Exploring the sustainability of GBL in the secondary context: an environmental scan

Exploring the sustainability of GBL in the secondary context:

An environmental scan

by Jordan Grant


In recent years, it has been suggested that game-based learning (GBL) should be adopted into the educational setting (NHR, 2014, p.38). Since then, schooling institutions have been implementing it with varying degrees of success. This chapter will consist of an environmental scan of a secondary school in regional Victoria, Australia that will aim to respond to the overarching question: is the school’s current use of GBL effective? To do this, the opinions of staff, students and parents/guardians will be explored.


Located within a town with a population of 14, 672 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017), where two other major secondary schools exist in close proximity, the subject of the case study has seventy teaching staff and student population of 965 (St. Joseph’s College, 2017). Many within this student population take public transport to school from neighbouring communities that reside as far as eighty kilometers away. The school’s acceptance of the importance of technology education is reflected in it’s early move to adopt one to one laptops in 2010 when macbook pros were introduced (St. Joseph’s College, 2010, p. 4). Recent years, staff turnover has risen leading to an unfamiliarity with the school’s professional development on ICT use (St. Joseph’s College, 2017).

Data Sources and Findings

This scan drew from four major sources of both internal and external data. This section will identify the source then explain its main findings.

Teaching Staff Survey: GBL in my School

Thirty-five teachers have been surveyed in an attempt to track their opinions on GBL. Here, questions ranged from their attitudes towards using GBL in class and what current ways that it was utilised. Grant (2017a) notes that the results demonstrated a belief that games could be used to meet learning objectives (para. 1). The majority of teachers at the school also believed that the games played by students needed to be strongly related to the curriculum or used to break a lesson to provide fun and engagement as opposed to targeting twenty-first century skills (Grant b, 2017). When asked about the pedagogical underpinnings of the games they used, teachers indicated that 42.9 % used Explorative/ Inquiry, 31.4 % used Skill and Drill, 14.3% used other, 5.7 used pragmatic (simulations) and 5.7 used playful games (Grant, 2017b). This somewhat contradicts the examples listed in a previous question where teachers were asked to identify the games they were using. Grant (2017a) pointed out that explorative/inquiry games  were minimally drawn upon. The survey was also able to provide teachers with an opportunity to express their concerns about GBL. Grant (2017a) identified that the main themes within these concerns were: “teacher PD, distractions, not real learning, too much screen time, supportive/positive and no real world application”.

Student Survey: GBL in my School

A second survey examined students opinions about GBL and how it’s been used at their school. Similar to the staff survey, questions range from exploring their general attitude towards games to identifying their perception of how teaching staff use gaming. Eighty-four students were able to respond to the questions and the majority indicated that they believed that games could be a source for both learning and motivation (Grant, 2017c, para. 1). It was of interest to note that students were not sure if teachers use games to address the curriculum. 36.9% of responses agreed that they did while 33.3% remained neutral and 29.8 disagreed that teachers mainly used games to address the curriculum (Grant, 2017d). The student results, by a small majority (54.7%) implied that teachers mainly used games to break up a lesson or provide fun and engagement. The survey also indicated that students were uncertain about teachers’ using games to teach 21st century skills. The majority (38.1%) indicating feeling neutral on this question while another sizable cluster (35.7%) felt teachers were in fact targeting this. When students were asked about their favourite games to play in class, Grant (2017c) noted that Kahoot was largely named as the top choice of game but the majority seemed to be computer off the shelf games that may not have been played during class time.

2016 School Improvement Survey

The school’s ‘2016 School Improvement Survey’ is acknowledged as a “highly reliable and valid tool for assessing the strengths, challenges and opportunities for improvement” (Insight SRC, 2016, p. 3). This external survey has helped extract general attitudes from all stakeholders; students, staff and parents. Although the questions posed were not specific to GBL, they speak to the aforementioned groups’ perceptions of engaging practice, stimulating learning and student motivation; all elements that are impacted by the inclusion or removal of games in the classroom. The following three graphs highlight this information.

Figure 1. 2016 school climate - actual scores (Insight SRC, 2016, p. 26).

Figure 1. 2016 school climate – actual scores (Insight SRC, 2016, p. 26).

Placing them in the 63 percentile, the data generated indicated that teaching staff felt fairly positively about the diversity of learning activities and discussion. This ranked the school within the middle 50% of Victorian secondary schools (Insight SRC, 2016, p. 26). The educators’ opinions on student motivation also placed them within that middle segment of secondary schools in the 45% percentile (Insight SRC, 2016, p. 26).

Figure 2. 2016 student attitudes to school - actual scores (Insight SRC, 2016, p. 27).

Figure 2. 2016 student attitudes to school – actual scores (Insight SRC, 2016, p. 27).

The schools’ students stimulated learning result (42%) ranked them in the middle 50% of Victorian secondary schools and indicated that they felt teachers were doing a satisfactory job at making learning stimulating and enjoyable but much more could be done to improve this (Insight SRC, 2016, p. 27). In terms of student motivation, the school scored in the lower 25% of Victorian secondary schools. This indicates that motivation is a pivotal issue which should be addressed (Insight SRC, 2016, p. 27).

Figure 3. 2016 parents attitudes to school - actual scores (Insight SRC, 2016, p. 28).

Figure 3. 2016 parents attitudes to school – actual scores (Insight SRC, 2016, p. 28).

Parents of children at the school believe children are generally stimulated by their learning. Their perceptions placed them in the middle 50% of Victorian secondary schools with a 62 percentage (Insight SRC, 2016, p. 28). Similar to the teacher’s opinion of student motivation, parent’s view ranks them in the middle group of secondary schools and see the children reasonably interesting in attending school (Insight SRC, 2016, p. 28).

Pivot Professional Learning Survey

This is a student based survey which is used to inform goals for teachers (Pivot Professional Learning, 2017). Although questions here do not specifically target GBL, the results offer insight into student engagement as well as the students’ perception of the teachers use of technology. When asked if “this class keeps my attention,” students indicated that they were engaged with school average of 3.5/5 (Pivot Professional Learning, 2017). The survey results also indicated that students felt strongly that their teacher “made their class interesting” with an average school score of 3.7/5 (Pivot Professional Learning, 2017). Results also indicated (3.9/5) that students were confident in their teachers’ use of technology to improve learning (Pivot Professional Learning, 2017).


Of the material generated from the survey results, several areas emerged as pertinent to the discussion.

The survey results indicated that the school has already implemented GBL to a certain extent. There are widespread examples of teachers using it for varied purposes (Grant, 2017a). By contrasting the survey results of both students and teachers, it becomes apparent that the teachers intended use, largely did not match the examples of games from the curriculum that they cited (Grant, 2017a; 2017c). For example, teachers were only able to identify five exploration/inquiry based games they used in classes despite their survey results indicating that 42.9% of the games they generally used carried this pedagogical underpinning. Compounding this was the students’ uncertainty of if teachers were mainly using the games to address the curriculum with a response of 36.9% (Grant, 2017d). This inconsistency within the results indicates that the teachers’ implementation of GBL at this school is questionable in terms of effectiveness.

Research has already identified the paramount role of the educator (Hattie, 2012) and honed in on the GBL classroom where there is also widespread agreement (Dickey, 2015; Huizenga, ten Dam, Voogt, & Admiraal, 2017) of their importance. Bourgonjon et al. (2013) reiterated this pointing out that the pivotal factor within success of a GBL program was “the degree to which teachers consider video games to be relevant for their educational practice”(p. 24). The Teaching Staff Survey data indicated a trend that teachers viewed GBL as not actual learning. This was evident in the teachers’ responses to the concerns question where some articulated positions insinuating “that the game over-rides the learning” or “that it would distract them from the actual topic or task at hand (Grant, 2017b). Without the correct teacher mindset, GBL will struggle to be effective within classrooms, its success or failure is “closely tied to the way teachers think about games including what they believe can or cannot be achieved with games and how they believe games should or should not be used” (Beavis et al, 2014, p. 570).

When focusing on the mindset of the teaching staff and their actions in implementing the games, it’s interesting to note that 97% of our teachers believe GBL helps foster learning but  77.1% do not play games themselves (Grant, 2017b). This may be problematic as the “pedagogical approach to learning inside games, requires the teacher or instructor to have knowledge of the game’s environment and characteristics”(Hutchings-Mangion, 2017, para. 8). Expanding on this, Jabbar & Felicia (2016) assert that “teacher-designers need to thoroughly understand how pupils relate to their peers, their environments and a variety and different levels of learning resources, materials and activities”(p. 100). Despite this strong recommendation, there is no actual consensus in terms of advocating teachers’ level of knowledge and ability of gaming on this issue. Gerber & Price (2013) identify that “by drawing upon their experiences with literacy, literature, and learning theories, teachers can effectively create units of study that use video games as both a central piece of the unit, as well as a supplemental piece”(p. 59). Therefore, it remains unclear if the teacher’s lack of experience with video games in this school has an impact on their ability to develop and effective curriculum that utilises GBL.

What is clear, is that the type of adoption within the school is limited in terms curriculum development. This is based on the aforementioned inconsistencies present in both student and teacher responses. Furthermore, while it was evident from exploring the teacher survey data that a cluster of teachers utilised games that linked strongly to the curriculum, there was another portion (68.8%)  that agreed that they mainly use games simply as a means to break up a lesson and for fun and engagement (Grant, 2017b). These were reflected in the quiz style games identified by teachers in the survey (Grant, 2017b). The concerns section of the teacher survey data also indicated that educators were worried about linking games to the curriculum and noted that “finding games that specifically target skill areas in course” (Grant, 2017b). These teachers are not alone; academics are still working to perfect a model of GBL adoption. Although not complete, Caldwell et al.(2017) recently proposed a framework that allows educators to work through design choices they must make when employing GBL (p.642). These include: instructional time, technology platform, gameplay location, group size, relationship to instruction, game genre, games selection criteria and student product (p.643). What’s missing, according to de Freitas and Oliver (2006) is reflection upon the knowledge system that help with the transfer of learning”(p. 252). Even though there is a lack of clarity in terms of the best practice, taking the time to work through these considerations is seminal. By choosing to use games in a simple form to break up a lesson (such as ‘Kahoot’ as indicated within teacher survey results), educators may be missing opportunities for deeper GBL practice that are embedded within the curriculum that can enable noteworthy results (Van Eck, 2015). De Freitas & Oliver (2006) also suggest that teachers begin by asking questions surrounding which game fits best with the learning context, the pedagogical activities that relate to learning activities and the the validity of the game’s use (p.251). Without putting thought into these design considerations, GBL will not be effective.

The ‘2016 School Improvement Survey’ and Pivot Professional Learning Survey’s’ data raised an interesting question in regard to student motivation. While the Pivot data was relatively positive, placing student engagement and motivation at satisfactory levels for the school, the School Improvement Survey data contrasted this and revealed that students saw their motivation amongst the lowest 25% of secondary schools in Victoria. It’s widely held that GBL has a positive effect on student motivation (Kebritchi, Hirumi & Bai, 2010; Woo, 2013; Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, 2011). So the question emerging from this data is how can student motivation be so low if GBL is being utilised effectively? Jabbar & Felicia’s (2016) argument that pupils become engaged with the game depending on “how interesting, meaningful and challenging the materials, resources and activities are perceived by them” (p. 99) attacks this provocation. If many of the teachers are only trivially using it to break up a lesson and not supporting the game with resources, the kind of motivation indicated in the aforementioned studies will inconsequential.


It is recommended that:

  • The school adopt a more strategic approach to GBL. Shenniger argues that “a culture needs to be built first where an initial shared vision is created (2016, vii). In order for this to occur, Kotter’s eight step process for leading change should be adopted (Kotter International, n.d.). This Prezi demonstrates how this school could employ the model.
  • The school must support teachers in building a better understanding around GBL through professional learning as recommended by Beavis et al. (2014). This Padlet is a starting point for teachers initial research.
  • Promulgate models and frameworks that showcase the pedagogical underpinnings of games in order to help ensure teachers select games for the right reasons. O’Brien (2011) and Caldwald et al. (2017) are strong starting points for this. Thorkild Hanghøj (2013) also vital in showing teachers the shifting role of the GBL educator.
  • Engage parents in the conversation. Bourgonjon (2010) reveals they are often left out of the conversation but play an important role “when they accept that video games foster learn opportunities”(p.1440).


While the survey on GBL did not incorporate the entire staff or student population, a wide enough representation was addressed in order to to gain an understanding of GBL’s current use in the institution. The external surveys (2016 School Improvement and Pivot Professional Learning) also provided meaningful revelations into the motivation and engagement of the school’s parents, students and staff.

The use of GBL at this institution has been varied. Some educators have been have making efforts to embed gaming effectively into their classrooms while others view it as not actual learning. Greater care should be taken in the planning and implementation of GBL programs at the school. Although definitely not the only factor, low student motivation may be attributed to the ineffectiveness of GBL at the school.

Holistically, the school’s use of GBL is in need of reevaluation and redeveloped.


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Part 2: Provocation

Part 2: Provocation

Case studies, environmental scans, situational analysis, or other activities that illustrate games-based learning in action.

In this section:

Master of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation) developed by the
School of Information StudiesCharles Sturt University, 2017.
Charles Sturt University
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