How the Nintendo DSi Could Be Educationally Useful

We’ve talked a lot recently about the ascendency in educational gaming of the Nintendo DS, the descendant of the once ubiquitous GameBoy Advance handheld gaming system. New research is showing positive results for appropriate DS games to increase test scores, and gaming companies are porting over titles for studying the SAT to the platform. Now Nintendo is releasing an update to the system, called the DSi. It has generated quite a stir. Here are some ways the DSi may prove useful for educational gaming.

Larger Screens
Screens for the DSi are slightly bigger than the older DS. I’ve joked about the GBA and DS being designed for young people, as folks over 20 often complain about the size of the displays. But larger screens set in thinner cases will help players see more of the action. For the sake of education, larger screens means more text on the screen, either in quantity or quality (size of font). Admittedly the increase is small (3.25 inches up from 3.0 inches), but the increase will most certainly be worth it. Especially for old(er) people.

Cameras Outside and In
The DSi will have two cameras built in: one facing out and one facing in toward the player. I see this as benefiting ARGs, where players use devices to electronically enhance surrounding reality for the sake of the game. We’ve seen increased ARG use in lessons at historical sites thanks to the potent new crop of cell phones lately, but with two cameras added to the mix on the DSi, possibilities suddenly blossom. Students armed with Nintendo’s device could easily take pictures of objects on scavenger hunts, for instance, and share them with other teams. Pictures of players from the inward pointing camera provide proof of presence, and one imagines an easier way for teachers to remotely track students roaming about a site.

Built-in Web Browsing
Web support brings the DSi into Sony PSP territory. The nice thing is the price of the DSi is expected to fall somewhere south of $200. Imagine handing a fifth grader the equivalent power of an iPhone for a fraction of the cost and with no long-term contract. Downloading games might provide developers an inexpensive means of distribution for educational titles which may not otherwise be carried in traditional gaming venues.

SD Memory Card Support
Portable memory is a key issue for educators, as it eases dissemination of lessons and collection of data. SD memory cards are the de facto standard for portable data on a lot of devices, and many laptops and desktops have SD ports built in. A backwards compatible GBA slot is eliminated in this newest model, perhaps helping to keep the case slim. But with the SD slot, might the possibilities for home-made programming help up-and-coming educational game makers, ala the R4 Revolution, aka Majicon?

MP3 Support – sort of
The music-playing capabilities of the DSi will help with audio books, and flash cards that read words back to students. It’s not true MP3 support; users will have to use the AAC format. At least, that’s the current specs. But, folks adroit at gaming and such will have few problems converting MP3s to AAC.

Alas, American players will probably have to wait until fourth quarter, 2009 to buy one. But for players, and educators, it looks to be worth the wait.


  • By free games, October 7, 2008 @ 9:05 pm

    There are so many applications for the product it’s staggering. Fully agree that the DSi cold be entirely educationally beneficial.

  • By Max Lieberman, February 22, 2009 @ 11:14 am

    I’m skeptical. It’s foolish to bet against Nintendo, but I’ve seen exactly zero really interesting uses for the incremental upgrades present in the DSi. Are you expecting mainstream games publishers to limit their potential sales base by releasing a product with specialized features for the new platform, or are you focusing on homebrew uses?

  • By Peter Mitchell, March 9, 2009 @ 11:31 am

    The DS itself was educational considering that half of the games released were in some way related to training your brain or some sort.

    Peter Mitchell

  • By Harnak, July 6, 2012 @ 9:57 pm

    Your post points out the potential for using the Nintendo portable systems as educational learning tools. The fact that the DSi is relatively inexpensive, and since buying used ones can save a ton of money, I think that schools should look to these tools as feasible ways of using both technology and gaming as way of progressing student learning. Being able to take pictures of work samples, use the Internet for project related research, and use the MP3 abilities to record narratives is an excellent way for student to demonstrate their understanding of various concepts. In addition to this, the wide array of games available on the DSi system that build upon the use of someone’s memory, reasoning abilities, resource allocation, and other skills that are significant in student development make the DSi a smart choice to incorporate into the classroom.
    Many researchers, such as Pulman (2007) have started to develop research in this area, as there is an evident potential to student development with the use of these types of gaming devices. From personal experience, being able to use the DSi as an assistive tool for students with physical limitations allows students to demonstrate their understanding through the use of the many media features on the DSi. Assistive technologies are here and can help students with their learning; they can also help bridge the gap between those students that need extra support to overcome their challenges to attain grade level expectations. The time is now to start incorporating these tools into all classrooms.



    Pulman, A. (2007). Can a handheld gaming device be used as an effective assistive technology tool? British Journal of Educational Technology, 38(3), 532-534.

  • By Marilo, July 19, 2013 @ 6:19 am

    Nope. A DS can play Game Boy Advance games, but not original Game Boy games or Game Boy Color games.I reoemccnd buying a Game Boy Advance, which can play all three types of Game Boy Games.

Other Links to this Post

  1. Educationally games | u2belong — March 4, 2011 @ 4:03 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment