I only managed attend one of the two fabulous days of this year’s Edtech SA conference but it was a great day. There was a real buzz to the whole event and the two key notes were really engaging. Bron Stucky got the balling rolling as she talked to us about Games in education. Her main focus was around the idea of teachers finding their “fun”. That, the idea of using games in teaching is not a new one. We might have board games to help develop certain skill sets within children and to structure learning. When it comes to using digital gaming are we really relying on something that is all that different?
I guess with my usual TPACK/SAMR/ 3E’ds mindset. I would want to look at gaming as another tool that can be used to overcome a learning barrier or enhance the learning outcomes for my students in some way. For example, perhaps it is enabling me to place the key concepts the students are learning into a ‘real’ world (simulated) experience? Or creating a collaborative environment where students are able to co-create their experiences through completing a series of challenges that require them to work socially together. Of course, all those ideas link beautifully with the Learning Frontiers document on Engagement from 2008. Using games, of course, is engaging. And it can be engaging in many ways and on many levels.
That, Bron Stucky explained, is what fun really is. It’s challenge and it involves being stuck, finding things hard and working to overcome them. I guess you need to have a purpose to want to put in the required effort. I know, having spent a lot of time playing games online and on my own (The SIMS!!!), that the challenge is important, but so is the narrative. I honestly get a bit bored of RP games if there’s no story to be involved in. For me, gaming is like being allowed to wander inside a beautiful novel and effect what happens around me. It’s choose your own adventure in an immersive way. The challenge and the power that brings can be truly intoxicating! It has lead to my playing games for 8 hours straight (guilty confession). To some that might seem like madness. To me it’s a break from the norm, it’s engaging in some serious brain work, it’s collaborating socially to solve a common goal and it’s experimenting with variables just to see what happens next. There are a lot of skills involved in gaming and I can easily see how many of the skills I have developed through being part of a “guild” in World of War Craft (WOW), or controlling the lives of small simulated beings in The Sims, connect with the deeper levels of thinking required for high grades. No surprise then that there is correlation between students who play these sorts of games and academic outcome…. Let’s not mention the social stereotypes associated with the type of people who choose to play WOW 😉
The question is, how do we identify the pedagogical uses for gaming and how can we use that to help us to remove barriers for our students and enhance their learning? Many teachers begin with assessment and reward; ‘gamifiying’ grades and awarding badges to outcomes. A scoreboard to show the highest marks. that’s a place to start, but it’s not where we will find the deepest learning opportunities. Not in my opinion anyway.
Bron divided the question into 4 key aspects that can help us to design learning around the “Gaming” genre.
- Game Design – Games have a narrative, they have elements to them that are written in stone. Google the elements of Game Design and you’ll find a heap of suggestions as to which elements are required to make a game great. In the workshop I attended after the keynote, we were asked to come up with a list of elements for our game design. These involved features such as:
- strategy/ chance
- themes /narrative
and much more
The point is there is nothing stopping us designing a learning experience around the principals of Game Design. Image if we asked the students to design a game through which they could test each other and their knowledge of a particular content area. Test and challenge understanding… develop it further through social learning and uncomfortable moments of stretch. A methodology that would involve students being at the forefront of the task. What could you learn about their understanding through the way in which they designed the task itself? It would take a fairly sophisticated understanding of a concept or skill in order to engineer a challenge or task to develop an understanding of that knowledge. It’s a fascinating idea and it needn’t involve much tech at all. Check out the work of BreakOut Edu for one way you could choose to achieve this kind of thing.
2.Game based Learning – This method involves using games that already exist to teach a concept. The students, in this case are not involved in the design of the game. The game is already written and it is being used as a conduit through which we can address key learning barriers or opportunities to stretch understanding. One game that Bron did suggest, in relation to systems thinking and the digital technologies curriculum, was Water Bears. I’ve had a play with this and have since had it installed on the iPads at work for my students to use and evaluate. It’s a fantastic example of sound, pedagogically minded gaming design and it’s a great way to help students to develop their systems thinking. When using it as an educator, you also get the added bonus of access to Glass Labs Games – which provides you with all the assessment data you need to evaluate student progress and personalise learning as you go. It’s well designed and very addictive too!
I guess the trick with selecting games to use is make sure that you evaluate them from a pedagogical and content perspective. They are the T in the TPACK framework. It is vital that, as you choose a game, you consider questions that avoid you becoming technocentric in your choices. Every game needs to be selected with the students in mind. Start with the problem you need your technology to solve and then select a game that does so.
If I apply this idea to water bears. Here’s some of what i like about it:
- It has levels of progress and it gets harder as it goes. Students are being challenged in stages. They unlock whole levels at once though…. so… they can choose to dive straight to the end of a level if it’s too easy. There also challenge levels which allow them to push a little bit further to see if they’re ready for the next level
- All of the content is there and it reports to the students which aspects of systems/ design thinking. It constantly refers them back to the learning objectives and focuses and guides them. They will be able to tell you exactly what they’re learning and what they need to do next to achieve the next level. There are opportunities there for some deep meta learning – if you plan for that to happen.
- The world they have created is colourful (and those colours add challenge), immersive and clever. In order to master the levels you have to learn to rotate and manipulate your environment in a way that is not easy to emulate outside of the digital realm. The virtual nature of the environment enables learning aspects that would be pretty hard to create without it.
- The assessment and reporting aspects that are part of the collaboration with Glass Labs Games enables a whole heap of teacher lead analysis that could be used to inform future planning. Exactly what we need.
Other examples that Bron gave were theABC Splash – Great games there too (Zoom) resources. She also mentioned a story of one ethics teachers who was using the Walking Dead game to look at ethical constructs! How fascinating! We’ve all watched that show and judged the characters on their decision making consider the ethical constructs in level 1,… now apply them in level 2. As an English teacher I can see that sort of stuff being fascinating for exploring character development in response to context in novels… Very interesting idea!
As a fan of the game “The Sims” I can see potential there too. In the past, I have used The sims, to make videos for English as a Second Language teaching. Having my Sim move around the house and getting students to name where they are and what they were doing (in English of course). However, when I consider the idea of Game Based learning, I realise that I wasn’t actually using it as a game! I need more ingredients in there. Puzzles to solve might be tricky but I can certainly add levels, strengthen themes and build different Sim environments for students at different levels. Letting them explore a whole Town’s worth of learning! Personalisation everywhere! That way I can have rewards and I might even be able to spin in a narrative. They could be creating houses, towns and other elements for their class mates to test and challenge each other! Now we’re cooking!
How we use the game could also effect the outcome. Do we let one student play for all of us? Making decisions as the leader in the class? How could we scaffold and use groups there to help our students develop opinions that they feel free to share in our lessons? I can imagine the life or death decisions in the Walking Dead game being very effective as a whole class. Those conversations, small group (maybe) then whole class with one “games master” a week could really enable some fascinating learning dialogue. A great opportunity to deepen and accelerate learning – if planned right!
Of course, all of these ideas require copies of games, computers to play them on and maybe even an internet connection….
3 .Game Inspired Learning –
With game inspired learning you don’t need an actual computer game. What you do, is use some of the features of game design to help construct learning activities. A “gameful” experience was the term that Bron used. It essentially means making a space playful. Kung Fu punctuation instantly came to mind when she was talking about this. We used to use that with our 16 year olds as we did revision and booster classes for the GCSEs in the UK. The gameful experience helped to remove the “boredom” factor of grammar and punctuation and enable us to have meaningful conversations about grammar, sentence structure and more… with teenagers~ (i know… right?)
Other examples that Bron shared were things like…. The Grammar Olympics. This echoes the themes from the experience I was creating for my students. Except it does it in a much more rich way. During the workshop, this video really inspired me to develop the Kung Fu punctuation further. It’s relatively easy to have levels (Belts) and challenges (kata) etc. If i get to teach it again… they’re all going in there 🙂
Engagement – What’s creating that?
Bron talked about how the engagement here was guided by the game. However, as usual, I need to delve deeper into what this gaming is doing for engagement. If we look at the work of the “Learning Frontiers Professional practices to increase student engagement document as a guide, which of the four elements of engagement does gaming work with? I wonder if the real trick here is that you are creating a fake “real world” experience. The game adds meaning because you are working within a narrative, a world, that although not the “real world” as we know it, becomes the key construct of the attainment. Whether that be a zombie apocalypse or a Grammar Olympics, we’re engaged in a world that has challenges for us (our growth mindset fans will love that). The challenges and puzzles connect with that “real world” and the narrative, if placing us in a role as ‘character’ within it, makes sure that the learning becomes personal (even if it’s to an assumed identity). The co-created element raises questions for me… That makes me think deeply about levels in which students are in charge of creating the narrative, the puzzle or something else. Although, if I’m honest, when I play my RRP games I do feel like I’m charge of my narrative. I am making choices all the time and all of them have consequences for little “Selfie” (The night elf) or which ever character I play. Maybe it’s because I’m an English and Drama teacher but my favourite part of those games is exploring the possibilities of the world I am wandering through. When we use elements of that game design to create something unplugged I think it becomes possible to create a similar sensation for our students. They can forget who they really are, they can relax into a new role and maybe in doing so, they feel freerer to take more risks and develop our skills as a result.
When we’re working with something like Second Life, in which there are many worlds we can explore (for Hass or Literature studies for example) are we really using the gameful aspects of learning to their best? I have used second life often, but now i need to look to how tech has developed and let my students use it to create the environment for themselves before they use it. Second life becomes the model for them to use (if they need that support). Minecraft allows our students to create their own world easily. Or to replicate it using their research and knowledge. They create something with others, they mould it and shape it based upon the subject knowledge they can easily find online… So many opportunities would be missed if we simply visit someone else’s creation online.
I have to say, and you can probably tell, from this post, this workshop really got me thinking – deeply – about gameful learning and the massive benefits it could have. I always thought of myself as a gameful teacher but I’ve learnt alot here about how I can enhance that. Loved this workshop! Thanks Bron 🙂
I’d love to hear about how you might design your gameful experiences… Got anything to share?