Collaboration and Competition:
An invitation to hold a school wide team based serious game design competition
by James Christian Richards
I would like to invite the staff and students of my K-6 Primary School to participate in a school wide team based serious game design competition. The following proposal will explain both the purpose and method of such an endeavor.
The landscape of education has changed. It has come from an industrial style of one size fits all, to a new system that focuses upon developing 21st century skills. This change is happening in varying ways and varying rates across the world, but one method is proving to increase engagement while developing these new skills, Games Based learning. This relevant, modern teaching and learning tool provides the teachers and students of today with a means to develop the skills of collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication, all of which are needed in an ever changing world. One benefit of using a serious game design competition is encouraging the combination of collaboration and competition. The competition will also act as an introduction or spark for the implementation of the National Digital Technologies Curriculum. Finally, ensuring that students create games that are based around real life problems (Serious Games) will both encourage teachers to be involved, while also developing students’ understanding through Problem Based Learning. It is these reasons that will be discussed further that clearly show that the implementation of a serious games design competition would be beneficial.
The landscape of education today
Arnab et al. (2012) describe today’s education system as one that is “under increasing pressure to respond and adapt to rapid technological innovation and associated changes in the way we work and live” (p. 159). The driver for such changes is described by Spector et al. (2010) who suggests that “the modern digital age is characterized by powerful information and communication technologies that can have a significant impact on learning” (p.3). One such change that is influencing the landscape of education today is the immense popularity of games having led to considerable interest in the potential of games to support learning (McFarlane et al, 2002; Francis, 2006; Mehotra et al, 2012).
It is not only the system, but the participants who have changed as well. Prensky (2001) has famously identified the students of today as ‘digital natives’, meaning that they have been raised in a world that abounds with technology that is readily available and is also portable. Further, he goes on to suggest that this fact has changed the way that they learn as well as their disposition. When these students are faced with traditional industrialist classrooms, many students become disengaged. Arnab et al. (2012) mentions that a “strong impetus in this direction is already coming from the recognised need to (re)engage disaffected learners” (p.163). Van Eck (2006) also mentions that “today’s ‘net generation,’ or ‘digital natives’ have become disengaged with traditional instruction” (p.17). A solution to this situation is proposed by Beavis et al. (2014) who mentions that “games can benefit learners who might be disengaged within a typical or traditional classroom context” (p.574). Giving students the autonomy to create these games can take us one step closer to (re)engaging these disaffected learners.
However, it’s not as simple as providing access to technology. Conradi (2015) suggests that “technology isn’t inherently motivational to students, but teachers can employ a variety of strategies that can harness technology to promote student engagement” (p.54). The implementation of a game design competition will involve the challenge of including varied learners and the contexts that they learn within. This challenge that is mentioned by Arnab et al. when they state that “key challenges are the adoption of Serious Games across cultural contexts and ensuring the inclusion of all learners in games based activities” (p.168) and Beavis et al. (2014) who takes on a broader explanation of a similar challenge by stating “sociocultural perspectives on interactions between games, school and learning, foreground ways in which the introduction of games into school contexts is considerably more complex than is sometimes acknowledged” (p.570). These varied sociocultural perspectives of students and also teachers worldwide creates the challenging landscape of education today. Providing an open ended game design challenge is one way to (re)engage these varied and disaffected learners in a future focused, 21st century challenge.
Games Based Learning as a modern learning tool
As proposed in the video above, games based learning develops all four of the 21st century learning skills of communication, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking. It also provides students with deeper conceptual understanding through digital interactions. Thus, digital games have been identified as an effective way to engage students in learning (Gee, 2007). Moreover, while game play may offer significant learning opportunities, educational game construction has been identified as a student-centered constructivist-approach for educational improvement (Baytak and Land, 2011; Caperton, 2010 ; Kafai, 2006). One particular benefit is the need for constant decision making to troubleshoot and solve challenges as they emerge (Akcaoglu & Koehler, 2014; Akcaoglu, 2014, 2016). Games Based Learning also offers the capacity to promote learning procedural knowledge beyond the traditional standards-based declarative knowledge by motivating students with engaging interactions (Shaffer et al., 2004).
Jenkins (2012) supports this positive approach and adds another angle, as he describes video games as a modern art form.
When using this as a learning opportunity, simply analysing (reading or observing) is not enough. It has been suggested that the inclusion of creative thinking with technology tools is critical for 21st century learners (Sternberg, 2012). The ability to ‘create’ that game design provides, expands the learning experience by allowing students to develop and apply all four 21st century skills while also developing higher order thinking ( Hwang, Hung and Chen, 2014), all while building content knowledge that they learn throughout their journey. This is echoed by Resnick (2014) who states that “to thrive, they (students) must learn to design innovative solutions to the unexpected problems that will undoubtedly arise in their lives. Their success and satisfaction will be based on their ability to think and act creatively” (p.13).
Collaboration and Competition
As the games will be created by teams who compete against other teams, a key component to this learning opportunity is the combination of competition and collaboration. “Among the advantages of the competitive approach we may cite: interactivity, collaborative work inside the group, active participation, challenge versus duties, and motivation for the students to explore their own topics” (Burguillo, 2010, p.12). These beneficial advantages are common to the world of gaming, as they form a key motivator within most games. Cagiltay et al.’s (2015) research supports this as they found that “incorporating the gaming element of competition to a game-based learning environment improves learning outcomes and motivation of participants. As a result, game designers should incorporate the element ‘competition’ to the games they create to facilitate learning” (p. 40). There are also many benefits to encouraging the development of collaboration as the benefits involve “supportiveness for partners and increase in helping behaviours. These practices also helped many students overcome their shyness and led to improved participation” (Ciampa, 2014, p.93). This project aims to harness the positive influences of incorporating both competition and collaboration for learning.
Digital Technologies Curriculum
Australian Curriculum and Assessment Reporting Authority (2016). Design and Technologies Curriculum Overview.
The newly developed Design and Technologies Curriculum has a large focus on ‘creating’ via the use of technology. This task will provide staff and students with a hands on experience of this and provide a springboard into the implementation of this curriculum when it becomes compulsory in NSW schools in the not so distant future. In particular this will address the Design and Technologies strand, in which students use design thinking and technologies to generate and produce designed solutions for authentic needs and opportunities.
A common misconception about the use of games based learning is the potential to waste time having fun, leaving a lack of syllabus content covered. Despite there being many benefits in ludic (play) based activities, teachers want to cover syllabus outcomes. To help overcome this and encourage teachers to become involved in the project, while also linking the project to relevant learning outcomes, the inclusion of ‘serious games’ is incorporated. “Serious games are digital games designed for purposes other than pure entertainment. This category includes educational games but it also includes a great deal more” (Becker, 2011). In order to provide an authentic learning experience, students are directed to discover a common community problem/issue that must be solved within all participants’ games. Possible ideas include: climate change, saving locally endangered species, transport congestion etc. This could be grade or stage specific, depending upon the unit being taught. This will allow teachers to integrate this project within other Key Learning Areas.
Feedback Loop. Retrieved from: https://classteaching.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/feedbackloop.jpg
The program will involve two main players. The teachers and the students. The final critical link between the two is feedback.
Teaching staff will play a key role in this project as with any Games Based Learning project. Midoro (2005) and UNESCO (2011) mention that the best teacher traits for successful Games Based Learning are competent instructional designers, strong team players, critical self-analysers, confident risk-takers and path-finding innovators pedagogically open to new ways of approaching the curriculum and tailoring classes assisted by technology. To encourage teachers to share these traits and develop confidence, a structured approach will be provided. This will allow them to best help the students.
Teachers can choose from a variety of roles including, but not limited to:
- Becoming a team coach who motivates students to be thoughtful, engaged participants.
- Teach the core lessons provided to give all students a base understanding of how to design and develop games.
- Timetable opportunities for students to develop games and provide support and direction during these lessons.
- Review games and provide feedback.
- Organise the final game festival.
Students will have a number of key core lessons taught to them about the basics of game design. This will either be through the classroom teacher or during lunch time sessions. From here students will develop their games either in class time, during lunch times, or in their own time. They will need to organise a team leader and delegate roles such as, but not limited to; game designer, artistic/visual designer, audio designer, programmer, scriptwriter and tester. As a team they will create their game and submit it at the conclusion of the competition.
Along the way, students will be encouraged to post drafts of their games for peer feedback, allowing students to learn from each other. This will culminate with a school wide game festival, during which peer feedback will be collected to determine the winners of various categories (eg. Best Game Play, Best Graphics, Best Solution to a Serious Problem) of the design competition.
Students will be introduced to the basics using the following games designed to teach game mechanics:
(Click the images to access the learning games)
Zecher, A (2007) Understanding Games: Episode 1,2,3 & 4
The next phase will involve introducing the basic concepts of how to design games. Numerous platforms can be used, one free and popular option is Scratch. There are numerous tutorials available online. The following provides an example of where to start.
From here other concepts can be taught such as incorporating sound, using a narrative structure, creative visuals, loops, scoring, user feedback etc.
Once the students have a basic understanding of the key game design concepts, the rules of the competition can be shared and time dedicated to teamwork and design. Through testing within the team and peer feedback from other teams and teachers, the games will be developed into their final video game ready for submission.
In conclusion, the landscape of education is changing and Games Based Learning provides a “first step towards challenging the nature of schooling” (Lim, 2008, p.1003). A game design competition is one of the many alternatives that schools can consider when educating students for the 21st century. It helps students to develop all four 21st century skills in an environment that finds the balance between competition and collaboration.The incorporation of ‘serious games’ gives added purpose, while providing a spark for the introduction of the new Digital Technologies Curriculum.
Australian Curriculum and Assessment Reporting Authority (February, 2016). Design and Technologies Curriculum Overview. [Video File]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EqKrw0UZrk
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