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“Video games have a positive effect on students and on education.” This is one of the main conclusions ofthe US Department of Education, affirming that videogames can help to revitalize an institution that hasn’t seen much change in decades.

According to a study by the University of Indiana, the majority of young students spend about the same amount of time playing video games as they do in class. Though this is something that may be seen by some as a threat to children’s education, the government of the United States sees it as an opportunity.

The Department of Education says that gaming is the first step for reinventing education and making it more relevant to students today. The government’s goal is clear: capture the attention of students during school hours. How? By playing.

In late April, the Department of Education held its first Games for Learning Summit in New York. It was a meeting of educational experts, students, teachers, publishers and developers meant to help break down some of the barriers between the interests of game developers and the needs of the education sector.

Richard Culatta, Director of Educational Technology for the US Department of Education said, “The educational community is ready to use technology in innovative ways, but we depend on the people that are building these tools to provide games that meet educational needs.”

The gamification of classrooms is not new, and we have already discussed the phenomenon here on this site, which started in the digital media industry around 2008.

The simplest definition says that gamification is the use of game elements in non-recreational contexts. This means that though the purpose of these activities isn’t related to fun or leisure, as with teaching, the activities incorporate elements or use structures that are found in games or other forms of entertainment.

Games from home come to school

A few years ago the world of education began to open itself up to the pedagogical possibilities of videogames as an educational resource for teachers. One of the most popular examples is the collaborative construction game MinecraftEDU, which is already being used in schools and colleges.

Before this version — which is directed towards the entire educational sector — previous versions of Minecraft were limited to teaching subjects like computer science, physics or mathematics. Currently, MinecraftEDU has a plug-in that allows teachers to customize the software according to their curriculum.

In this game, teachers have control of the map from the start, and have the possibility of incorporating content and adding new tasks for students as the game develops. Some teachers use it to create visual representations of novels and short stories, or to prepare geography lessons.

SimCityEDU is another interesting example, as the academic version of the game SimCity. It’s totally free, and comes with six different missions — mainly relating to environmental questions and energy management — in which students can play different roles and develop their problem solving and communication skills.

MinecraftEDU and SimCityEDU are two games that help introduce the concept of “serious games” — games that allow students to enhance their problem solving skills, work collaboratively and get immediate feedback.

Besides adapting classic video games to the educational environment, there are numerous initiatives with a completely different starting point, whose approach is to create totally new apps and services tailored to the needs of students.

More and more groups are recognizing the profound impact that videogames can have on education and, as we have seen, governments also seem to be waking up to the possibilities videogames can offer. The United States has taken the first step, and many other countries will undoubtedly walk in the same direction.