculum that reflects on how people learn and interact, while opening it up to real world simulations and gaming experiences.

While the challenge of evaluating and assessing gaming in education is still a challenge as it was for Squire, the groundwork he laid and the work he continues to do provides examples and inspiration to those seeking to use videogames as a teaching tool.