Critical Reflection – To Game or Not To Game

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As I started INF 541 – Game-Based Learning, I was fairly naive.  The only personal understanding I had of games was that they were something that people do on an iPhone, iPad or a game console.  I had never really played any games on my laptop apart from Solitaire or Chess and really the games I engaged in were time wasters or for entertainment.  I had observed my own children playing Minecraft with their friends whilst on Skype and strategising over how to become the best clan in Clash of Clans and I was curious about the role of games in education.  How do games provide learning?

Professionally, I had an experience a few years ago in implementing Gamestar Mechanic into the library to introduce the students to the idea of game design as another form of text and using their learning in a creative way.  Little did I know that there has been a whole lot of research being done in this area of game-based learning.

That is definitely one of the big learning moments I have had this session in that I realised that research is vital before effective implementation of game-based learning can take place.  It was very frustrating as a primary school teacher librarian though as I soon discovered that there was very little research into game-based learning in the primary school. I noted this from the outset in our Module 1 discussions. My observation is that games are being used in primary schools but I could hardly find the information relevant to my learning context.  This was supported by research I found and used in my first assessment where “Caponetto, Earp & Ott (2013) where they searched for papers that dealt with the actual integration of games into classrooms, of the 753 papers their search discovered and after application of the criteria for their purpose, only 78 papers were returned.”

It also became apparent in my participation on Twitter ( a new experience for me this session) that the use of games in education is a ‘hot topic’ right now.  There is so much being shared through this platform and one learning I have also made is that while I retweeted some of these articles, I really wanted to discuss some of the ideas within them.  Games as advancing education, ways to use Minecraft, how to choose the best games for learning? it was all there on Twitter.  Those that lacked research and those that matched the research we had been accessing within this subject.  This is an area for self-improvement for me to focus on next session as I need to take the initiative to perhaps reflect on these using the affordances of the reflective blog that I have set up.

Another major point of learning for me during this session is that there is more involved in using games than what can be seen on the screen (Gee, 2012).  I was starting to form a definition of what game-based learning is and thankfully the title of my reflective post mentioned that this definition was evolving. I would suggest now that I still agree with this initial definition but I would now include that just as there are different types and genres of books, the same can be said about games.  It is the teachers role to design learning practices after they have actively assessed and evaluated the potential and limitations of the game so that they can know: 1) how the game can assist in the learning; 2) rules/goals, characters, settings, how the game can be differentiated for different levels of play – or the mechanics of the game; 3) what other learning activities need to be incorporated alongside the game? (Routledge, 2009).  So, the game is not a replacement for the teacher and just as any other resource would be utilised in the classroom, so should the game intended for learning be scrutinised and selected according to the learners needs.

My knowledge base has definitely been expanded by undertaking this unit of study and I can definitely see that the adoption of game-based learning needs to be strategic.  The affordances of game-based learning are so much more than being fun, engaging and motivating.  These can be seen in my Compendium chapter.  For me, there is still much more reading to be done and time to synthesise what has been read and shared away from the pressure of deadlines is needed.

References:

Caponetto, I., Earp, J., & Ott, M. (2013). Aspects of the Integration of Games into Educational Processes. International Journal of Knowledge Society Research (IJKSR), 3(4), 11-21. doi:10.4018/ijksr.2013070102

Routledge, H. (2009). Games-based learning in the classroom and how it can work!. In T. Connolly, M. Stansfield, & L. Boyle (Eds.) Games-Based Learning Advancements for Multi-Sensory Human Computer Interfaces: Techniques and Effective Practices (pp. 274-286). Hershey, PA: . doi:10.4018/978-1-60566-360-9.ch016

 


Are digital games being ‘overlooked’ in ‘digital education’ reform?

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To reflect on the question, “Are digital games being “overlooked” in “digital education reform?” first led me to try and seek some clarity in my mind as to the difference between the terms video games and digital games.  The initial understanding was that video games are those that are played using a game console such as Playstation, Wii or X-Box.  Digital games then would be those that are played using laptops, iPads or other Android devices.  As I read the article, “Teachers re-evaluate video games,” (Sydney Morning Herald, Nov. 30, 2014) it then became apparent that the terms digital and video game seem to be used synonymously.  It would seem to make more sense to call games digital though as they are neither in the format of a video or indeed use the technology of a video player, so for this purpose I will be using the term digital games as those that use the technology of computers and mobile devices.

How do I see digital games fitting into my practice?  What is the context of my learning? What are some challenges?

Within my own practice as Teacher Librarian at a large primary school I would suggest that I am strongly in favour of using digital games in learning and in the library.  I have used Gamestar Mechanic as a way of discussing the importance of narrative, digital citizenship issues such as providing feedback and looking at how games are created and I would agree that there were no issues surrounding motivation or engagement. It led to a “deeper factual and conceptual understanding,” as identified by Dr Catherine Beavis (SMH, Nov. 30, 2014.)  I also suggest though it was tricky to ‘fit’ into a timetable where each class visits the library for a 50 minute – 1 hour lesson and not necessarily on the same day. This then means that there needs to be an allowance of time to set up the 7 laptops and 2 desktops, moving to a shared computer, (some classes are 30 students between 9 computers!)  Once the learning/collaboration begins in no time at all the time for packing away is upon us. Also, it needs to be mentioned that the cost can be a factor when adopting digital games in the classroom.

Van Eck (2006) suggests that we have overcome the perception that “play” is in fact at the opposite end of the spectrum to “work.” (p.2).  I am unsure if all teachers hold this belief but generally teachers are embracing the idea of games as a learning possibility.The perception from leadership can be that games are frivolous and that they may not have any educational value.  So a challenge here is two-fold: professional development required and budgetary allocations.

Jesse Schell identified one of the “biggest challenges” teachers face is the timetable. Timetables are one of the drivers of a teacher’s and students learning as there is the issue of compliance and ensuring that each subject is allocated the appropriate amount of minutes.  Dr Catherine Beavis identifies that whilst deep understandings can be made using digital games we ““need to find ways to use them that are consistent with the ways teachers teach”(SMH, Nov. 30, 2014.)

 

Minecraft is another game that I have been wanting to include in the library and I can see huge potential for it to be used in so many ways, the only limit being my imagination.  For example, I could easily suggest students create a world that demonstrates the water cycle, create the visualisation of a particular setting that we are escaping to as we read a novel, create a 3-d map of a particular geographical feature and so on.  I question though whether I am forcing the game to fit the learning or am I using the game as it is intended to be a collaborative, creative tool.  In the following clip, some of the questions and challenges are outlined which show that while Minecraft is HUGE at the moment with our students, how can we best fit it into our classrooms?

Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RI0BN5AWOe8

In the article by Josh Jennings, “Teachers re-evaluate video games,” (SMH, Nov. 30, 2014), Rebecca Martin, a classroom teacher, recognises that schools need to make game choices that are “open-ended and creative, rather than skill and drill or digital worksheets”(SMH, Nov. 30, 2014.)  I welcome this attitude as I observe teachers do use games in their classrooms but mainly as drill and practice, group tasks on iPads that keep students busy whilst the teacher is freed up to do other tasks.  I am not judging this as wrong, as there still needs to be a place where basic facts need to be learnt but I believe we are still at the early stages of adopting digital games into our classrooms as a learning medium and we need to find the balance between open-ended and drill and practice.

I see a great space for games such as Minecraft,  and apart from the challenge of time I wonder how to overcome other challenges of parental expectations, what other colleagues perceive as teaching?,  how do I assess the learning – through acquisition of 21st Century skills or content? how do we make students accountable as there can be many distractions along the way in participating in games?  The question could be, do digital games enhance a students learning?

Here is a clip that explains some of the effects that can happen when students participate in gaming.

Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOsqkQytHOs

My personal aims as I continue my professional and personal learning in this area:

*  To become an advocate for digital games and game-based learning throughout our school;

*  To make wise choices in regards to the digital games and to develop a selection criteria just as I would for the choice of printed resources in our school;

*  To ‘have a go’ at some of the ‘popular’ games our students play so they can identify me not as teacher but as a player learning with them – partners in learning.

What challenges am I hoping to meet for myself?

*  To make time to advocate, I need time to collaborate and share the learning that I make.

*  To heed the advice of Dr Catherine Beavis when she says, “there is a tremendous potential for games-based learning, but also the potential for things to go seriously wrong if the current enthusiasm for games-based learning leads to the introduction of games into the classroom without knowing more about how they actually affect learning, values, understandings and how to do this well?”(SMH, Nov. 30, 2014.)  The challenge that I hope to meet here then, is to be discerning, be patient and to avoid being too hasty in applying the learning I hope to make.

To answer the question, are digital games being overlooked in ‘digital education reform?”, I would conclude that teachers are interested and aware that games exist and could benefit their classrooms.  I would also suggest that there needs to be more professional development opportunities and challenges to be overcome to ensure that quality games are integrated into the curriculum for quality learning experiences.  They are not being ‘overlooked’ per se but perhaps the issue is ‘how can we do it well?’

 

REFERENCES:

Jennings, J. (2014). “Teachers re-evaluate value of video games.” Sydney Morning Herald, Retrieved from: http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/teachers-reevaluate-value-of-video-games-20141130-11jw0i.html

Schell, J. (2011). “Playing Games in the Classroom.” Big Think Retrieved from:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bA7KuOyH3PQ

Van Eck, R. (2006).  “Digital Game-Based Learning: It’s Not Just the Digital Natives Who Are Restless….” in EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 41, no. 2 (March/April 2006).  Retrieved from:  http://edergbl.pbworks.com/w/file/fetch/47991237/digital%20game%20based%20learning%202006.pdf