While gaming environments may provide experiential learning spaces, they do not necessarily provide students with scope for reflection and application of their learned knowledge and skills to the real world. Activities such as debriefing and structured reflection are essential to ensure appropriate mastery of specified learning outcomes, and these activities can be structured outside the virtual world.
Targetware develop a range of flight simulators for both Mac and PC, which you can download and find more about from their wiki. There are a range of classroom activities you can devise following a quick scramble and dropping some bad guys into the drink. Google, of course has a flight simulator - mashing up Google Maps, so rather than looking at maps – how about creating an air race, or a recon mission game?
Looking for something fast and simple or have younger kids – try Matica, a flash-game that will allow little kids to navigate a plan around a race track – and then use the game editor to make a better track. (My 3 year old loved it). The game you choose may not be ‘the’ best graphics and AI, however look for games that are mod-able; and has a community interested in developing a simulation based activities rather than arcade-style shoot them up. This again is an opportunity to draw students into a comparison; commercial verses community development etc., or explore related concepts such as mathematics.
A flight sim can be used as the backdrop to driving questions such as “Do pilots make better leaders“. And when I say ‘pilot’, the distance between between real and virtual is shrinking. Virtual pilots from around the world will have the opportunity to compete, using Flight Simulator X, to win a spot on a TV reality show code-named “American Topgun Challenge” – acording to internet radio station Blue Sky (a Flight Similator orientated radio station)
Simulators are great ways to engage students and lead them to deeper and wider interest. There are plenty of opportunities to make a wide range of products based on outcomes – but also to allow students to be engaged in something playful.