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Gaming = Learning = Developing 21st Century Skills

Most of us grew up in an educational system that supported the 3 R’s: reading, writing, and arithmetic – the three essentials for college and career readiness. But in this changing global market, will these and other basic skills be enough? If you have not already become aware, there is a shift from focusing solely on the 3 R’s to adding what is being termed the 4 Cs of 21st Century Skills, which, according to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21.org) are Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking, and Communication. Where the 3 R’s are more about what we can know, the 4 C’s involve how we apply that knowledge.

Writer and futurist, Alvin Toffler, says, “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

How does this relate to gaming? Video Games can actually support both the 3 R’s and 4 C’s. For example, research by Dr. Steinkuehler, professor of education and game-based learning at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, shows that adolescent boys often read above grade-level when playing games, where the text is written at the 12th-grade level, but average two grades below on standardized tests of their reading. Why? Because boys are highly motivated to read text in the context of games. But they are unmotivated by the texts they are required to read in class or analyze on tests.

Gaming is even better suited to support the development of and experience in the 4 C’s of 21st Century Skills: Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, and Creativity. Let’s take a look:

Collaboration

Collaboration is working together to achieve a common goal. Some of the most popular games today are massive multiplayer online role-playing game which requires collaboration with other players to complete missions, battles, enemy raids, planned attacks, and more. Players cannot survive unless they are working together toward a common goal.

Communication

Communication is the exchange and flow of information and ideas. Any game that requires collaboration, also requires communication. Even when players are not collaborating toward a common goal (for example, when competing against each other), they are in constant communication about what moves work, don’t work, which way to move, or how well (or not well) they are playing. Gaming increases interest among students to communicate effectively because there is a perceived authentic purpose. They communicate because they care.

Critical Thinking/Problem-Solving

Among other things, critical thinking involves being fair and open-minded while thinking carefully about what to do or believe and how to fairly reason and assess when making decisions. The essence of any well-designed game require players to solve a variety of complex and simple problems. Most games are multi-level with progressively complicated play to increase difficulty. Players must evaluate, analyze, plan ahead, try new ideas and adjust to solve each level.

Creativity

Creativity is the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities. Many popular games have little or no competitive play but allow players to use creativity to build worlds and scenarios that are virtually unlimited in scale and detail. Sharing this experience with other players and communicating about their designs, encourages and develops creative skills.

The value in gaming is in the experience. It’s a way to engage students. One of the three beliefs in the Richland School District Two system is as follows: We believe that the latest technologies and authentic experiences ignite the joy in learning. Gaming can be part of that. As students game, they increase their digital literacy, pursue their curiosity, connect learning with play, and develop the 21st Century Skills needed for careers that have not even been created. Skills that include Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Communication and Creativity.

In June 2014, Richland Library Sandhills received a PS4 Gaming Console, Projector, and 3 games through a grant from the South Carolina State Library and the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). The goal of this grant project, according to the application provided by SCSL was, “to increase teen’s skills in the use of technology equipment through learning about and using electronic gaming systems... improved awareness of and access to a range of library services including reading materials in all formats, technology offerings, interaction with library staff, and social interaction... [for] Library staff [to] gain skills in gaming program implementation and evaluation of outcomes.” In the four months that Richland Library Sandhills has shared the gaming system with customers, we conducted 5 Gaming Programs with a total of 37 participants - 85% of whom were in Middle School. 30 surveys were distributed with 40% completed. Of those surveyed, results indicated:

  • 33% reported improved skills with game technology
  • 50% reported that gaming was one of the reasons they attended
  • 67% reported improved interactions with library staff
  • 75% rated their knowledge of other teen programs at the library 3.8 out of 5 (or higher)
  • 28% surveyed reported the intended to check out materials
  • Participant comments:

  • “This is awesome! I’ll definitely come back when you have gaming.” (Time for Teens)
  • “Had a good time! I made a lot of crafts. Glad I came.” (TAB Takes on Banned Books)
  • “It was awesome! So much fun. I’m glad I came.” (Game On!)

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