|By Phillip Wankat and Frank
EDUCATION MUST CONNECT BETTER WITH
TODAY’S COMPUTER GENERATION.
used to be that engineering students
grew up fixing bicycles, building
things, and hanging out with their
friends. But these kinds of experiences
have gone the way of the slide rule
for many students today. Grand Theft
Auto is as hands-on as many of them
get, and instant messaging is their
communication mode of choice. In
their book Got Game: How the Gamer
Generation is Reshaping Business
Forever, authors John C. Beck and
Mitchell Wade refer to this generation
as “gamers” because
as teenagers, many played electronic
games 20-plus hours a week. If entertainment
is how this group learns, perhaps
we have to find new ways to connect
But first we have to understand
them. Reality is simplified for
gamers, and becoming an expert is
relatively easy. Computer games
focus on problem solving and the
rapid acquisition of technical skills.
The problem is that games always
have answers. There is little need
to read manuals because trial and
error is faster and one can always
turn to the Internet for help. The
range of options is far greater
than in the real world, feedback
is rapid, and consequences can be
severe. If you’re wrong, you
may be shot out of the sky. But
not to worry, it is easy to simply
hit reset and start all over.
We agree with Beck and Wade that
the thousands of hours spent playing
games must have an effect on how
gamers think and learn. This video
generation has developed intuitive
computer skills, and they keep punching
keys until they find the solution.
Their favorite learning style is
essentially inductive learning without
formal instruction. They are accustomed
to learning small bits delivered
just-in-time with almost immediate
feedback. They are hands-on, interactive
learners who think doing is more
fun than studying.
But how do these differences affect
teaching? It may be harder for students
to connect with their professors
or, for that matter, to even understand
what they’re talking about.
And what professors think should
be a relatively easy task, such
as manipulating mechanical objects,
students may find difficult. The
curriculum needs to focus more on
hands-on activities, particularly
with first-year students, and concentrate
less on training in computer applications
and programming. Engineering professors
may need to add games that teach
fundamentals to their teaching repertoire.
Modern engineering practice includes
heavy use of commercial simulators.
This plays into the strengths of
current students who are used to
learning to play games with little
formal instruction. However, gamers
sometimes appear more knowledgeable
than they really are, and live help
has to be available.
We can use our knowledge of these
differences to help students learn
more efficiently, which will provide
time to focus extra attention where
students need help most.
Phillip Wankat is director
of undergraduate degree programs
in the department of engineering
education and the Clifton L. Lovell
Distinguished Professor of chemical
engineering at Purdue University.
Frank Oreovicz is an education communications
specialist at Purdue’s chemical
engineering school. They can be
reached by e-mail at email@example.com.