Incorporating Serious Games (and Virtual Simulations) into your Curriculum

Tue, 2013-03-26 20:09 -- Tim Willett

In contrast to traditional teaching environments where the teacher controls the learning, serious games & virtual simulations present a learner-centered approach to education.

Simulations, both physical and virtual, offer a viable alternative to practice in an actual operating room, offering residents the opportunity to train until they reach a specific competency level. One of the prevailing arguments for using simulation in the learning process of trainees is their ability to engage the trainee in the active accumulation of knowledge by “doing”. The rising popularity of video games has seen a recent push towards the application of serious games, that is, video game-based technologies to teaching and learning, to medical education and training. Serious games provide a high level of interactivity not easily captured in traditional teaching/learning environments.

In contrast to traditional teaching environments where the teacher controls the learning (e.g., teacher-centered), serious games and virtual simulations present a learner-centered approach to education, so that the player controls the learning through interactivity. Game-based technologies have also been used for many years as training simulators for vehicle control (e.g., flight simulators) and are growing in popularity in medical education. Through game constructs, realistic situations can be simulated to provide valuable experience to support discovery and exploration in a fun and engaging manner.

Given the benefit of game-based learning and their inherent appeal to the current generation of learners, educators from a wide variety of fields are incorporating them into their curriculum. However, when doing so care must be taken to ensure this is properly done. Most importantly, if you are interested in designing/developing your own serious game (or virtual simulation) you must ensure that it is properly designed to meet the intended goals; this is not an easy task and there are an endless number of poorly designed serious games.

In addition to game design, at the core of serious games development is instructional design and this should not be overlooked. Adequate instructional design will ensure the virtual simulation/serious game meets its intended goals, and a large part of this includes accounting for the end-user (that is, the learner/student). It makes the difference between a poor and a very good serious game. In addition to technical assistance that should be provided to students using any technology in the classroom, you (as the instructor/educator) should also possess some knowledge of the game/simulation itself and be able to assist students with questions they may have regarding the use of the game. You should have also played the game yourself! Failure to do so will cause students to quickly lose faith in the game and in its educational value. Finally, the serious game should be integrated into the curriculum, and ultimately, into their grade. (Author: Bill Kapralo).