The debate over video games in education continues in Luke Thomas’ article in The Escapist, January 9th, 2012, “Will Grind for Grades” and SMALLab Learning leads the industry.
The real question, however, is not whether children want arcades in their classrooms. It's whether these programs improve learning. The good news is they do. The motion-capture rig, for instance, is called a "SMALLab." A peer-reviewed journal published a study in 2009 found that SMALLab programs that taught chemical titration and geology to high school students caused them to score significantly better on tests than students who received typical earth science instruction. The study also found that the kids interacted more during the lessons, helping each other learn. The conclusion was that SMALLab "is poised for broad dissemination into mainstream K-12 contexts."
Another hope is that when classrooms integrate digital media, their graduates will be equipped to marshal the dizzying capabilities of advanced software programs and online networks. This area, too, has recorded some big results. Dr. Nichole Pinkard, a guru of the movement based in Chicago, performed a 3-year study on a group of kids in an afterschool program called the Digital Youth Network. The subject class was from an underprivileged Chicago district with limited access to digital media at home. As a control group, Pinkard used a class of the same age in Silicon Valley. At the beginning of 6th grade, 96% of the Chicago group had less experience and expertise with digital media than the kids in Silicon Valley. By the end of their 8th grade year, however, 84% of the Chicago group had more expertise and had produced more digital output than their Silicon Valley counterparts.
The success of the Quest to Learn schools, and the development of virtual teaching systems like SMALLab indicate that educators would love to harness the unique way that games excite the human mind. Before the current education gaming renaissance created this enthusiasm, it may not have been possible to convince public educators to collaborate with those responsible for sapping so much of the attention of a generation. Now, however, the time is ripe to game the system.