ONLINE  GAMING  FOR  EDUCATION

MANILA, AUGUST 21, 2007
 (STAR) By Mary Anne - Online gaming has boomed tremendously in the Southeast Asian region. It has changed the gaming habits of the youth and the way they view the World Wide Web. According to the Philippine Internet Review Blog by Janette Toral, there are nearly 5.6 million online gamers in the Philippines alone.

With its unquestionable appeal to the youth, online gaming has transcended from a form of entertainment into a way of life. That is why governmental educational institutions have begun to see online games in a whole new light: as a tool for education.

For instance, the National ICT Learning Center in Bangkok, Thailand has made efforts to transform Internet cafés into “lifelong learning centers” where “the Internet user is immersed in an environment that encourages the development of practical IT skills as well as general self-study.”

The Bangkok Post explained in its article that these learning centers were made to be open and well-lit compared to the dark and dingy online gaming spaces. In addition to computer set-ups, a library with more than 2,000 books was also made available. This particular environment serves as a model for what Internet cafés across Thailand can offer in the future as the government makes an effort to shift perspectives from entertainment to education.

Gaming in Philippine schools

Joel Yuvienco, a blogger and Technology, Economics and Society mentor at De La Salle-Canlubang School, sees the potential of these games to enhance the learning experience, given the fact that there is already a huge number of student-gamers.

This is supported by a 2007 study of the International Data Corp. on the Philippines’ online gaming user preference, saying, “The majority of the online gamers are male, under 23 years old, and students.”

In his blog, Yuvienco posed a challenge to educators: “There’s got to be a way to harness the power of this wave to enhance formal learning. Now thinking aloud: Perhaps schools can enter into arrangements with Internet cafés for collaborative education? Could become win-win.”

The technologies used in online gaming are not new to Philippine schools. In fact, some schools use virtual classrooms and e-learning techniques to teach students.

E-learning — or the “approach to enhance learning with the aid of both computer and communications technology, enabling the use of Internet, e-mail and other online learning systems, where the exchange of information takes place” — has yet to make a significant impact on the academe.

Vicente Reventar III, a faculty member of the John Gokongwei School of Management at Ateneo de Manila University, shares the school’s experience when it comes to e-learning.

“I believe that education in this country is evolving toward preparing the students for globalization. E-learning was introduced in the university five years ago; it has been successful in certain areas but has not been as pervasive. The combination of instruction in class and e-learning is probably the best way to maximize the technology,” he notes.

But some universities are already seeing the value of integrating PC games into the curriculum teaching students economics and macro and micro management.

Reventar adds that the university does use games, albeit these are online and network games geared for management and business students. One such game used in his classes is called Capitalism II, a PC simulation game that “lets students make decisions in a competitive environment in real time.”

Hurdles

When asked if online games are feasible to be integrated into the curriculum, Reventar stresses that infrastructure is not the main issue.

“The issue is one of advocacy in using games for education. This means convincing the faculties of universities and schools to adopt games and simulations as a complementary method of teaching. Students will no doubt embrace gaming since this is familiar to them, but it is important to convince them about the usefulness of serious games in the learning process,” Reventar says.

But not all academic institutions need that much convincing. And for these few revolutionary organizations, the idea of using gaming for education is more than just a theory.

Case in point is Granado Espada, (GE), the celebrated triple-A massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) developed by Hakkyu Kim. GE has broken the mold in bridging the gap between mere hobby and educational tool. It is now being utilized in classrooms in Singapore’s Future Schools program.

Learning through games

The Singaporean Ministry of Education (MOE) is the government’s arm in directing the formulation and implementation of education policies in that country. One of its projects, Future Schools @ Singapore, launched in 2002, utilizes “innovative teaching approaches that leverage fully on ICT and novel school infrastructure designs to bring about more engaged learning for students.”

One of these teaching approaches involves the introduction of online games in the curriculum, thus fostering a unique learning environment where students apply real life solutions to scenarios in virtual settings.

Granado Espada is one of the few online games currently used in classrooms, specifically for grade levels 1-12 (ages seven to 18). Thomas Chong, director of Education Initiatives for IAHGames, the regional licensee of the game, is at the helm of the company’s directive to introduce the educational potential of the game to the academe.

When asked about the inspiration behind this project, Chong says, “GE as an MMORPG has strong elements for education purposes, and these are what we call discussion, strategy, thinking and problem solving or DSTP. The fact that it is set in the Baroque period helps students and teachers work on such educational content.”

Chong reveals that the project was founded by IAH’s CEO, Roland Ong, and has now become the initiative of other partners as well. Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard are some of the few companies that have taken an active part in the project, cooperating with Singaporean schools regularly. The MOE in particular has benefited from this project through workshops, conferences and sharing sessions.

Breaking barriers

Going beyond the misconceptions was the first impediment that IAH had to hurdle. Fortunately, Chong says this new program didn’t encounter much opposition. “As a matter of fact, we were invited to conduct training for the MOE senior personnel on GE. We also conducted two workshops for key school personnel at the MOE’s largest teacher development conference,” he says.

“There is a need for people to be educated when it comes to MMORPGs, and with GE, it’s not just your usual hack-and-slash game. Do we ban these games or do we use them to achieve our educational purpose? That’s what we want to achieve with this project. Our focus is on people — we want to find ways to make people employable in this digital age,” Chong adds.

IAH’s Educational Initiatives project primarily uses interactive digital media, in this case, online games (GE in particular), for students to integrate technology into their studying habits. IAH specifically developed GE Education Packs as well as starter kits for parents, teachers and students in order to provide them information and understanding of the game elements such as the Baroque architecture, costumes, European history, language items, social studies and music.

With the GE Education packs used in a classroom, students are encouraged to get into the game by logging on to a special server. They take on quests just like in a typical game itself, and try to integrate practical problem-solving activities to further enhance their reasoning skills.

The GE EduPack contains other projects that empower students as they play. With the broad themes of the game, they can create their movie trailers for the game and videos on racial harmony and national pride.

Other school-related pro­jects became offshoots of this new method in learning.

The Ngee Ann Secondary School developed the Granado Espada in National Education (GENE) competition where students from more than 30 primary and secondary schools were asked to create the best and most creative “machinima” that used the six National Education messages, which are compulsory in all Singaporean schools and ministries. Machinima is produced using the tools (demo recording, camera angle, level editor, script editor, etc.) and resources (backgrounds, levels, characters, skins, etc.) available in a game.

Ngee Ann Poly’s School of Business and Accountancy also held a similar competition called the Granado Espada-Harnessing IT for Sales (GE-HITS). This competition asked teams of students to demonstrate their marketing and IT skills to sell GE to various audiences.

Chong says even the Singaporean Ministry of Defense is interested in how it can use IAH’s other MMOG, Hellgate: London, for its own programs.

The IAH, according to Chong, is very much open to its regional partners to adopt the initiative in their own countries. “We would also like to encourage and empower our partners to have a similar program in order to enhance the educational process and at the same time, cultivate the proper attitude and habit toward gaming,” he says.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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