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 20, 2013 10:30


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