Games and socially inclusive classrooms.

Ingress digital badges

Ingress digital badges

At the moment I am actively playing Ingress. This is an augmented reality massively multiplayer online role playing GPS-dependent game. Playing Ingress is a load of fun and I am hooked in by the many challenges that this game offers. Its not just the game itself but the concept that many people in my local community are playing, as well as others on a truly global scale. I don’t know how long I will persist with Ingress but at the moment I am very engrossed by the sense of community while learning how to play the game.

While I play ingress, I am thinking about a perspective put forward by Gee (2005) that good games incorporate learning principles that I see as being highly relevant to 21st century pedagogy. These principles as per Gee’s perspective are worth listing, as they sound like a list of words to describe a good learning space such as a classroom rather than a a game. Games and learning, who would have thought!

Gee's viewpoint of good games

Gee’s viewpoint of good games

Please view Gee’s 2005 paper Good video games and good learning for a full explanation of each learning principle. My point is that this author sees in games some very valuable principles of learning – and therefore presumably views games as important spaces for learning. To accept such a point of view some of us may need to swim against the loud narrative present in online popular media that, more often than not, brings to our screen discussions on the detrimental effect of games. However, as educators we know that positive commentary is fairly easy to find, for example via a simple search of the twitter hashtag #gbl. Mind you, some of these positive viewpoints often come from corporations selling their wares not just enthusiastic educators or gamers who are reporting on their experiences. So, in popular media a tension arises when exploring the use of games in education. Professionally, I am finding this tension is eased via an exploration of more scholarly articles as such informed commentary is bringing to the fore a more positive and hopefully unbiased outlook, as typified by Gee (2005).

If we accept games as a positive place of learning, typified by the above principles of learning:

How might games be used to develop a more socially inclusive classroom or workplace using Gee’s viewpoint?

I would like to suggest two strategies, one easy and one more difficult.

Strategy 1: Use games in the classroom. Easy!

Games are fun and are known to build inclusive spaces. Certainly I have used games quite effectively in my classrooms. By effective, I mean they assisted with the building of a positive learning space. For example, during 20014 I taught a class that was heavily disengaged but any type of game playing would awaken their enthusiasm. Soccer and basketball were a hit but so was very regular use of mindcraft and other iPad games. Some professional educators will question such an approach with raised eyebrows, demanding more meaningful learning. However, at this stage of my own professional journey I am hanging onto the idea that games help to create inclusive classrooms where social learning takes place. In some contexts such learning is overlooked, to the detriment of our students.

Strategy 2: Redesign learning spaces both digital and physical. Difficult!

Games should perhaps be viewed as digital learning spaces that have been designed with the intent of engaging all participants. As I am learning, games such as Ingress have been designed to be extremely socially inclusive – this game is played by millions of people on a global scale. According to Gee (2005) they are also designed around good theories of learning and can engage deep learning. Hence these online collaborative spaces may be used as a point of reflection to aid us in redesigning not just pedagogy but also the digital and physical learning spaces where we teach. The idea is to start challenging how we teach in unison with explorations of built pedagogy with the aim of designing more socially inclusive spaces.

Professionally, I also think we need to move on from what Gee (2004) calls a ‘content fetish‘. Perhaps teaching and learning with games will take us down that vital path as current curriculum in Australia (that’s my context) are so fixated with content it’s no wonder most kids get overwhelmed and bored.

In summary games may be used as a tool to help us evaluate and re-design 21st century learning environments – with socially inclusive pedagogies in mind. Game designers appear to be doing it, so perhaps educators can too.


Gee, J. P. (2004). Situated language and learning: A critique of traditional schooling. Psychology Press.

Gee, J.P. (2005). Good video games and good learning. Phi Kappa Phi Forum, 85(2), 33-37.

Gee, J. P. (2005). What would a state of the art instructional video game look like. Innovate: Journal of Online Education, 1(6), 159.

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Digital Games Overlooked in Education?

“Life is more fun if you play games.”
― Roald Dahl, My Uncle Oswald

“Young learners today have the world at their fingertips in ways that were unimaginable just a generation ago.” (Ito et al, 2012). However, as is also pointed out in this paper – even though well supported learners are using social, interactive and online media to assist their learning there exists a “widening chasm between the progressive use of social media outside the classroom, and the no frills offerings of most public schools…” (Ito, 2012, p. 8).

I would like to suggest that these reflections are also applicable to the use of Games Based Learning in formal education – as another example of an interactive media that may have potential use in the education. My professional observations suggest a wide chasm between how secondary students of today communicate and interact socially with technology compared to how they currently use it in the classroom. I have taught in the secondary sector of education for over a decade – mostly in classrooms where students work on BYODs . Technology has flooded into these classrooms – but certainly not game based learning. Is this surprising since gaming is a digital literacy that many students have developed? Perhaps the influx of games into classrooms has not happened because teachers such as myself, feel ill-equipped about deploying games in our classrooms (Turkay, Hoffman, Kinzer, Chantes & Vicari, 2014).

John Seely Brown asks us to reflect on schools of the future by asking “What will schools, universities and research institutes look like in five years time?” (DML Research Hub, 2012) This question is followed by the bold statement “If they look the same as now, we got problems.” I often reflect professionally on these words as I sense that change in classroom pedagogies is imperative. However we need to acknowledge that reform in education is slow (Bekker, 2011) even though some educators are very willing to experiment with their practise. Such innovation is discussed by Jennings (2011) in the newspaper article Teachers re-evaluate value of video games. A reading of this publication would suggest that classrooms of the future will not look the same in five years time. A big question to ask is will they function the same? Will pedagogies be any different. Should the pedagogies be any different different? In the context of 21st Century education will we witness informed use of Game Based Learning?

While discussing Games Based Learning, Jennings show cases the work of Rebecca Martin at North Fitzroy Primary School and her active use of Minecraft in a formal educational setting. This is an exciting initiative but comes with a caveat that “schools still have a way to go before they can harness the full educational potential of video games.” Digital game technology is developing at a furious pace but relatively little scholarly work exists on the use of modern digital games for education (Becker, 2011). The lack of scholarly work need not suggest that games based learning has been overlooked but beginning readings for this subject hint at resistance to their introduction. Those working in education should not be surprised that a medium “as demanding of interaction as games should be met with resistance by those who have been entrained to sit quietly and pay attention” (Becker, 2011). Is this the only reason why the introduction of gbl into formal education has been slow?

I need to declare that on a professional level my current knowledge and understanding of game-based learning is limited. I have utilised Minecraft and other games in the classroom setting but not with any significant connections to curriculum. I enjoy the use of these games -as they can can be fun and very student centred – which is, I suspect, a good reason to bring any game into the classroom. Digital games support a positive and collaborative ethos in the classroom. Maybe this positive ethos that is created springs from the power of social groups -as mentioned by Turkay et al (2015). I also allow myself to join in with and learn from my students – which is in itself very professionally rewarding. Im my experience games have a strong ability to break down many class hierarchies. However, this unit of study is introducing myself and my study peers to serious games – those designed for purposes other than just entertainment including pure educational games (Becker, 2011). This, I need to know more about as I do not have a strong professional position on the use of game based learning in education.

As quoted by Jennings (2014) Daniel Donahoo states “the educational effects of video games are diverse and complex, and can be applied to assist learning in ways other tools – such as text books – can’t. Donahoo clarifies for us “It’s actually the culture and community that’s built around the games, and that’s what people don’t realise. Thus I am challenging myself to develop an understanding of the educational nuances and benefits of game based learning in a formal educational setting – and therefore empower myself further as a 21st Century educator capable of supporting participatory pedagogies.

Please gift me with your thoughts by leaving a comment.


Becker, K. (2011). Distinctions between games and learning: A review of current literature on games in education. In Gaming and Simulations: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools and Applications (pp. 75-107). Hershey, PA

DMLResearchHub. (2012,Sept 18). The global one schoolhouse: John Seely Brown [Video file]. Retrieved from

Ito, M., Gutiérrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J., Salen, K., Schor, J., Sefton-Green, J. and Watkins, C. (2013) Connected learning: an agenda for research and design. Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, Irvine, CA, USA.

Jennings, J (2014) Teachers re-evaluate value of video games. Retrieved from

Turkay, S., Hoffman, D., Kinzer, C. K., Chantes, P., & Vicari, C. (2015). Toward understanding the potential of games for learning: Learning theory, game design characteristics, and situating video games in classrooms. Computers in the Schools, 31(1-2), 2–22.

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