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More colleges using video games as educational tools

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Posted: Friday, December 2, 2011 12:46 am

Each day when UF sophomore Matt Goldsmith gets ready to start his Calculus III homework, he closes his laptop and opens his textbook.

Soon he might do the opposite -- shutting his book and opening his laptop to complete coursework by playing an online game.

An increasing number of colleges are adding video and computer games to their curricula, according to a recent USA Today article.

Although the game-based learning trend has mainly affected elementary and high schools, university professors have begun to

supplement courses with educational games.

They can be successful tools to teach a variety of subjects, said Benjamin Lok, a computer and information science and engineering associate professor.

This range of topics includes design, computer graphics, simulation, art and music.

Integrating games can improve students' engagement and motivation, he wrote in an email.

A 2003 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center reported that 65 percent of 1,162 students at 27 colleges played video and online games regularly.

A team including Marston Science Library researchers and digital arts and sciences assistant professor Ben DeVane received a grant from the National Science Foundation to create a Web-based game called Gaming Against Plagiarism.

The three-level game will help new graduate students in the science, technology, engineering and math fields learn how to recognize and avoid plagiarism.

Starting in May, students will play it in workshops and research-focused courses at universities across the nation, DeVane said.

"It's a gaming approach to a dry topic," he said. "We designed this game to be not just like a series of quizzes about research misconduct but also an experiential thing."

In the first level, the player will be a student trying to get research funding. By the end, the player will become a research-misconduct investigator trying to uncover the identity of the campus' serial plagiarist.

Although many students might jump at the chance to play a game for a grade, professors must remember that some are not gamers, Lok said.

Even so, he thinks more UF professors will embrace gaming as they start to understand its educational value.

The current generation of students consists mostly of digital natives, DeVane said. Because they had high-tech childhoods, they often respond best to digital media.

"If you can get the facts for free by learning while playing, then that's generally something that more people prefer as opposed to doing something that they think is boring," DeVane said.

Goldsmith, a 19-year-old computer science student, would love to play a video game as part of his coursework.

"I play video games in my spare time for fun, so if they can work that into assignments, the fun carries over," he said. "I'm more likely to play than to read a chapter or write an essay."

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