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How is gaming and education converging?

In recent years gaming has slowly made its way into the classroom and video games now have a prominent place within schools. This goes against the notion that ‘education’ and ‘gaming’ sit uneasily together.

There is endless bad press about the negative effects of gaming, with parents often considering it a waste of time. This could be due to playing games being seen as a, predominantly, recreational activity. Done by people to relax and have fun with friends or by themselves. It's not a usual occurrence for a game to be educational as well as recreational and due to this the two words are not usually paired together.

In education, budget cuts have proposed a threat to science in schools and the science industry as a whole, having a knock on effect to the accessibility of science-focused careers. I believe that there’s an area of children’s’ scientific knowledge that won’t be developed with these budget cuts- they won’t be seeing the everyday occurrence of science or nurture an appreciation for everything around them. However, despite the decline in quality and funding there still seems to be an appetite for the sciences with Tim Peake’s expedition to the International Space Station acting as an example of how imaginations can be sparked.

Space simulation and exploration game Kerbal Space Program (KSP) allows educational programs to place the satisfaction of understanding and expanding their knowledge in the children's hands. Kerbal Space Program goes one step further and provides you with interactivity that enables the learning and understanding of both of these areas of physics. It allows for creativity in subject matter that is very scientific, keeping it light-hearted and fun whilst still focusing on an educational effect. Players step away from Kerbal Space Program with a deeper understanding and respect for rocket science, orbital mechanics and science as a whole.

There is a wealth of games available that can help kids when it comes to science. 0rbitalis is a good example of a game that approaches the concept of orbital mechanics. Obviously there's also Orbiter which is an advanced rocketry simulator and that covers the nitty-gritty simulation side of rocketry piloting. As well as that there is the well-known Microsoft Flight Simulator series that allows the player to experience the vast depth of airplane piloting.
Kerbal Space Program has been used in universities around the world to aid the teaching of orbital mechanics, rocket science and aerospace engineering. As well as that, an educational version of KSP, called KerbalEDU, has been developed in partnership with TeacherGaming and has seen promising adoption in schools and lessons around the globe.

Aside from this, games like Minecraft are a regular in UK classrooms and are very culturally relevant – children likely already play it at home. They keep lessons interesting, interactive and entertaining for the children involved, whilst allowing them to tackle lessons from a completely new and ground breaking direction.

These games show that gaming can be a great introduction into the worlds of physics and engineering. The gamification of education allows youngsters to engage with subjects like physics first-hand, something they may now be missing out on in the classroom.

They illustrate how games, education and learning are converging. We are seeing more and more people try to capture the excitement and attention of young people by placing their learning within a game. Kids love playing games, as do grown-ups as games are inherently fun, but they need to be seen as a tool and a way to educate along with this in order to change the perception of gaming as a whole.

The slow decline of science lessons in school has been apparent over the past few years and a recent report from Ofsted found that the quality of practical science in schools needed revising. Ofsted visited 180 schools and reported that standards of science were not good enough in more than a quarter of them. They also found that while the intention to perform practical experiments was there, in practice it was not possible due to timetabling constraints. Some secondary schools were allocated less than one-fifth of the weekly timetable to teach the triple science GCSE syllabus, so as a consequence only the "necessary minimum" practical work was carried out.

The recent rise in popularity of space games, such as Kerbal Space Program, indicates a growing interest in space and science. According to the Joint Council for Qualifications there was a 3.2 per cent rise in ‘A’ Levels taken in Physics between 2012 and 2014. Along with a 3.3 per cent rise in Chemistry uptake and 0.2 per cent in Biology.

Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s (HESA) student records, over the 10 year span between 2004 and 2014, show that the number of students studying biological sciences at universities in the UK rose by 62,000. Physical sciences rose by 18,000. Although the appetite for science is apparent among young people, the support and funding could hold them back from entering jobs in science or taking their science education further.

Ted Everett, Technical Producer at Kerbal Space Program

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Dean Drobot