With proper instructional design and teacher training at its optimum, the use of simulations and video games would create a very productive learning environment. Dr. Henry Jenkins, the Director of Comparative Media Studies at MIT, stated in a Web cast (Guerena & Wagner, October 25, 2005) feels that in the K-12 classroom gaming and simulation are great media that can delve deeply into subject matter and create choice and consequences all while simulating real world processes. This follows along with Piskurich’s observation in his book, Rapid Instructional Design (2006): “They are good for teaching principles related to planning, generating ideas, testing alternatives, making decisions, using resources, and working under time pressure” (p. 204).
Finally, Clark Aldrich (2004) suggested three elements to make learning through gaming and simulation a function very possible in the classroom: the simulation, the gaming element, and the pedagogical element. The simulations element involves the creation of an environment that models reality as faithfully as possible in the chosen medium, not in an abstract way. The gaming element makes entertaining interactions possible, and it must create enjoyment for the user. The pedagogical element, the most important with regards to instructional design (ID), provides all of the surrounding material that makes sure learning is taking place and progressing in a timely manner. He went on to say that students need to know where to go and what is expected of them (learning objectives). All this relates back to the ID model. If the game or simulation is properly designed, and the teachers are trained in its use, then the students should be able to reach their learning objectives.
Simulation-style video games such as Making History, engage high school and college students in World War II history lessons by immersing students in the period and giving them an opportunity to think and make decisions like actual historical figures. Unlike the typical video game that requires 200 – 300 hours to complete, Making History contains lesson plans that range 45 – 90 minutes. As for any educational program, assessment is critical in determining the effectiveness of a learning tool; Making History uses a recording engine to keep track of decisions made and their outcomes.
Other exciting new software programs designed specifically for students in the classroom include Voices of Spoon River (VOSR), Cyber Nations, and Stagecoach Island. According to its creators in the Creative Learning Environments Lab at Utah State University (2005), VOSR is a computer game developed to address several widely recognized goals for teaching poetry, including “motivation to learn, reading comprehension, the ability to relate and identify with characters, and understand the relationships between characters.” Cyber Nations (2007) is a Web-based program that allows students to develop their own nation, choosing government types, national religion, ethnicity, currency, and tax rate. Cyber Nations exercises management skill as it teaches about politics, religion, and currency. Another financial learning software program is Stagecoach Island, which is designed to teach students how to save and invest money (Terdiman, 2005). Simulators and educational video games are now extending beyond the students in the classroom.
Video games have the capability to educate teachers as much as the students. James Paul Gee (n.d.) argues that video games can help instructors become better trainers. He states that “computer and video games have a great deal to teach us about how to facilitate learning, even in domains outside games” (Gee, n.d.). With so much emphasis on standardized tests, teachers are often forced to structure their programs in a way that limits the students’ ability to become creative thinkers. According to Gee, video games like Rise of Nations “create horizontal learning experiences, allow learners to assess their previous knowledge and learning styles to make decisions for themselves (with help), and give information in several different modes” (Gee, n.d.). Using such games and simulations not only increases the variety of options available for teachers to use as learning tools for their students, but also allows teachers to expand and improve their own professional skills.
Dr. Gardner’s reforms can be enhanced by the use of technology in education. When reevaluating assessment design, the integration of technology can assist in new and exciting ways to evaluate student progress; these technologies can include podcast production and PowerPoint presentations. As Dr Gardner noted, an increased improvement in curriculum is critical and can be accomplished by integrating technology that provides alternative learning, reinforcement of information, deeper understanding of curriculum, and motivation for students. Technology such as software, Internet, and interactive multimedia can provide alternative teaching techniques, access to information, help develop problem-solving skills in the classroom and encourage inquiry-based thinking. Technology integration can also impact teacher practices in the classroom which was one of the other necessary reforms. However, with all new applications, professional development focusing on technology integration will be detrimental. The final role of technology and perhaps the most important role is the ability to showcase students work on a much larger platform, thus increasing student motivation and pride in their academic accomplishments.
Simulations, video games, and other educational technologies are now being produced for the highest professionals. Simulators are now being utilized by doctors as a training system. Doctors can now watch procedures in 3-D and use them as preparation for exams and real-life operations. According to Steve Leveson, professor of surgery at Hull and York Medical School, “Changes in patterns of disease and work practices have resulted in a significant reduction in the practical surgical exposure for trainee surgeons” (Training for ‘PlayStation Medics,’ 2006, Nov. 27). Further, he feels that 3-D simulations allow surgeons to “fine-tune their skills in a safe virtual environment” (Training for ‘PlayStation Medics,’ 2006, Nov. 27). In Wisconsin, the Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) will be the first technical college to install advanced medical education simulation systems. According to Margaret Dickens, Ed.D., CVTC health and business campus administrator, “This will provide the students a more realistic opportunity to practice critical thinking, triage, teamwork, communication, documentation and patient safety through the multiple levels and through transfer of care” (Mitchell, 2007). As the use of simulations and video games in education at all levels has gained acceptance around the world, efforts in the state of California have further advanced the use of simulations and video games, as well as other technologies, in the classroom and beyond.