Today is the first day of the University of Minnesota’s 16- week spring semester, and you’ll find students and teachers shuffling into classrooms consumed with excitement, stress and relief.
The beginning and end of the semester are both times of immense stress in that students and teachers must deal with the onslaught of work. Indeed, as both a student and teacher myself, I can attest to the overly stressed times at the beginning and ending of the semester. I too often hear students tell me they’re overworked, strung out on caffeine and buried under mountains of readings. Although I abhor these things, I suppose it is the way of college life.
Stress is a given in college, but how can we deal with stress during those frantic moments? I suggest video games. I am far from a hardcore gamer. I usually spend maybe an hour a day playing video games, and then I turn it off and return to work or watch TV. Gaming is an essential part of my stress relief. It allows me to inhabit a different world where I can hit restart if something doesn’t go my way. It affords me a sizeable amount of control I often do not have in my life.
Not everyone shares my belief in video games. I recently discussed video games with some fellow teachers. Our discussion was spurred by a Dec. 25, 2011 piece in the Star Tribune titled “Students are wasting their minds on video games.” Some of my colleagues latched onto this piece and used it as an argument that video games are detrimental to the educational system. However, there’s no evidence to suggest such an argument.
The Star Tribune piece, written by a University of Minnesota student, nonetheless, offers a narrow and contrived view of the luxury of gaming. Despite the piece’s tone suggesting otherwise, video games are not the enemy of learning. While video games do provide an excellent outlet for stress, they can also enhance learning, brain function and critical problem solving. Through gaming, students and teachers can solve complex problems in relaxed and engaged settings. Instead of being stuck in a walled classroom, students and teachers can explore a virtual world and, perhaps, better understand their own world.
Moreover, leading teachers and scholars in the fields of literacy, rhetoric and writing as well as other fields, see gaming as something encouraging more engaged classrooms and increased learning. James Paul Gee, a professor at Arizona State University and one of the fathers of literacy and gaming research, suggested, “We should use the learning principles built into good video games in and out of schools, even if we are not using games.” His premise is through good gaming principles; students can learn and engage with coursework material in ways that are enjoyable and memorable.
This is the key. Video gaming can increase learning when applied to classroom dynamics, provide stress relief from a student’s studies and provide a relaxed environment to have fun. Too often, the classroom is not a place that is enjoyable, and it’s not a place for fun learning. Not every classroom or topic can be fun, but that doesn’t mean none can be enjoyable.
Video games are challenging politics, educational standards, economic theories, gender binaries and racism. This form of entertainment has become a standard in many students’ lives, and it would be a shame to deny such excellent learning and stress relief opportunities to them based on little to no evidence.
Trent Kays welcomes comments at
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