Case study: a force for good

5th December 2003 at 00:00
Computer games have progressed at a tremendous rate since the old-time classics such as Pac Man and Space Invaders. There was a time where the latest in technology meant four simple pre-programmed games on a console, and playing a tennis game was bouncing a dot off two opposing white lines against your brother or sister on the TV. Now most homes have more than one TV, and the contents and graphics for computer games (and consoles) have moved to an amazingly realistic level. But how have they influenced us and our children? Are they advantageous or detrimental to a child's education?

I designed action figure toys before I started training to be a teacher. I also worked in 3D computer-generated animation when I was at university a few years ago, and have many friends who still work in the computer graphics industry. So I know how games are created and tested and, in particular, how the markets are determined. How did we know what children wanted? Did the games produced involve some educational value? More often than not, manufacturers consider the "wow" factor and how far the design of the toy fits into its brand and sells well. The fight to keep one step ahead of the competitor is paramount, and the educational value gets little consideration. Children are, occasionally, consulted - but, again, it's that wow factor and their initial reaction that counts.

Many of us assume education and computer games can never work hand in hand; we see games as aggressive, unhealthy and violent. But they can have a positive effect - if the time children spend on their computers or consoles is limited and the game content monitored. I rate games that incorporate more in-depth thought and tactical play - even the traditional types of platform games or those with simple puzzles encourage logical thought. They can also help dexterity and develop certain skills that can be used in the classroom, such as problem solving, logical thinking and analytical skills.

Many games have an ultimate goal, achieved through persistence and learning new skills. If this encourages a child to be persistent, surely it's a positive attribute?

Many games also require a child to be observant and inquisitive, and blatantly teach academic skills - without the child realising it.

Problem-solving skills, which many games are based on, are used in several design and technology projects. They also increase the ability to think logically and analytically - useful in maths and IT - and improve hand-to-eye co-ordination.

Games can also develop reading skills. Many children become very involved in their games and will buy or read articles (sometimes using the internet) explaining how to move on to a game's higher levels. This boosts research, reading and understanding skills - even where instructions are given on screen to progress to other parts of the game.

The console can be a centre point for socialising. Children will often have their friends round for a multiplayer session (where four or more people can play at one time) and compete against each other. This encourages social skills. But the key is moderation.

Do I use computer games in my teaching? Not at the moment, although I might in the future. Using objects children can relate to in the classroom can have an amazing effect on their learning. I've told some of my Year 7s about the toys I've designed and shown them some of my work. The enthusiasm that followed was amazing.

Instead of seeing computer games as "the enemy", we should see them as tools to develop skills. Perhaps children could even teach their parents, improving relationships and ending any phobias about the new technology at our fingertips.

Amarjeet Ghundale is a graduate teacher programme student in the design and technology department at the Wavell school, Farnborough, Hampshire, and a former product designer for toys

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