The internet has made it easier for students to learn in many ways. Students no longer have to spend endless hours at a library conducting research with old textbooks; now they can communicate with peers and teachers through email and even expand their education beyond the content that is taught within the walls of classrooms. Web technology is continuing to transform the way that teachers teach and how students learn, and with four adolescent brothers, I wonder what the remainder of their education years will look like. Will they read from Kindles instead of textbooks, like Case Western Reserve University students (via USA Today)? Will their schools provide 75 miles of internet networking cable, so that their out-of-town friends can access the classroom? Or will their teachers begin to add games such as Quest Atlantis, a science game that teaches students about water quality, to their curriculums? Technology is rapidly changing the way that we learn, but just how far will that go?

In Florida, one school has already taken online learning through the use of gaming to the extreme. Earlier this week, the St. Petersburg Times reported that there is a school where students attend high school “virtually,” through participation in a curriculum that revolves around online games. Experts believe that the Florida Virtual School “may be the only online game-based, credit-bearing high school course in the United States.” At this school, a game entitled “Conspiracy Code” is the curriculum. This “10-stage, two-semester game” currently has 240 students enrolled in the course and approximately twelve have already completed it.

If you’re wondering how this could be a successful learning model, you’re not alone. However, the game was created over a three year period, during which “developers studied brain-based learning with University of Central Florida researchers to ensure the game would get students thinking in the right ways.” The main concept behind the school is that educators are working to avoid the “invitation to disconnect” that is often given by traditional school models. Ultimately, this gives teachers an opportunity to “teach [students] on their own turf,” in the digital environment where these children have grown up.

Other schools are approaching online gaming in a less drastic fashion, strategically incorporating specific games into their curriculum. For example, in Chicago a game called “Doorways to Dreams” is used to teach users about the topic of finance. A preliminary study that tested the game “found that 55 percent of the players understood the meaning of annual percentage rate before playing, and 86 percent did after. Less than half of the players understood finance charges before playing, while 82 percent did so afterward.” Are these statistics evidence that online games might, in fact, be good for learning?

Last month, Russell Moench wrote an article in VentureBeat, titled “Web technology is about to change how we learn.”  In this article, he brought up a recent 12-year study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, which revealed that “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.” Moench goes on to describe the three reasons why online teaching methods will become more popular: “the web offers rich opportunities for collaborative learning, it allows for almost infinite customization, and it’s cheaper than pulling people into a physical classroom.”

While I’m not sure that my mother would have ever allowed me to attend high school “virtually,” I’m interested to see if web-based teaching will work its way toward the norm. More specifically, I wonder how many educators will incorporate online tools and games into their by-the-books curriculum to better engage students. After all, who wouldn’t want to play online games as a homework assignment? Especially if the games provide enough entertainment that the students forget they are learning and having fun.

As always, comments are welcome.

– Contributed by Katy Rohlicek.  Follow her @katyroll

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