Game play and screen time have often been considered something to be wary of for students, yet 74 percent of teachers report using digital games in the classroom and 55 percent of students play games at least weekly according to a recent survey of teachers conducted by Lori Takeuchi and Sarah Vaala at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. According to Mind/Shift's Guide to Digital Games + Learning by Jordan Shapiro, there is much controversy over the best practices.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children younger than two years old have no screen time at all while older kids should have one to two hours per day of electronic media. They also encourage parents to "establish 'screen-free' zones at home by making sure there are no televisions, computers or video games in children's bedrooms, and by turning off the TV during dinner."
Oversimplifying the issue to an on/off situation, creates more problems as "tablets become like junk food, imagined as a temptation that children gravitate to but need to be protected from."
"It is only when electronic media is used to occupy children—like a babysitter that provides parents or teachers with an hour or two of peace and quiet—that justifying its use becomes more complicated."
Jordan recommends using videos and digital media with great intention. "It is not about employing ed-tech for its own sake... but rather about using tools that engage students toward specific learning objectives."
The recent APA (American Psychological Association) article entitled “The Benefits of Playing Video Games,” by authors Isabela Granic, Adam Lobel, and Rutger C. M. E. Engels, surveyed the landscape of video games. They identified four types of positive impact that video games have on the kids who play them: cognitive, motivational, emotional, and social. Here’s a quick rundown:
• Cognitive benefit: Games have been shown to improve attention, focus, and reaction time. • Motivational benefit: Games encourage an incremental, rather than an entity theory of intelligence. • Emotional benefit: Games induce positive mood states; and there is speculative evidence that games may help kids develop adaptive emotion regulation. • Social benefit: Gamers are able to translate the prosocial skills that they learn from co-playing or multi-player gameplay to “peer and family relations outside the gaming environment.”
To best leverage the efficiency of digital tools to serve young learners, technology needs to be employed carefully. Not all apps labeled as "educational" have good content. Games and apps are best applied when they combine the lesson with an understanding of the real world, engaging the student to explore, ask questions, and come up with their own theories. A balance between digital games and learning and traditional instruction can enhance a well-worn curriculum.
Early education should provide a foundation for critical thinking, including thinking critically about technology and digital media.