Gaming and the Classroom

Beyond the Moon by Majestic Vanguard (I still have yet to find the full version of this song, let alone find other songs by Majestic Vanguard.)
Phoenix by Stratovarius
Agony Is My Name by Rhapsody of Fire
That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis

Martin Perez, my co-teacher, writes about gaming and its effects on students, and how teachers could respond to this fast-growing phenomenon[link].

Being a gamer myself, I have to admit that I identify with the geeks in class who often spend hours level-grinding their characters to beat Impossible Boss A or acquiring 999 pieces of Junk Item X just because it unlocks a secret later on. While I did play Ragnarök Online for a few months (I stopped when they began charging), the concept of MMORPGs as a whole never really stuck with me. I played some Gunbound and a lot of GunZ, but I began losing my taste for them. Thankfully, my soul was spared from other online games (I know people who try every online game that comes out), so no FFXI, RAN, RFOnline, or WOW (Blizzard, what have you done?!) for me. My soul is still pristine as such.

Nevertheless, I know how addictive electronic games can be. It was only when I started actually working that I learned how to lay off the cyberfantasy for a while and put my neurons to work on something productive. My High School and College life were ruled by gaming, though not to the extent of causing me to cut classes. I do admit to cutting some classes in college to play, though. <_< If not checked, video games can pose a serious–and I daresay damning–distraction to a student.

On top of this, video games tend to shorten one’s attention span. Ironically, the more hours a student spends playing DotA (ugh), the more he concentrates on the low-level functions this game demands, the shorter his attention span becomes. As a result, the average gamer student is bored in class—especially when his teacher, who is unfortunately less exciting than a wake, continues droning on about subject-verb agreement and the many uses of the often-misused apostrophe.

This is where teachers have to innovate. A teacher should always see his or herself as a causer-to-learn. Your responsibility is not to present the facts to them—they can find that on their own if the wanted to. Your role is to make them want to learn. To cause them to learn. This is why Martin came up with Bushido and his unique projects. This is why I came up with REX.

I have to admit that my Radical English Experience (REX) gimmick for my classes is inspired both by Martin’s Bushido system and Arghs’s wargames. I only learned about both of these late last year, so I was unable to come up with a suitable system for my classes that year. It took me some days over last summer to design REX as I used it this year, and even then the system was quite unbalanced (in gaming terms, “broken”).

For the first two grading periods, students would accumulate effort points (EPs, also known as “roaches” due to the similarity of the Tagalog word for “cockroach” to “EPs”) through quizzes, group activities, and being generally helpful and well-behaved in class. EPs could be traded for bonus points, and if one accumulated enough (and met the other requirements), he or she could exempt herself from the periodical test. Things got interesting in the third and fourth quarter, however.

Each group was given control of a space warship, outfitting it with weapons and special systems. Every Friday, as the schedule permitted, I would hold a review session cleverly disguised as a game. The groups were supposed to blast each other to smithereens, and I would ask questions every turn that would give them combat bonuses if answered correctly. The damage and accuracy of their attacks was determined by rolling dice, which keeps things refreshing and exciting.

REX Phase II was received with a lot of enthusiasm. Balancing ships was a challenge in itself, and although the rules were a bit difficult to grasp, I told them that not everyone needed to know the rules—one or two people could learn the rules while the rest of the group could concentrate on giving moral support and answering the questions. That way, everyone learns, and although they were doing different things, everyone was enjoying.

Eventually, they had to fight against me and my monsters of cosmic mass destruction. Often, the entire class would pull together a concerted effort to destroy my fiendish boss mecha, but once in a while, they would stab each other in the back and die miserably while I brought down heavenly castigation upon their engines of war. This phase was ultimately an exercise in planning, group dynamics and cooperation—invariably, the classes that failed to strategize and cooperate were reduced into space junk by my boss units, while those that did plan managed to succeed.

REX is currently undergoing a massive overhaul in preparation for next year. I found it very difficult to come up with a cohesive ruleset from scratch in time for Phase II, so most of the combat system was quite rushed, and the weapon statistics were not balanced at all. (The most broken weapon of all was the Chronocrusher, which made its target skip its next turn after dealing massive damage.) Then came a Godsend in the form of Dungeons & Dragons. Next year’s REX combat ruleset will borrow heavily from D&D 3.5’s rules. Things will be much more streamlined next year. But that’s another story.

REX, Bushido, and Arghs’s wargames are all innovations that many educators nowadays would do well to learn from. I’m not saying that they’re perfect systems and that Arghs, Martin and myself are much better teachers than the grizzled veterans of the academe that prefer to stick to their tried-and-tested methods. What I’m saying is that this world is changing, and the minds of students are changing.

While I do not approve of this phenomenon at all (I don’t like how shallow a lot of them have become), it is very beneficial to turn the enemy’s weapons against them, so to speak. Given that my opponents have advanced computer technology and flashy special effects at their disposal, I was able to capture my students’ attention and cooperation with little more than a series of Word documents and plastic dice. And I do believe that I was able to cause them to learn. At the end of the day, that’s what the teacher’s goal is.

Causing tomorrow’s leaders to learn,

Your Black Lion


~ by J. R. R. Flores on March 25, 2007.

One Response to “Gaming and the Classroom”

  1. Heh. Sucks that OUR teachers weren’t THIS innovative.

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