Play in formal settings

As part of my M.ed journey I have just completed a critique on three papers that discuss, from various perspective, digital game based learning. I thought I should share here some post assignment thoughts…

The first paper authored by Van Eck (2006) discusses very enthusiastically, Digital Games Based Learning (DGBL) and how “multiple studies” (p. 18) have consistently found that games promote learning and/or reduce instructional time across multiple disciplines and ages. Comments by the author tell us some of the studies to support these conclusions have included non-digital games: “Although many of these reviews included non-digital games (pre-1980), there is little reason to expect that the medium itself will change the result.” (p. 18). This assumption, confuses the issue of efficacy somewhat. Contemporary views of digital media (including digital games) postulate the medium changes everything (Becker, 2011). Furthermore, Becker advises that studies completed before 1999 may no longer be relevant…because of the quickly changing world of games and digital media. So, even though this paper by Van Eck provides for an engaging and extremely thoughtful read we should resist nodding our heads in full agreement, accepting the claims that are made. Beavis et al. (2014) provides a warning about problems arising “when games are presented as inherently appealing knowledge packages that will generate learning across all student co-horts, regardless of where or when or how they were introduced into a classroom.” (p. 569).

So, what factors do need to be consider then, if we are to move on from the viewpoint that games are inherently appealing and efficacious in promoting learning? As discussed by Arnab, etal.(2012) we need to explore issues such as the pedagogy built into the game itself as well as the context of implementation (which is under change) including the pedagogy utilised in that context . It should be noted that the Arnab paper is very scholarly in tone and not particularly easy to read as it attempts to grapple with the many issues that surround Serious Games including video game pedagogy, 21st century classroom pedagogy as well as design and implementation. The simple wisdom this paper conveys indirectly is that indeed many issues need to be thought of and navigated when designing and implementing games in education.
This paper informs us that game designers are focussing on instilling sound pedagogy into the actual game artefact. This is important to know but the problem with such an approach is that we (educators, game developers, instructional designers…) run the risk of viewing games as learning machines. Arnab describes the field of educational games as adopting a deterministic viewpoint, seeing games as learning machines. I suspect that most educators will know intuitively that context is all important (hopefully) but those outside of the classroom may not.

So, what of context? Beavis et al. provides a paper that reports on an empirical study that aimed to identify the beliefs as well as concerns held by teachers in a games-based learning environment. The authors bring to our attention the idea that problems arise when “digital games are designed for and/or introduced into schools with a limited awareness of the role that context plays in a gaming experience…” (p. 569); as well as when the role of the teacher is not referenced or games are seen as ‘teacher proof”. Contrast this thinking with Van Eck’s outlook that the quality of games is maximised by leaving the design of gameplay up to game designers and the design of learning up to teachers (my italics) (p. 22). Surely, the message that is bubbling to the surface is that educators and game designers need to work together somehow. Beavis’s research work is also important, not just for the results that it presents and discusses, but also for illustrating that teacher voice and the wider context of formal education are extremely important factors to consider in the messy realities of education and game design. This is a message that game designers need to hear. Finally, this research is important as there exists a small potential to provide impetus for the education system to move way from simply allowing much technology to be sold into our classrooms as ‘learning machines’ – with uses unsupported by empirical studies.

Now, what of Play? Digital games bring play into our classrooms don’t they? Games = play? And isn’t that important? While we ponder this, it is interesting to note that of the three papers critiqued, only one grappled directly with the concept of play. Van Eck (2006) wrote:

– play is a primary socialisation mechanism.
– games make use of play as an instructional strategy.
– we have overcome the stigma that games are ‘play’ (Is he correct? And why the negative connotations towards play?).

Is play important? When writing about digital games in the classroom De Grove, Bourgonjon and Van Looy (2012) write directly:

“Since ancient times, there has been a common belief that children learn valuable lessons when they are playing. During play children practice skills and acquire attitudes that are useful for their intellectual, social, emotional and motoric development.” (p. 2023).

Through all the explorations these authors provide of knowledge, pedagogy, improved learning, game design, teacher attitudes… it is heartening to know that somewhere in the mix there is place for play, even if we have not overcome the stigma of games as play.

The three papers…
Arnab, S., Berta, R., Earp, J., De Freitas, S., Popescu, M., Romero, M., … Usart, M. (2012). Framing the adoption of serious games in formal education. Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 10(2), 159-171.

Beavis, C., Rowan, L., Dezuanni, M., McGillivray, C., O’Mara, J., Prestridge, S., … Zagami, J. (2014). Teachers’ beliefs about the possibilities and limitations of digital games in classrooms. E-Learning and Digital Media, 11(6), 569-581.

Van Eck, R. (2006). Digital game-based learning: It’s not just the digital natives who are restless. Educause Review (20), 16-18.

De Grove, F., Bourgonjon, J., & Van Looy, J. (2012). Digital games in the classroom? A contextual approach to teachers’ adoption intention of digital games in formal education. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(6), 2023-2033.

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  1. I enjoyed reading your “wrap up” following our first major assignment Simon. Interesting that so little was mentioned about PLAY in the 3 articles. I agree with you that there is still a stigma attached to games as PLAY. Why do we struggle with allowing time and space for play and creativity into our school timetables and jam pack them with content and outcomes that allow little time for exploration and depth? Why do I feel so guilty personally when I make the time and space to play, when I could be doing other things which are far less appealing (eg. mowing the lawn, cleaning the bathroom, catching up on study or work)? We teach our own children so much through games and play when they are young, and much of the learning in formal early childhood education is based on play. We see research about the creative potential of our children as they enter primary education and how it plummets and plateaus as they move through formal education, with it only beginning to rise again in our working lives; some research suggests that our creativity does not get the opportunity to shine again until we reach retirement years (when we have more time and freedom?)

    Do you think it is the term “PLAY” itself? Is it that people think of play as light and frivolous? And why is that a bad thing? Prensky talks about how the word “GAME” in the past suggested something trivial and easy, whereas to many people today (especially gamers) it suggests something much more complex that can take many hours to complete in a mutually supportive multi-player, collaborative, competitive or co-operative environment. Should we replace it with something else like EXPLORATION instead? (Although that doesn’t sound nearly as fun as PLAY!!) It reminds me of how people struggle with the label “gifted”, with some people saying that we all have gifts and talents, not just a select few. Why does learning have to be thought of as hard work and something we HAVE to do, rather than something that is fun, and something we WANT to do? Why are the ideas of PLAY and LEARNING seen as an either-or conundrum, rather than inclusive of each other?

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    This can look very different depending on the age level of the students. In this section, you will learn about different course management systems that you can use with your students for your digital learning space.

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