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

Demonstrating a digital footprint

We hear the phrase digital footprint a lot these days, for example the recent story of Paris Brown where her digital footprint had uncovered some inappropriate comments made several years earlier. But what is a digital footprint – well, put into a sentence, it is the trace of a persons online activity.

That said, what does this mean in reality? Everything that is typed, liked, tagged etc online leaves a trace behind and that becomes part of a digital footprint. Then add to that every time a person logs in or out of a website, uses mobile data on a phone, collects emails via a tablet, plays an online game and so on and so on and you can begin to see how a digital footprint is more than just the odd Tweet that we regret.

It’s not too many years ago that I remember learning the phrase ‘ego search’ (or ego surf). This wasn’t a complex psychological term, but simply the act of putting your name into a search engine and seeing if ‘you’ came up in the results. Back then it was somewhat of a challenge and indeed achievement if a search engine could find you. I recall pressing the search button and getting my name to appear twice in the results (ok, so it was actually three times, but the third one wasn’t me!).

Repeating the same exercise today I am faced with about 19 million results. Now, I’m not going to check every one of the 19 million to see how many are actually me, although I dare say, it will be more than two.

There are many parts of our digital footprint that are out of our control or just happen behind the scenes (like cookies or what other people say about us for example), but what is important is to make sure the things that are in our control are handled responsibly. It’s all too easy these days to make a comment on an online forum or social media platform, but what is easy to forget is that this comment will leave a permanent trace on a digital footprint.

To demonstrate both the scale of the digital footprint and also how everything leaves a trace, why not try typing your school name into Google and record the number of results. Some of these may include student social media accounts, directory listings and the school website pages, so it is also worth discussing this. Then, using the search tools, select a custom date range from several years ago and note the difference in both the volume and the nature of the listings.

Find more teaching suggestions in our E-safety Support Digital Footprint lesson plan.

Written by Safeguarding Essentials on August 14, 2013 11:10

Beware of the Trolls

The media has recently highlighted the case of Caroline Criado-Perez - a feminist campaigner and journalist who, after successfully campaigning for a woman's face to appear on bank notes, was subjected to a torrent of abusive posts on 'Twitter', including threats of rape, from male internet 'trolls'.

But what is 'trolling'? Who are the trolls and why do they behave in such a way online? How can they be stopped; indeed can they be stopped?

The Oxford Dictionary defines a ‘troll’ as someone who “...submits a deliberately provocative posting to an online message board (or some form of social media) with the aim of inciting an angry response.” It is regarded as a type of cyber bullying and can take a number of forms:

• As a consequence of her bank notes campaign and her well known feminist stance, Ms. Criado-Perez was targeted with no less than 50 extremely abusive tweets an hour allegedly by a group of men who co-ordinate attacks on women.

• In 2010 a man posted a “menacing” message on Twitter threatening to blow up Robin Hood Airport in South Yorkshire.

• In 2011, a 25 year old unemployed man, posted offensive videos and messages onto Facebook tribute pages mocking the deaths of teenagers.

• In 2012, Nicola Brookes received “vicious and depraved” comments on Facebook after she posted her support for a former ‘X Factor’ contestant who left the show the previous year. The anonymous trolls went so far as to create a fake Facebook profile in Miss. Brookes’ name, using her picture, on which they posted explicit comments and other offensive content.

Admittedly, these examples are extreme cases, however, trolling can be seen everyday on any social platform. Browse the responses to any Facebook or Twitter posting by the BBC, Guardian or any other news organisation and it is highly likely that you will come across a Troll’s comments, characterised by their intentionally extreme and contentious point of view and frequently containing foul and vile language with the sole aim of annoying other contributors or better still provoking them to react by making a responding comment.

So, trolling is a broad term that encompasses everything from a mischievous provocation to threats of violence or rape, but what drives someone to become a troll?

Professor Mark Griffiths, director of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University stated to the BBC that “...online, people feel anonymous and disinhibited. They lower their emotional guard and in the heat of the moment either troll reactively or proactively.” He also added that trolls are usually young adult males who either seek amusement from boredom or revenge.

However, a quick browse of any football, music or other fan site will uncover people of all ages and gender subjecting others to the most venomous and vicious attacks. Comedian Dom Joly was the victim of a devious troll with nine different online identities - she was a 14-year old girl.

It would therefore appear to be the pretense of anonymity, that the Internet apparently provides, which is key reason why people, who normally conduct themselves pleasantly and responsibly in the real world, feel that they can participate in offensive behaviour in the virtual world.

If recent reports in the media are to believed, ‘trolling’ is a phenomenon that is on the increase and there are growing calls for something for it to be stopped, but can this be done and if so how?

In response to the virulent abuse that Caroline Criado-Perez received, a petition was set up that received tens of thousands of signatures, including the names of prominent politicians and celebrities, to urge ‘Twitter’ to take “a zero tolerance policy” and include an option button that could be used to report unacceptable abusive behaviour on its platform.

But should the policing of online discussions and debates be left to the social media platforms themselves? Is there a requirement for increased monitoring and prosecution by the police and the courts or could this be seen as an infringement of free-speech?

So far, two men have been arrested in the case of Ms.Criado-Perez with the possibility of more. Sean Duffy and Colm Coss who both posted the offensive messages on tribute pages of people who had died, were both convicted and imprisoned in UK as was Paul Chambers, who ‘threatened’ to blow up Robin Hood Airport (the latter case was subsequently quashed on appeal at the High Court).

As recent as June 2013, however, Kier Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, in an effort to “strike the right balance between freedom of expression and a need to uphold the law”, published guidelines for prosecutors who are taking on cases involving ‘grossly offensive communication’. Under these new guidelines prosecutions involving the posting of an offensive message could be considered unnecessary if the perpetrator “has expressed genuine remorse” or has “taken swift and effective action” to “remove the communication in question or otherwise block access to it”.

Trolling is unpleasant, deeply offensive and upsetting. In one foolish moment it can devastate the lives of both the victim and, if prosecution ensues, the abuser. Yet, due to its perceived anonymity, young people can look upon trolling as having ‘a bit of a laugh’ at someone else’s expense, a way to get back at someone or to exert power over someone in order to garner popularity within a gang. As teachers we are in a perfect position to educate students and we should be willing to demonstrate that cyber-bullying behaviour such as trolling is unacceptable and can result in serious consequences that can have a lasting impact on the peoples lives.

Here is a suggested classroom activity on trolling:

Lesson Outcome: To be aware and understand the online phenomenon of trolling - what it is, why people do it and the potential consequences of the activity.

The Scenario: Jane and Samantha are in a coffee shop. Samantha is talking sympathetically to Jane who has just told her that her dog died that morning. As the two women talk, a man rudely interrupts them and says:

“I hate dogs and their owners, I’m really glad that yours has died that means that there is one less scrawny mutt walking the streets. And I bet you cried when it died didn’t you? You’re pathetic, it’s just a dog! I wish all dogs and their stupid owners would just go and die, you make me sick!” (you should adjust the language used here to suit your pupils)

Activity: Ask students, if they think that what the man said was acceptable? What reaction do they think it had on Jane and Samantha?".

If the man had posted such comments on Facebook or Twitter he would be ‘trolling’ and he would be regarded as a ‘troll’

Students can now investigate in small groups what the terms ‘trolling’ and ‘troll’ mean. Why do people engage in ‘trolling’? Do they think it’s wrong or is it just having ‘a laugh’? Are there different types of ‘trolling’ and ‘trolls’ Is it illegal or just upsetting? What consequences can it have?

Come together as a class and use what has been researched to discuss ‘trolling’ and ‘trolls’.

Further information

Below are some useful articles that teachers may wish to use to create lesson or assembly plans focusing on trolling:

Wired - online aggression - An interesting piece focusing on the anonymity and disinhibition phenomenon that appears to contribute to people’s ability to become involved in trolling.

The Telegraph - A Daily Telegraph article on the novel approach that classicist Prof. Mary Beard took when she was abused by a troll.

The Guardian - A Guardian article on the different types of trolls, from the unsophisticated ‘abuse-hurlers’ to the more insidious and frightening examples.

Written by Steve Gresty on August 01, 2013 13:24


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