A saying that we have all heard and possibly used is “I don’t play the game,” “he doesn’t play the game so he won’t go very far,” “she doesn’t play the game very well.” When I thought about the school I work in, I began thinking about those students who don’t seem to participate or engage in appropriate ways are those who won’t and don’t play the game of school, it’s just too hard. These students are identified quickly by other students and can often be isolated for their behaviour. Then there are those students who don’t participate or engage as the game of learning seems too easy. Learning in a classroom makes demands not only on our academic abilities but also our social and emotional abilities.
Gee (2005) identifies 16 principles that good video games possess:
4. Risk taking
7. Well-ordered problems
8. Challenge and consolidation
9. “Just in Time” and “On demand”
10. Situated meanings
11. Pleasantly frustrating
12. System thinking
13. Explore, Think Laterally, Rethink goals
14. Smart Tools and Distributed Knowledge
15. Cross-functional teams
16. Performance before competence
If teachers consciously used these 16 principles, would they achieve a more socially inclusive classroom where every student is able to participate and engage in their learning? Do games then offer a lifeline for teachers struggling to differentiate an overcrowded, content-filled curriculum?
Games can be used to develop a more socially inclusive classroom when teachers can choose games that are open-ended, encourage collaboration and communication. The idea of a game encouraging students to take ownership of their learning and each other’s learning would definitely encourage social inclusion. By this I mean, games definitely need interaction but in order to interact with a digital game and other players students need to have an awareness of their rights and responsibilities but also know that others have rights and responsibilities. Students can be immersed in a game and ‘forget’ there are others there. In Minecraft, when playing survival mode I have heard students discussing how much fun they had burning down someone’s bridge or house, whilst the person who created these elements can become quite distraught. A sense of ‘agency’, ‘customisation’ and ‘interaction’ then is required.
Games can build a more socially inclusive classroom through creating “cross-functional teams” (Gee, 2005, p.36) Each student in the classroom has certain skills that they bring into the classroom. In order for these teams to work, teachers need to be aware of individual student learning styles and skill set. Who are the students who have great spatial awareness? Who are the students that have the analytical skills when faced with challenges and problems within games? Who are the students that possess creativity in design? Who are the students that have the leadership skills to collaborate and negotiate the best decision to make at various points of the game?
In order to succeed in building a socially inclusive classroom though the teacher needs to do some planning and almost a ‘risk assessment’ before putting the students to play. The teacher needs to have some knowledge of the game and how it could fit into the learning for the students. Are there any skills that need to be demonstrated to any students? The learning could be within academic intelligence, social intelligence or emotional intelligence. There needs to be an awareness on the part of the teacher how a game encourages the social inclusion of all students. How is the baggage from the face to face playground going to be put aside for the interaction within a serious educational game? How will any competitiveness be received by all the students? Any learning is affected when relationships within a classroom are less than favourable so planning and knowledge before the game are crucial to developing a more socially inclusive classroom. It is not meaning the teacher dictate but rather allow students to know that there are still expectations and social responsibilities (etiquette) that need to be recognised even in games.
Another very important aspect that Gee’s principles made me reflect upon is the idea of feeling safe enough to fail so that the student continues to take risks. The idea of feedback and further instruction being given, “just in time” is so important to creating a socially inclusive classroom because each student is indeed an individual and each student will need the teacher (or another student) to provide the necessary feedback to keep going to reach the required goal.
Perhaps when we as educators look beyond what we see on the screen and begin to see, as Gee (2005) does, some games offer an opportunity towards deeper learning and more inclusive social practices then our schools can really become communities of learning practice.
Gee, J.P. (2005). Good video games and good learning. Phi Kappa Phi Forum, 85(2), 33-37. http://dmlcentral.net/sites/dmlcentral/files/resource_files/GoodVideoGamesLearning.pdf