Online Games: A Few Considerations

Game Based LearningType ‘online games for children’ into a search engine and a staggering amount of results are returned. Quite literally, hours and hours could be spent playing the array of online games. Some online games may have an educational value, developing knowledge and understanding of content in the school curriculum for English, Mathematics or other subjects. Others may benefit wider cognitive development, encouraging reasoning and problem-solving abilities. There are, however, recreational online games that need to be evaluated for their suitability for children and it is important to know what to look for to ensure online safety.

Arcade-type games are prolific on the internet and many of those in search results for ‘online games for children’ (or similar keyword searches) contain inappropriate content. A ‘shoot ‘em up’ game is very different in nature when children are blasting the answer to a number sentence than when zombies, people and everyday objects are the objects of destruction… FunBrain, although an American site, offers arcade-style games that have educational value and some are simply there for the purpose of having fun. As part of Pearson Education, the appropriateness of the content can be trusted.

Online games hosted in the USA that comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) limits marketing and prevents online collection of personal information from children younger than thirteen years old. It is worthwhile knowing about COPPA in the context of the UK because it can provide some assurances to teachers, parents and carers that the online gaming environment has been subject to regulations intended to protect children. Remember, searching for online games using Google or other search engines can provide links to websites hosted anywhere in the world.

Poptropica is a virtual world for children, a multi-player online role-playing game. It has controls to ensure online chat is restricted. Children can communicate with other players and compete with them when travelling through different islands to complete quests and challenges. This website involves scripted chat. It is not possible for a child to type their own questions and answers therefore what is communicated is limited. Personal details cannot be shared. In the event of an adult using the website, they are unable to engage in any conversations other than those determined by the scripted chat facility provided by the website. Avatars are randomly generated and provide anonymity. Poptropica can be considered a safe online role-playing game for children and preferable to console games or other online virtual worlds where multi-player chat is not necessarily subject to such strict constraints. This website is an example of an online environment adhering to the COPPA.

For domains in the UK or elsewhere, it is wise to find parent or teacher information links. In preparing this piece, it was found that this is not always straightforward. It is, however, quite informative. Several websites offering online games for children place the responsibility on those supervising children’s use of the games to decide on whether it is safe and appropriate. Any such notice on an online gaming site should alert an adult to a possible lack of control in the materials available and the extent to which personal information could be shared within games.

So, for teachers, parents and carers concerned about online games that are appropriate for younger children, the following points need to be considered.

If the game is a virtual world where role-playing is featured, thoroughly check the nature of the chat facility. It should generally involve controls in how usernames for avatars are generated and ensure avatar pictures cannot be uploaded therefore the risk of children identifying themselves online is limited. Scripted chat rather than free typing facilities are a feature that should be evident before allowing a child to interact with others in an online virtual environment role-playing game.

It is important to examine what a gaming website says about its own view of how it is or is not actively aiming to support the safeguarding of children. Perhaps a general rule of thumb is to only allow access to reputable websites from trusted organisations, such as the BBC, Disney or other major organisations that produce online games for educational or entertainment purposes.

You can teach your students more about the risks associated with online communication and gaming using a selection of lesson plans and assembly plans available to E-safety Support Premium and Premium Plus members.

Written by Jazz Williams on February 06, 2014 12:39

Freemium - Tricks of the trade or legitimate practice?

It may seem somewhat ironic but the Internet has disrupted the traditional business models of the computer games industry just as it has many other industries.

The ability to distribute data electronically as opposed to on a physical disk has been an undoubted boon for many suppliers of digital or digitise-able content. It has also provided great benefits to the end consumer.

Not only does the Internet allow gamers located in different continents and time zones to communicate and play each other in real time, it also provides an efficient way of acquiring upgrades, expansions and even bug fixes to the original game software. Modern games consoles provide a platform which assumes a hybrid online/physical disk model.

These days of course gaming is big business not just on the traditional platforms and computers, but also on mobile devices such as tablets and smart phones - all of which have an Internet connection.

Playable game demos have always been important for the marketing of new computer games and magazines have been distributing demos on cover mounted cassette tapes, disks and later CDs and DVDs for almost as long as the industry has existed.

In is therefore no surprise that the playable demo has used the Internet as a means of distribution.

Combine the notion of online program upgrades and the idea of the playable demo and you get the 'Freemium' model as it applies to the computer games industry.

A player can acquire a basic form of a game for little or no money and have a play. If they enjoy the game and wish to experience more, they can expand the games parameters by paying for an upgrade from within the game's own interface (and 'in-game' or 'in-app' purchase).

The Freemium model for digital content is widely used in a number of industries. Many online newspapers for instance will provide a certain amount of information for free, but require an upgrade to read deeper.

There has however been much debate around the freemium model as applied to computer games, and especially those which appeal to younger children. Recently the Office of Fair Trading warned the games and online application industry of what it perceived as "potentially unfair and aggressive commercial practices" amid concerns that they could irresponsibly coerce children to pay to continue playing.

There is obvious concern over potential for children to spend or run up bills on in-game or in-app purchase.

It is yet one more area of online safety which parents and teachers will need to educate their children about. But like many aspects of e-safety, much of the learning is about ensuring that usual practice and knowledge is understood when contextualised within the online world. If a child has no concept of money or cost then what hope do they have of understanding a virtual purchase.

While it is undoubtedly possible to cite cases of some app and games providers applying a cynical approach to exploiting in-app purchases by bamboozling the end user into making purchases, the model when used responsibly is a legitimate mainstay of the software publishing sales strategy.

The freemium model is here to stay and is comparable to the way in which we pay for utilities per metered unit or cell phone call time through pay as you go.

One of the reasons that app and games producers use the freemium model is because it provides some kind of defence against the rampant piracy that the software, games, music and movie industry has suffered. Piracy is now so common place that many people simply expect all digital content to be free of charge and show little respect for the talent, energy, time and cost which goes in to producing it.

And yes, once again it is our responsibility to teach young people about piracy in the same way we would talk to them about theft of a physical item.

For teaching resources on gaming or online piracy, visit the E-safety Support Lesson Plans and E-safety Support Assembly Plans

Written by Safeguarding Essentials on October 10, 2013 18:48

Game-based Learning

“The difference between mere doing and learning, or between mere entertainment and learning, is not a difference in terms of activity. It is not that one is mindless and the other thoughtful, that one is hard and the other easy, or that one is fun and the other arduous. It is that learning – whatever form it takes- changes who we are by changing our ability to participate, to belong, to negotiate meaning. (Wenger 1998)

In recent years there has been a considerable increase in interest surrounding the use of computer games for learning, mainly as a consequence of their ubiquitous nature among school-age students - ask any typical class ‘who plays computer games?’ and you’ll be unlikely to have any student without their hand up. Indeed, in a BBC research study carried out in 2005 it was found that 78% of 16-19 year-olds play computer games and 87% of 8-11s and 88% of 12-15s played games on a games console at home in the UK.

Without a doubt, the attention and focus that games can command from students must be the envy of any teacher, couple this with their incredible power to motivate young people and instil in them a strong desire to progress and improve and the question that has to be asked is “what if we could somehow capture and use the thirst to learn that games manifest within their players, in our classrooms?”

It is with the aspiration to tap into this high-level of engagement that educational computer games are now finding their way into teachers’ resource kits; however, what are the skills and attributes that students can learn from game-based learning?

Observed and anecdotal research has demonstrated that engagement in computer games provides far more developmental benefits than just refined hand to eye coordination, offering genuine progression in spatial awareness; resource organisation; team-working and communication; literacy improvement and a variety of problem solving skills as well as encouraging players to reflect on their on-going performance within the gaming environment.

Research also suggests that playing computer games can encourage students to deepen and broaden their learning experiences by developing their awareness and interest in other external subject content. In their article entitled ‘Public Pedagogy through Video Games’ (2009) Gee and Hayes describe the experiences of a young girl called ‘Jade’ who, developed her ‘Photoshop’ skills by designing ‘virtual’ clothes, for characters within the video game ‘The Sims’, which gave her advanced graphic design skills and by selling the clothes through an online store, also encouraged her to gain commercial knowledge and awareness too.

So, if games can offer so much to education why isn’t there a rush to adopt the beneficial aspects of gaming in formal schooling? Well, here lies the problem! Research has clearly shown that the advantages of game-based learning are primarily situated outside of traditional pedagogy, the learning process and achievements manifesting themselves as incidental consequences of an activity rather than the main learning objective. This process is termed ‘informal learning’ and incorporating it into traditional school-based pedagogy has been shown to be fraught with difficulties due to:

• Games not being an easy fit into school culture, curricula and practices,
• A reluctance, within traditional communities of practice within schools, to embrace fundamental changes to teaching and learning practice as a consequence of the historically strong and deep links to long-established pedagogy,
• A lack of knowledge of the learning potential of games within teaching communities, indeed a lack of knowledge of games, period!

As a result of these points, a large number of attempts to incorporate games into the school curriculum have been unsuccessful, in spite of valiant efforts by innovative teachers and the gaming business due to the games that are solely created with the intention to educate failing dismally to engage their audience, the perception that genuinely engaging games don’t offer sufficient academic value and their inability to correlate well with the school curriculum

That said, there are those, however, who continue to believe that games can be introduced into a rigid, curriculum-lead school environment.

‘Serious Games’ are games that have commercial gameplay and game environment but have genuine academic content fundamentally designed into them. An example of this type of educational game is ‘The Small Business Game’, developed by the same company who retail the previously mentioned ‘The Sims’ range of games. In this game, participants run a football retail shop and the focus is on the learning of students whilst maintaining the ‘feel’ of a commercial game that students will be more familiar with.

Another method that has been employed to introduce games into the curriculum is the use of game-making software as the curriculum. ‘Thinking Worlds’ is a good example of this, whereby games design becomes a subject with formal curricular accreditation. An additional example is ‘Missionmaker’ from ‘Immersive Education’ a game design environment that is endorsed by one of the top three UK awarding bodies.

It would therefore seem that games can play a role within the academic setting; however, it also appears that there is a long and complex path to tread to progress game-based learning from just another teaching resource to being a fundamental conduit to inspirational, engaging and motivational learning. As a final thought, there is a steadily increasing number of educationalists who believe that the benefits and opportunities offered by game-based learning is signalling a tipping point whereby the victorian model of education that has endured to the present day, must finally move aside to allow the creation of a system that has new technologies, such as games, at its very core and that can stimulate 21st century students with genuinely exciting and inspiring learning.

If you have any comments or teaching tips on game-based learning, please contact E-safety Support using the form below

Written by Steve Gresty on August 21, 2013 08:01


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