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Anybody who owns a smartphone will know the impact that Pokemon Go had on the world when it was released to the public in July 2016: almost overnight, the app had been downloaded by a large percentage of smartphone users. The nostalgia for classic Pokemon products mixed with a fun and inventive interactive game made the app an immediate success. If you have played Pokemon Go yourself, you will be all too familiar with addictive, immersive experience that it offers.  It’s a chance to become a Pokemon catcher in the real world with a clever map-based system that sees people walking around and encountering various creatures out on the streets and in parks, sometimes even in the smallest rooms of you own home! There is no doubt the Pokemon Go is an effortlessly fun game, but could the app actually be more than just some simple fun? Does it have possible educational attributes too? Some believe that Pokemon Go can actually help students in particular to build strong and effective communication skills. What is it about Pokemon Go that leads to this idea?

Emily Howell, an assistant professor at the School of Education at Iowa State University, has developed a series of ideas that use the Pokemon Go app as way for students and teachers to develop and enhance their communication skills, both personally and technologically. Howell sees Pokemon Go as the perfect tool to achieve two goals: firstly to help students become more confident and adept with technology; and secondly to help them learn different types of communication other than the simple teacher/pupil dynamic that the majority of schools follow today.

Having children play games on smartphones might not seem like an ideal form of education, but Howell came up with the idea when playing Pokemon Go with her own children. By watching them she noticed certain positive developmental aspects coming from the experience. She noticed how engaged her children were in playing and mastering the game. They were concentrating on the technology but at the same time sharingknowledge with each other in a meaningful and insightful way.

The thought behind using Pokemon Go in the class room stems from the fact that, with the majority of student age people playing the game outside of school, it would be an interesting and connecting exercise to bring something that they love inside the classroom, to create a sense of familiarity and fun.

Howell states “it is important to give students authentic choices that really have meaning in their lives … we need to to encourage them to develop questions, research the answers and then share that information in writing”. With regards to this comment, Pokemon Go can be seen as the perfect tool for this kind of communication in the classroom, for these various reasons:

  • The joy of the app is in wandering around the virtual space and discovering creatures hidden in unlikely places. Once a student finds a particular Pokemon that they want to catch, they can then interact with their class peers to relay the location of the Pokemon, sparking an organic and enjoyable form of debate and verbal exchange that doesn’t feel forced in any way.
  • Interesting discussions and interactions can be created in the comparison of which students have managed to catch which Pokemon. Though students may not want to freely converse about a novel they have been studying in class, they might feel more comfortable in opening up and sharing their thoughts and insights into a popular pastime that they are all participating in together.
  • An interactive game might be successful in engaging pupils who won’t flourish or enjoy the classroom environment, giving them a more equal footing with classmates they generally feel alienated from or intimidated by.

Another important aspect of the Pokemon Go experience is that, unlike many different forms of social media, the online world that the app presents is relatively safe. It provides an online forum that students can engage in together without the risk of external safety concerns. Pokemon Go provides an online environment that teachers can make use of in the that bring with it undesirable factors of other social media: things like online bullying, grooming and other unsavoury elements of the internet age.