Anthony Arnone | April 12, 2022

Gaming to Learn

Research finds video games to be an effective teaching tool in classrooms.

Gaming computers on display in the Esports lab

Have you ever been so caught up in a video game that you just can’t seem to put it down?

Papia Bawa, Assistant Professor of Education and Instructional Design Program Coordinator, knows that feeling all too well, and her hope is to channel it into the classroom.

“I was interested in video games ever since I can remember,” Bawa said. “My earliest memory of being involved with video games was the Sega Dreamcast, a game set we were gifted for the family during Diwali, which is festival of lights celebration in India.”

Papia Bawa

Papia Bawa

Bawa’s research focuses on integrating disruptive and transformative technologies into curriculum, with an expertise in game-based learning. Her research has manifested into publications that look at the benefits of video games, educational games, and mixed reality simulations as a learning tool in classrooms. Bawa also created a new instructional design model, highlighting the importance of the “content” of a video game as an equally compelling tool for motivation and cognition as the gameplay itself.

“In this context, video game content refers to items that are a part of accessorizing the gameplay, such as descriptions of the video game’s setting, characters, cut scenes, external conversations on game related social media, and other related items,” Bawa said.

Bawa’s research pushes back on stigma surrounding video games from faculty, students, and designers who believe learning to play a video game is too time consuming and not worth the educational time investment. Her research shows an educator does not need to be an active gamer to engage with the medium in a meaningful manner for educational purposes.

Bawa noted that her initial interest in video games stemmed from her family members, including her son who she continuously tried to engage in meaningful conversations. There was just one problem; he always wanted to talk about his passion – video games. Instead of pushing him away from games, Bawa decided she would play them with him.

“I blended with his world and a new gamer was born. Life became complete again, and for a while, I enjoyed the spoils of this newfound entertainment in a casual, non-conformist way, with occasional gameplay,” Bawa noted. “Just enough to get by with relating to my kid’s world, and soaking up his grudging admiration of a ‘cool’ mom.”

At first, video games were just a way for Bawa to spend time bonding with her son. That was until tragedy struck. Her sister passed away on January 29, 2012, and to cope with the loss, she found herself turning to video games.

This is motivation at an unparalleled level and I wanted to harness that energy into education.
Papia Bawa

After her loss, Bawa noted that she “gamed in earnest, not just to fit in, but to fade out poisonous memories.” However, Bawa didn’t just turn to video games to cope with the loss, she decided to go back to school and earn a doctorate. One night, she found herself too tired and frustrated to continue writing a research paper. She decided to game for just “one hour” before bed and finish the paper in the morning.

“Before I knew it, I had been gaming for over five hours,” Bawa said. “That was when I had an epiphany. Before I started playing that night I was exhausted and I couldn’t concentrate, but I still managed to play a game for over five hours. This is motivation at an unparalleled level and I wanted to harness that energy into education.”

Xbox One and two controllers

Papia Bawa’s Favorite Video Games

  • God of War
  • Halo
  • Skyrim
  • Hearthstone