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Startup exhibits new teaching method: Video games

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A midstate teacher and technology entrepreneur is melding some of his favorite things into a business venture that demonstrates to other teachers how to use video games in the classroom.

Jeff Mummert, a high school social studies teacher in Derry Township School District, started the website Submrge.org to guide teachers in the new "gamification" teaching method that's been picking up steam.

The site went live in August and gained enough startup interest to warrant a national $5,000 grant to help Mummert develop it.

"You don't have to leap very far to find the teaching lessons in a lot of games," Mummert said. "There are some that are virtually impossible to use. But that's why Submrge started. There are teachers out there who have found some pretty amazing ways to teach classes using video games."

They just haven't had many places to go to find those ways, he said. While there are sites demonstrating ways to use video games specifically designed for education, Mummert said, there aren't places for teachers to find out how they can use games such as "Call of Duty" or "BioShock."

That's where Submrge comes in, aiding teachers in "gamification" — the incorporation of game elements into nongame settings, according to a Columbia University study on the subject. Submrge posts reviews of video games — popular, commercial games on such platforms as Xbox, PlayStation and iPad — to explain how the narrative or play has classroom value. It doesn't advocate for specific game play in the classroom; it simply shows lessons that can be taught around games many students have played.

"This is for off-the-shelf games," he said. "There are specifically educational video games, but the site is to show how teachers can use popular games on the market in their classrooms."

Mummert started designing the WordPress site in 2012, and it took him about a year to complete. Harrisburg University of Science and Technology partnered with Mummert to help him snag the $5,000 grant through the Ludus Project, a Seattle-based foundation that awards grants for U.S. nonprofits "working on research or education projects that involve digital literacy, games-based learning" and other games, according to its website.

Andy Petroski, director and assistant professor of learning technologies at Harrisburg University, said the site could be invaluable to teachers looking to break into new approaches to learning.

"Certainly from an education level, there is going to be a lot of interest from teachers," Petroski said. "When you're playing a game, you don't always connect that learning is occurring. But when you're using a game and talking with the student after they've played, you are making that connection. That's the purpose of the educational experience."

Submrge is an offshoot of Mummert's first company, HistoriQuest LLC, which he used to obtain the grant for Submrge.

Mummert started HistoriQuest in 2011 as a way to promote his freelance history consulting business. He had worked with the history departments at Dickinson College and Millersville University on a few consulting projects in the past.

Ten-year teacher Brian Heisey, a seventh-grade science teacher at Central York Middle School and a former colleague of Mummert's, said he's been using video games in his classes for about a year.

"Over the last one or two years, it's really started to come into the education realm," Heisey said, adding that he uses off-the-shelf games such as "Plants vs. Zombies" and "Cell Command" to teach lessons in his classes. "Sometimes the games can be a far stretch to bring into the classroom, but I think game developers are looking to market their products into education. I definitely see that kind of thing happening more."

There won't be any money made off the Submrge site immediately, since it's a nonprofit. But if it is as successful as Mummert hopes it could be, then he sees it as a site video game developers and publishers can buy space on to demonstrate their games' educational value.

"I guess at this point I'm still working through what it could be," he said. "But I know there is value in it."

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