Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Flash Games Enter the Classroom

This is a guest post by Lindsey Wright, a content creator for OnlineSchools.org.

In these increasingly ADD and ADHD-beset times teachers are becoming more and more hard-pressed to find ways to get children to effectively absorb knowledge. Card games, board games and puzzle games have been a growing part of classroom education for the last few decades, but as attention spans get ever shorter, more drastic measures will need to be incorporated. Using newer technologies, such as Adobe Flash, a multimedia platform used to make Web sites more animated and interactive, will likely buy instructors time and engage children more thoroughly. However, the question of whether the benefits outweigh the detriments has yet to be answered.

The number of flash-based classroom resources, while by no means extensive, is slowly on the rise. Searching the Internet for educational flash games can bring up some resources that teachers can supplement with user-created content from sites that allow them to create personalized educational games and integrate them into their curricula. Fortunately, with create-your-own resources like these, teachers are not reliant merely upon existing games: they are able to customize the material so that students get the most benefit from playing.

These games are often relatively simple puzzles that illustrate, with bright colors and an easy interface, the concepts explained in lectures or in textbooks. Supplementing these more traditional materials with flash games can net wonderful benefits, because students can see an immediate and direct correlation between question and answer. When students are able to see whether the choices they make are correct or incorrect, they begin to develop an understanding of how the concept works as a whole.

More traditional classroom learning teaches concepts to students passively, via lecture. Aside from one or two diagnostic quizzes in which answers are marked with no explanation, students are left to fend for themselves until testing time, when it is often too late to foster true understanding. Games can fill in this missing "hands-on" component of the learning process.

Another benefit of flash games is they are able to engage children. Although it pains teachers to think it, today’s children (who have been inundated with flashy and colorful technology from their infancy) have increasingly short attention spans. This means that many children no longer have the patience to sit with a textbook and absorb its contents. While this state of affairs is not desirable in the long run, a short-term perspective acknowledges that a teacher must do whatever he or she can do to foster maximum absorption of material. Games, with their engaging interface and interactive play, seem to be a key to do just that.

Despite their attractiveness, using flash games in classroom learning is not the most ideal solution. Their use is designed to help students absorb concepts, but usually in the most simplistic way. Sophisticated thinking and understanding of more complex concepts will be lost if teachers rely heavily upon games. In another sense, using these games seems to be admitting defeat in the battle against the simplification of knowledge, i.e. catering to shorter attention spans and a more surface understanding rather than fighting against them. A strong and engaging teacher can infuse a passion for the subject into all but the most reluctant students, thus negating the need for games.

Ultimately, while there are negatives to the implementation of flash games into classroom curricula, these negatives are countered by many positives. The customizability of the games, the interactivity of gameplay versus a passive lecture mode and the engaging nature of games all provide strong support for the continued use of flash games in classroom settings. These benefits must be considered against the fact that games often foster a more surface understanding and a shorter attention span in students that may already be prone to these behaviors. All in all, flash games are a powerful and interesting tool that, in the future, will only be more fully developed. With greater customization comes the potential for more complex gameplay, which will only help in the quest to turn flash games into effective tools.