By Leigh Howe

The phrase “edutainment,” meaning educational entertainment, has been around since the early 90’s.  Today, with advanced technology and realistic computer games, the phrase is picking up steam. Increasing numbers of cable television stations are also focusing on educational programs, such as Discovery, TLC, Animal Planet, and the History Channel.

MIT researchers are getting into the act now.  MIT and the University of Wisconsin-Madison are collaborating to create Education Arcade, which will ultimately bring together educators, game designers, publishers, and policymakers to develop sophisticated games for educational curriculum.  There are as many as 15 games in various stages of development.  Here are a few:

  •  Supercharged! – this game teaches the basics of electromagnetism by having students navigate a spaceship that acts like a charged particle through electric and magnetic fields.
  • Environmental Detectives – in this game, students use GPS to gather clues in order to solve a science problem, such as fictional chemical spills.
  • Civilization III – this game uses 6,000 years of world history to allow students to pursue “what if” scenarios.  What if Japan had colonized the United States – how different would our culture and politics be?

This trend toward edutainment is seeing some resistance.  The idea of games as teachers is not welcomed with open arms by many educators.  Classroom games, done correctly, have the potential to augment and enhance education, not replace traditional teaching and textbooks.  But as computers have become ubiquitous in our society, this was a trend that was bound to happen.