Video Games Are A Teaching Tool In Some College Courses

August 31, 2010

Male college student playing video games in dorm roomCollege students at the University of Florida now have a good reason to spend endless hours playing StarCraft. According to PC World, the Florida school is offering a two-credit honors course entitled, "21st Century Skills in StarCraft". The eight-week course will not teach students how to play StarCraft; rather the goal of the class is for students to develop workplace skills through weekly gameplay, analysis of replays and "synthesis of real/game-world concepts".

The course description highlights the importance of critical thinking, problem solving, resource management and adaptive decision making, all of which are fundamental skills in StarCraft. Nate Poling, Ph.D candidate at the University of Florida and instructor of the course, told Technology Review, "My problem solving skills in StarCraft are the same problem solving skills learned in school or the real world." He explained, "In StarCraft you're managing a lot of different units and groups of different capacities. It's not a stretch to think of that in the business world or in the work of a healthcare administrator."

The University of Florida is offering the class to 25 honors college students with at least basic experience playing StarCraft. In other words, no n00bs allowed.

This is not the first time StarCraft has been taught at a university--last year the University of California Berkeley offered a student-run class that analyzed the video game to teach students critical thinking and game theory skills.

Furthermore, the University of Florida is not the only school incorporating video games into its curriculum. Gamasutra reported that Wabash College is making the puzzle-platform video game Portal part of a mandatory freshman seminar called "Enduring Questions". The class focuses on the "fundamental questions of humanity" through both classic and contemporary works.

According to Mashable, Michael Abbot, co-designer of the course, was inspired by a game theory article that drew comparisons between Portal and Erving Goffman's 1959 text The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Gamasutra pointed out that in the video game, players are human test subjects and have to complete dangerous tasks while being watched by a malicious artificial intelligence-driven computer system. Abbot explained, "One of the central questions of our new course, 'Who am I?', is the focus of Goffman's study. He contends that we strive to control how we're perceived by others, and he uses the metaphor of an actor performing on a stage to illustrate his ideas."

Mashable stated that Abbot had considered first-person shooter video game BioShock and role-playing game Planescape Torment, but settled on Portal because of its comparatively short play time. Gamasutra added that Portal will supplement a selection of other works, including Aristotle's "Politics", John Donne's poetry, Shakespeare's "Hamlet", and the "Tao Te Ching".

Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin


"College Curriculum Requires Undergrads to Play Video Game 'Portal'," mashable.com, August 24, 2010, Samuel Axon

"Gaming Skills Become a College Course," pcworld.com, August 28, 2010, Paul Suarez

"Honors Course Using StarCraft Is for Gamers Only," technologyreview.com, August 17, 2010, Christopher Mims

"New U.S. College Course Requires Collective Portal Playthrough," gamasutra.com, August 25, 2010, Danny Cowan

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