Confronting the Challenge: Gaming as Instructional Technology in School Libraries

Over the weekend, I had a challenging conversation with a elementary school librarian. He's plays video games with his children at home and likes the idea of gaming in libraries, but is struggle to see how it fits in at the elementary level. We talked about the challenges he sees with bringing gaming into their curriculum.

Our conversation was cut short, as our kids debated who was controlling who was controlling who in Mario Party 8. But I was able to bring up the excellent work that librarians are doing bringing in a variety of game experiences into their libraries. The work done by Chris Harris and Brian Mayer mapping board games to AASL Standards. The work of others holding Alternative Reality Games (ARGs) focused around classroom content. Made for good talking points.

I did give him the link to a good K-12 online presentation on educational gaming that could help support his points when talking with his teachers:

Games in Education: Myths, Realities, and Promise by Sylvia Martinez

While much of it is review for those engaged in the dialogue of games and education, it provides a good entry point for those in K-12 education. She brought up many good points including how traditional edutainment games fail:

“These games fail as authentic learning experiences and do nothing to change the way students learn.”

Martinez also spent time talking about how games in education cannot be isolated just to the game, but need to flow over into peer and classroom discussion:

“As you can see, the role of the teacher is extremely important in balancing gameplay with reflection on the experience.”

“As with many games, the playing is not the power, the learning happens as you analyze mistakes either alone or with friends.”

Martinez treats video games in education like any other instructional technology. Application and reflection are equally important parts of the learning experience. But she points out the same challenges that arose in my conversation with the school librarian:

“The question is: Are games useful in learning or are games useful in school? Right now, unfortunately, these are not the same thing.”

Finding ways to fit games with content and experiences with the existing curriculum as Harris, Mayer, and others are doing is the first step in a long process.

I'm thankful for the challenging conversation about gaming in school libraries. After spending most of my time talking about the educational benefits of gaming, being confronted with the challenging realities of school district pressures, curriculum conflicts, and tight budgets is good. I'm looking forward to continuing our conversation, bringing in other area school librarians, and hopefully (eventually) making some applications for gaming in their libraries.

Martinez's closing thoughts provide words of encouragement for my continued conversation with my discouraged school librarian friend:

“Games are a way to bring joy and excitement into learning, but they need adequate time, matching assessment strategies, and reflective extension activities to make them really worth it.”