GBL – The Green Light for Enlightenment

Investigating the potential of games based learning (GBL) for education has resulted in a range of valuable experiences to assist with their development and implementation. Developing GBL activities is challenging because of the need to align the contents of games to the curriculum. Implementing GBL is also challenging because of the need to diagnostically, formatively and summatively assess the value that has been added to student learning opportunities and the associated teaching programs. After learning more about why formal education environments have been slow to adapt GBL technologies in mainstream classrooms (Hocknull, 2015a), motivation for pursuing these technologies was not hard to find because of the increasing ubiquity and popularity of video games in our society as seen in the rise of activities such as eSports (Stockwell and McVeigh, 2015).


Research into developing GBL activities involved a critical analysis and evaluation about the nature of video game characteristics. This involved a consideration about the debate and slow adoption of GBL in formal school environments because of characteristics such as violence and associated issues of problem use (Bourgonjon, et. al., 2011). This debate has made it difficult for teachers who are passionate about digital technologies to utilise the affordances of GBL as well as complementary technologies such as Web 2.0 applications (Baek, 2008). Participatory communities are using video games and Web 2.0 technologies to communicate in creatively sophisticated ways with transmedia content that demonstrates high levels of information literacy.


A significant development in my approaches toward GBL have occurred after investigating the nature of compulsive behaviours that result from the characteristic of uncertainty in video games (Hocknull, 2015b; Hocknull, 2015c). Opportunities to research Csikszentmihalyi’s (2014) psychological concept of flow (finding a balance between game challenge and the player’s skill levels) in relation to GBL resulted in a deeper knowledge about features of challenge in video games such as uncertainty. Costikyan (cited in Game Design Conference, 2014) suggests that challenge in games is necessary to maintain enjoyment and that uncertainty is a significant aspect of this characteristic. When developing or choosing GBL activities for the classroom, an understanding of the characteristics of flow can assist in balancing features of the game by making it fun and align it with curriculum content.


Further research about implementing GBL focused on the important relationship between play, games and learning. Re- purposing lesson activities using GBL needs to consider the concept of flow in play and games to make lessons fun, however, an equal amount of concern needs to be given to aligning game content with curriculum outcomes for learning (Hocknull, 2015d). One of the most important affordances of GBL in this context are the affordances of these technologies to make learning fun and to also provide opportunities that are relevant to the 21st C skills that students need in information fluency. A balanced approach to GBL needs to consider Jenkins’ evaluation of transmedia and participatory cultures and how they are developing communities of practice that add considerable value to our society (Jenkins, cited in Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2012).


Designing, choosing and implementing GBL is a challenge because the future developments and social acceptance of these valuable and popular technologies are uncertain. The course has been fun because of this uncertainty and it has allowed me an opportunity to set goals that are out of my comfort zone in relation to knowledge and skills. I look forward to developing an OpenSim server and providing GBL platforms for school communities as well as choosing appropriate commercial games to be aligned with curriculum content. Hopefully games will not be a distraction in the classroom (like the Ingress HiSec messages I keep getting while trying to do this blog) and instead be a leveller for our world and source of creativity for diverse cultures.




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Gaming classroom information systems

Education activities with video games can now utilise a wide range of information systems to construct meaningful knowledge and help develop communication skills that are needed for collaborative online environments. Simulation and virtual environments can also provide learners with spaces where they can develop strategies to assist their learning through immersive game activities designed by educators to address learning outcomes. Video game information systems and virtual environments can be used to impart, reinforce and assess content by allowing students to play, using trial and error techniques. Importantly, virtual learning spaces can also be used by educators to develop information behaviours for learners so that they are able to approach problem solving activities more strategically and achieve a state of ‘flow’ that results in more engagement and deeper learning.

Liu, Cheng and Huang (2011) have demonstrated that strategic approaches toward problem solving activities in gaming environments are evident in students who use ‘learn by example’ techniques and they are therefore more likely to achieve a state of ‘flow’ (Csikszentmihalyi, 2014) that results in deeper learning. St Pierre (2011) argues that gaming creates environments where learning behaviours such as trial and error can be utilised through feedback information systems, however, simulation environments that include information systems where tutorials can provide instant expert feedback create affordances for learners to instead ‘learn by example’. Students who develop the skill of attaining knowledge through ‘learning by example’ in gaming environments are often more successful in their learning activities and also demonstrate that they have high levels of information literacy because they are more strategic in their approach (Adams, 2009).

Jones (1997) suggests that the design of educational video games needs to consider learners’ stage of cognitive development because to achieve a state of ‘flow’ and achieve deeper learning outcomes the difficulty level of an activity needs to match the learner’s skill level. The design characteristic of ‘flow’ is a complex area of modern gaming information systems because of the immersive affordances of player interfaces or dashboards that learners can customise and receive feedback on their performance (Seely Brown cited in ecorner, 2010). MMORPG gamers in World of Warcraft demonstrate high levels of information literacy by creating ‘mashups’ of their dashboard that can in turn be self and peer assessed using social media websites such as Twitch (twitch, 2014). Adams (2009) argues that these types of information behaviours are evident in other MMO games such as CoH where constructivist approaches toward knowledge and skill development enhance meaning making and deeper learning. While it is common for some high end guild WOW players to spend up to 20 hrs a week training using these gaming informations systems and constructivist approaches, more competitive eSports players spend up to 8 hrs a day collaborating and using the game informations systems to prepare for Counterstrike tournaments (Stockwell and McVeigh, 2015).

The design of, or customisation of COTS video games for learning has a history of social constructivist design goals that have sought to develop information literacy behaviours in players (Filipczak, 1997). The adaptation of COTS games such as DOOM (Filipczak, 1997) and WOW (Sheehy, 2008; 2009; 2014) have been shown to help learners develop problem solving skills that are closely related to information literacy behaviours (Robson and Robinson, 2013; Markey and Leeder, 2011). While the violent nature of MMORPGs such as WOW are a concern for young people’s learning environments, there is a need to recognise that they are a popular and potentially constructive, positive social experience because they enhance meaning making through the creation of social capital (Steinkuehler and Williams, 2006) and social identity (Stets and Burke, 2000).

The collaborative bridging of social capital through collaborative gameplay in MMORPGs can lead to the formation of new identities based on the player’s affiliation with their character’s gameworld. Gameworlds can involve a complex environment with many formal and informal social rules (lores) such as those seen in the WOW’s kingdom of Stormwind or Azeroth (TSGamer, 2013). Educators need to employ social constructivist pedagogical approaches toward game choice or design for classroom learning activities because there are a range of player types whose social and gaming identities have been socially constructed and this can affect their motivation (Mena, 2012). Educators should also seek to create designed experiences for learners that consider the psychological structures of video games such as Counterstrike (Westwood and Griffiths, 2010) and either adapt or create new games that address the individual needs of learners (Quick, 2013).




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An uncertain future: The exciting world of GBL

Effective digital game media provide an enjoyable experience for the player while also achieving the goals of the designer. Enjoyment and goal achievement are broad areas of game design characteristics that are useful to study separately, however their characteristics often overlap. An example of enjoyment and goal achievement overlap is found in games based learning (GBL) theories related to psychology such as flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 2004; 2014; Chen, 2007) and the zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978; Levykh, 2008). Competent levels of knowledge and understanding about enjoyment and goal achievement can allow educators to modify existing popular COTS games to address learning outcomes that were not necessarily part of the game designers’ goals (Sheehy, 2014; Villalta et. al., 2011).

It is important for educators to understand the psychology behind game enjoyment because they need to distinguish compulsive behaviour (pleasure) from skill development (happiness) and relate these concepts to play and games (Piaget, 2013; Vygotsky, 1967; Malaby, 2007). Modern research also suggests that playing computer games can increase the growth of the brain (Gong et. al, 2015; Reid, 2015; Kuszewski, 2011) thereby offering explanation as to why play is intrinsically fun and healthy. Game designers have sought to develop frameworks to create and assess game characteristics that increase enjoyment through play (Villalta et. al., 2011).

Introducing the element of uncertainty in a game is a design characteristic that has demonstrated effective results in motivating players toward the completion of goals (Ozcelik, Cagiltay and Ozcelik, 2013; Game Design Conference, 2012). The specific level of uncertainty in game activities has also been more accurately linked to compulsive or addictive behaviours (Sapolsky, 2003 and cited in ForaTV, 2011;). Sapolsky (cited in ForaTV, 2011) also argues convincingly that uncertainty is a powerful neurobiological motivator for ‘goal directed behaviours that would not occur without the associated extra dopamine releases caused by specified levels of uncertainty’. Such game characteristics are a focus of interest for contemporary game designers in the areas of gamification where effort and motivation are closely linked with rewards (Hoge, 2013; Sousa, 2014; Romero & Usart 2012; Paul, 2009; Richter, Raban & Rafaeli, 2015; Schell, 2010).

Costikyan (cited in Game Design Conference, 2012; 2014) specifies game design principles such as narrative, fantasy and gameplay development as contexts to create uncertainty and anticipation as a characteristic of enjoyment. Costikyan further explains that player performance (physical and mental) is a main feature of video game uncertainty that engages participants within the game narrative and those associated rules (Costikyan, 2000; and cited in Game Design Conference, 2012). Dickey (2007) suggests that uncertainty is a key element of massively multiplayer online role-playing games’ (MMORPGs) ability to motivate players toward the completion of goals and challenges. Commercial off the shelf games (COTS) such as World of Warcraft (a MMORPG) have been selected by early adopters such Sheehy (2008; 2009; 2014) who have developed a range of associated GBL curriculum resources for teachers.

The popularity of games has resulted in their recognition in mainstream media as valid cultural artefacts in our society (Paul, 2008) and commercial marketing approaches have sought to promote customer loyalty through the use of gamification concepts (Richter, Raban and Rafaeli, 2015). Opposition to the use of gamification for commercial purposes has resulted from the perceived use of (or abuse of) game characteristics and their effect on the brain (Marczewski, 2015) for commercial purposes (Bogost, 2012, 2015). Further concern about the often violent nature of game narratives (Muñoz, and El-Hani, 2012) such as those present in World of Warcraft where players have been encouraged to carry out ‘raids’ also need to be addressed in relation to enjoyment and goal achievement vs ethical use in educational settings (St James, 2014).

GBL has an exciting future because the affordances of modern technologies and game design theories for education environments is developing at an increasing pace. Wearable technologies that utilise GBL web applications which in turn have been designed with characteristics that increase enjoyment and address learning goals have exciting potential for the development of knowledge and skills in learners. If educators can select or create GBL resources for existing or future COTS games so that curriculum is addressed and problems associated with games are avoided, our society may move in a creative and responsible direction for future generations.




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Video Game Behaviour and Education Practices

Blog Task #2: How might game playing behaviour influence or inform education practices?


The integration of digital games based learning (GBL) resources and activities in education environments should consider psychological aspects of learners’ experiences. A more detailed knowledge of the psychological effects that video games have on learners can assist in the creation of quality GBL resources and pedagogically sound activities that encourage and motivate learning as well as avoiding the potentially harmful effects of gaming addiction. King, Delfabbro and Griffiths (2010) have identified a range of positive and negative aspects related to video game technologies in a new taxonomy that is beneficial for approaches to GBL teaching and learning because it assists in analysing the psychological effects of video games in the classroom. Research into GBL has intensified in recent years with the results of longitudinal studies and subsequent efforts to apply consistent evaluation frameworks toward the technical, cultural and social aspects of educational games (Mayer et. al., 2014; Escudeiro and Escudeiro, 2012). King, Delfabbro and Griffiths (2010) argue that their taxonomy can assist in the development of further research into video game structures that have affordances for increased cultural and social awareness into the psychology of video games in the classroom.

GBL researchers such as Prensky (2005) and Gee (2005) have consistently advocated the value of video games in education, yet de Freitas and Maharg (2011) highlight the difficulties experienced by educators in their adoption. A significant barrier to classroom integration has been the fear of negative experiences associated with excessive use of video games and King, Delfabbro and Griffiths (2010) argue that this is because of structural similarities with gambling machines. Gee (2005) identifies the important similarities that problem based strategies inherent in children’s video games have with psychological studies on thinking and learning. These socio- cultural psychological theories are also being used to help develop video games known as serious games (SG) that are designed to educate people in an ethical approach to their roles as global citizens (McGonical, 2011).

The technological affordance of ‘just in time’ (Gee, 2005) feedback in educational video games has been identified by King, Delfabbro and Griffiths (2010) to be one of the most important features of enjoyment experienced by players of games. Escudeiro and Escudeiro (2012) suggest that their Quality Evaluation Framework (QEF) and the implementation of Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment (Liu, Agrawal, Sarkar and Chen, 2009; Bellotti et. al., 2013) as they relate to measurement factors of game psychology can help to measure and ensure the quality of educational games. The most significant aspect of motivating game players’ participation is attaining a state of ‘flow’ and is defined by a balance between game challenge and player abilities or skill (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997; Chen, 2007; Koepp, et. al., 1998; Prensky, 2001, 2002, 2005) (Images 1 and 2). Escudeiro and Escudeiro (2012) argue that in serious games a state of flow can be achieved through the use of strategic initiatives and the development of sophisticated knowledge needed for higher order thinking tasks in serious games (Image 3). In this way a new paradigm can be theorised that seeks to balance video game behaviour and education practices.

Challenging learners who can utilise GBL resources and activities at a variety of social levels is consistent with the current cultural popularity of video games in mainstream society. King, Delfabbro and Griffiths have made a valuable contribution to the more specific areas of psychological research in the overall efforts to develop a consistent academic framework to an evaluation of video games for teaching and learning.




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

The use of digital games in education has been a topic of scholarly research, discussion and debate since Prensky’s works on Digital Natives (2001) and Digital Game- Based Learning (2003). Despite Prensky’s convincing arguments in 2001 about the need for educators to embrace the potential of video games, most have had only recent, if any, experience in implementing such tools in the classroom. Despite this lack of integration and associated lack of research into the use of digital games in the classroom, it is not clear that these tools have been completely ‘overlooked’. Recent developments in web 2.0 technologies and the adoption of open source platforms have arguably resulted in an explosion of gaming applications for various pedagogical environments.

The associated academic research into digital game applications for education has focused on their pedagogical integration into the classroom (Hainey, Connolly, Boyle, Azadegan, Wilson, Razak and Gray, 2014; Big Think, 2011; Extra Credits, 2014). The gamification of online learning resources like MOODLE Learning Management System courses can increase student motivation and provide a vehicle for learners to develop their knowledge and skills in an engaging way (iTeachWithMoodle, 2013; Nevers, 2013). More subject specific content can be focused on with courses utilising ‘Serious Games’ to help motivate students in the development of course knowledge and skills (Apperley and Beavis, 2011) and literacy/ digital (Beavis, 1998).

Jennings (2014) highlights the relevant nature of digital games not only for students but also for teachers who are challenged with integrating technologies into the classroom. Modern digital games such as Minecraft (or the free Minetest equivalent) have a range of affordances that relate closely to the NSW Quality Teaching model (NSW Department of Education and Training [NSW DET], 2006) because they can promote higher order thinking and increased significance for digital natives (Turkay, Hoffman, Kinzer, Chantes and Vicari, 2014; de Freitas and Maharg, 2011; Miller, 2012).

Ifenthaler (2010) and Miller (2012) suggest that games are part of a new global culture that teenagers are participating in through collaborative critical thinking. Developments in the ubiquitous nature of collaborative gaming design are evident in the active co- creation of culturally meaningful and significant video games such as Never Alone (Williams, 2014; Matheson, 2015). Gee (2003) and Williamson (2009, 2013) argue that games have a significant role to play in the development of education curriculum and that gaming technologies can sustainably facilitate the co- creation of curriculum by learners and policy makers for a sustainable future.

It is in this globalised context of gaming development that teachers in NSW need to utilise the motivational opportunities of video games in the classroom and their affordances to address the Quality Teaching model (NSW DET, 2006) by making learning more relevant and significant in students’ education. In Music lessons that focus on outcomes related to duration the video game Guitar Hero has provided a valuable context for students master their individual skills as well as collaborate and help each other with the game’s challenges. Knowledge about note lengths and rhythm that can take much longer to present and explain with traditional instruments and activities has been fun and enjoyable with the Guitar Hero video game. Challenging uncertainties will need to be faced when utilising the affordances of such video games that are marketed in our globalised corporate world toward children. Children ‘look up’ to their heros and these cultural factors will need to be balanced carefully when explaining and justifying the pedagogical usefulness of Guitar Hero.

Guitar Hero

Guitar Hero



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