UNM honors professor Chris Holden said he looks to video games as a teaching tool.
Holden is an advocate for education through video games and mobile games and has held discussions with students and faculty members throughout the semester about games in the classroom.
“Take ‘Civilization.’ It’s a difficult game to play, takes about 100 hours to really understand the system and yet people do it for fun,” Holden said. “Video games are typically difficult to learn things, that in the course of learning how to play them, people have learned a lot of interesting things entirely out of the formal learning context of what you’re doing at school.”
While most lecture classes on campus are incorporating technology geared toward teaching more students, such as lectures that can be viewed online, Holden said interactive games could help build a smaller, more personal bond between students and the subjects being taught.
Holden said he works with Augmented Reality and Interactive Storytelling (ARIS), an open-source platform that allows those with no programming experience to create mobile games, as a way for educators to interact with their students. He said educators need to look at students’ cellphones as new means to teach.
“Schools pretend that cellphones don’t even exist, even though outside of school, there’s a huge difference between how people live now and how they lived 10 years ago,” he said.
Holden teaches “Local Games,” an undergraduate course within the Honors College, in which students learn to create and program locally based educational smartphone games with the ARIS software.
This software can be used as a tool similar to Microsoft PowerPoint — while one program can help students create PowerPoint presentations, the other can help build games, allowing students to place text, photos and videos.
Holden said he’s used the same program to create “Mentira,” an interactive murder-mystery game that teaches students in Spanish 202 classes how to interact and critically think while speaking in Spanish. He said that with “Mentira,” students can select from possible choices of dialogue to interact with the game’s characters. Each choice they make dictates how the conversation and game continues.
Holden said the three-week game lesson plan culminates with a field trip to Los Griegos, where the game is set, so students can walk and investigate using the game’s GPS system. He said that with games like “Mentira,” UNM Spanish courses could connect with the community.
“One of the efficiencies we don’t even think about is the idea that here we are living in a city where the Spanish language actually means something and has been here longer than the English language has. Our language classrooms look like one in Iowa or Alaska,” he said. “We’re trying to have a much larger conversation than making it so more people in class can pass vocabulary tests that already exist.”
Coordinator of Spanish as a Second Language Julie Sykes worked alongside Holden on the “Mentira” project and said she plans to incorporate similar interactive games as a teaching tool for introductory Spanish classes.
“The plan of what we’re looking toward is moving away from this idea that you have to learn all this grammar, this book stuff, totally unrelated to actually speaking Spanish. Real people speak Spanish, and we want people to interact with that right away,” Sykes said. “Spanish doesn’t have to be this one-semester core class that you have to take that’s awful, that you don’t like.”