Digital games are most definitely still being overlooked in ‘digital education’ reform

 

I’ve been working in higher education for many years and I can honestly say that I don’t recall ever having encountered any form of game-based learning. Several years ago, as a challenge to myself, I created a guided, digital crossword puzzle but that was predicated on the students already knowing the answers. In other words, it didn’t involve the students learning by doing or learning from doing. In order to complete the puzzle, the students simply needed to know the answer to the question or the missing word.

As a professional educator, I’ve been hearing about game-based learning for some years. The 2011 Higher Ed Edition of the annual NMC Horizon Report predicted that game-based learning would gain widespread usage within two to three years, however that hasn’t really eventuated. I suspect there has been piecemeal takeup in secondary education but I’m struggling to think of a credible example of game-based learning in higher education that I’ve heard about through my Personal Learning Network (PLN).

In 2013 I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Jeffrey Brand from Bond University. Professor Brand has developed a career exploring the cognitive and behavioural effects of electronic media on young audiences and has been known to hold classes in Minecraft.

As highlighted by Josh Jennings in his excellent article titled Teachers re-evaluate value of video games, in Australia at least, there are distinct barriers to the widespread adoption of game-based learning. In particular, there’s a definite cultural barrier in the sense that many educators still think of playing games as time-wasting. In their view, students don’t play games to learn. They play games to avoid doing what they should be doing which is their homework.

Having read Jane McGonigal’s provocative book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, I’m convinced there’s a place for game-based learning in higher education. I’m just not sure what that place will look like. Plus I think the jury is still out on the effectiveness (or otherwise) of game-based learning as an instructional strategy to engage students in higher education. As per the article, I think we need more longitudinal studies on the subject.

In fact, apart from the fact that I’m keen to learn more about game-based learning, my main reason for doing this particular subject is that I hope to be able to influence my peers both now and in the future to seriously consider game-based learning as a legitimate, sustainable instructional strategy.

For game-based learning to have any chance of succeeding we need to encourage innovative teaching practice. We need educators who are prepared to take risks both face-to-face and online in the hope that by doing so they will be able to engage their students and improve student outcomes.

References

Jennings, J. (2014, November 30). Teachers re-evaluate value of video games. In The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/teachers-reevaluate-value-of-video-games-20141130-11jw0i.html

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world. Penguin.