Teaching computer games as the next Latin

March 18, 2010 at 9:57 am 7 comments

People still argue that learning Latin improves “critical thinking skills” and “comparative analysis skills.”  Despite these claims, there is little evidence that spontaneous transfer occurs from general learning. Transfer is hard, requires lots of initial knowledge, and works best when students are explicitly taught to transfer. Explicitly, learning Latin does not lead to general thinking skills.  Next up? Creating video games!

Computer games have a broad appeal that transcends gender, culture, age and socio-economic status. Now, computer scientists in the US think that creating computer games, rather than just playing them could boost students’ critical and creative thinking skills as well as broaden their participation in computing. They discuss details in the current issue of the International Journal of Social and Humanistic Computing.

via Teaching computer games.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alan Kay  |  March 18, 2010 at 10:32 am

    Hi Mark,

    I think that the important points here are that “transfer needs to be taught” and “transfer can be learned”.



  • 2. Janet Kolodner  |  March 18, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Right. I think there’s a better argument for computer games than for Latin, as creating a computer game does require creative thinking and might require critical thinking (whatever that is). So, unlike in Latin, you can make the constructionist argument about the affordances of the construction the kids are doing. Then, as Alan says, there’s the transfer issue. What games are kids creating? What scaffolding is being provided to help them be successful? What articulation and reflection on their reasoning is being done to help them recognize the creative and critical thinking they are doing? What reflection are they being helped to do to imagine when that reasoning might be useful in other situations? Lots of affordances, but it all depends on how the kids’ experiences are structured and used. I hope they are actually making those points in the article. If not, then perhaps we ought to get together and write a short commentary on it.


  • 3. Ian Bogost  |  March 18, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Shameless plug: I wrote about this problem in Persuasive Games.

  • 5. Ian Bogost  |  March 18, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    Oh, also, learning Latin does open the door to understanding many things about the history of western civilization, including the histories and literatures of ancient Rome and the Christian church.

    Likewise, learning to make videogames opens the door to understanding many things about the history of computer entertainment!

    Those are reasons enough to do either thing!

    • 6. Mark Guzdial  |  March 18, 2010 at 10:04 pm

      I agree, Ian — the big claim of thinking skills is unnecessary to make these activities worthwhile. I agree with Alan and Janet, too. It’s possible to teach for transfer. However, these things are worth doing even without teaching for transfer. Most important, though, is that the learning of Latin or creating video games does not create “spontaneous” transfer. Not clear that anything does.

  • 7. Alan Kay  |  March 19, 2010 at 7:13 am

    Hi Ian,

    But you make an even better argument for learning Greek!

    What would be your parallel analogy?




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