I am not completely sold on integrating gaming with Jewish education.
It's not that I'm a Luddite, nor do I think that games are inherently frivolous. As an elementary student I learned an enormous amount about world history from playing Civilization, and just last week I taught a lesson for supplemental religious school teachers in New Jersey on how to use MIT's Scratch to create games and interactive simulations. But despite this, I think that for many educational goals, the same outcomes that many attribute to the integration of games and education can be achieved more efficiently and effectively through other means.
If we're concerned about creating student centered activities that force them to think about systems learning, I'm not convinced that the amount of time and effort that it takes to teach students how to program or design games is any more beneficial than any other project based or inquiry based learning assignment. If we're interested in providing students an alternative way of engaging with content, I'm not convinced that a professionally designed video game is inherently more efficient than other multimedia content, or the next generation of digital textbooks that can incorporate video, audio and other interactive content. If we're interested in providing opportunities for training teachers or principals to deal with classroom situations, I'm not convinced that an interactive video game simulation is any better than watching and reflecting on videos of classroom.
However, there is clearly something about the deeply engrossing experience of video gaming that we need to take under serious consideration as we reconsider our pedagogical practices and refine our methods of teaching. While the first day preconference for Games for Change so far has focused very heavily on the use of edutainment style games or on student creations I'm encouraged by the descriptions of other sessions in the upcoming days that seek to encourage the gamification of learning environments even without integrating the playing or design of games in the classroom.
70 plus years ago, John Dewey noted, "Above all, [teachers] should know how to utilize the surroundings, physical and social, that exist so as to extract from them all that they have to contribute to building up experiences that are worth while.” Even if we end up not harnessing video games in our classrooms, it behooves us as educators to at least explore the potential of these tools and methods for the sake of our students and institutions, and for this reason, I am grateful to the AVI CHAI Foundation for their generosity in facilitating my attendance at the Games for Change conference to think deeply about these issues for the benefit of Jewish Education.