Guilt free Gaming:

Are you ready to adopt game based learning in your classroom?

by Nicole Hexter


 “Games can be the part of the lesson that gets kids excited about ideas and teaches them the fundamental concepts while teachers make the knowledge meaningful” (Extra Credits, 2014).

GBL is where game play is used with the intention of teaching you how to do something. As students are playing, they are learning without really thinking about it, therefore retaining the information for use in real world situations (Hexter, 2017a [1]). 21st century skills can’t be learnt by rote, a memorisation technique based on repetition – they can only be learnt by experience. One of the biggest misunderstandings about games is that they don’t teach anything and it is assumed that there is no value in this experience (Miller, 2012).

Trundle (as cited in Jennings, 2014) states that games are being used in the classroom to create diverse learning experiences. Students playing games at school are critiquing them as texts, they create their own worlds within a games such as Minecraft, they are drawing on their analytical skills to review the experience of participating in games and many are learning through the experience of advancing through obstacles commercial off the shelf (COTS) and educational games throw at them. They must learn things and master them because if they don’t, they don’t progress beyond the first level of the game.

Books, movies and television are all about their content. Games have content, but they are not about content. They are about doing, making decisions, solving problems and interacting (Gee, as cited in Steinkuehler, Squire and Barab, 2012). When you read a book, the experience is the same, regardless of who is the reader. There is no deviation to the story. When playing a game however, no two experiences are the same. The player is responsible for their journey through the story and this gives them a sense of agency when involved in game play. They make things happen and they feel that their actions and decisions, co-create the world they are in and shape the experiences they are having (Gee, 2003). Games can also be used to develop a more socially inclusive classroom. Every time a student plays a game they obtain different snippets of information, hence the different experiences. Not only personal differences, but theirs compared to their peers. These differences provide a point of collaboration between students and means that when they are engaged in game play again, they may negotiate a different path. Read more about the ‘socially inclusive classroom’ here [2].

“If we know learning outside of school matters a great deal to the kid’s ability to learn inside school, we have to pay attention to that” (Katie Salen, Edutopia, 2013).

Gee (2013) is interested in how good video games create effective learning. He highlights three categories in which the thirteen good learning principles that games use to hook people on learning. These are considered good practice in situation learning to what is experienced while playing games. The categories are empowered learners; problem based learning and deep understanding. Listen to Paul Gee explain it in his own words in the video below or view an interpretation titled ‘Trends in Digital Games and Game Based Learning’ here (Hexter, 2017b) [3].


Although Whitton’s (2009) writing is in the context of higher education, the information regarding the models of integration are still relevant to the secondary school classroom. School days are confined by bells, 45 minutes apart, breaking the day into seven sessions. The maximum consecutive time during the day with a class is 90 minutes, therefore when integrating GBL into the classroom, consideration needs to be given on how it will it be introduced:

  • for a single session only – least intrusive, using a single teaching session to cover particular learning outcome for that session.
  • over multiple sessions – where the game is used as a direct replacement for two or more teaching sessions.
  • as an optional activity – during recess or lunch, or at the end of each session when the set work is complete.
  • as an embedded game – the most time consuming and involves embedding a game completely within the curriculum and making it the focus for teaching.
  • as a mixed reality game – how amazing would it be to be able to create your own game to combine real-world and online challenges to provide an engaging, interactive and fun experience for all WITHIN your own school boundary?

The game design must have a flexible structure that enables the teacher, who is the game mediator and guides the flow of actions, to adjust the game to the actual participation of the students in the classroom (Villalta, Gajardo, Nussbaum, Andreu, Echeverria & Plass, 2011), therefore in choosing single or multiple session integration, the learning within the game must be efficient. The game must be played in meaningful sections that can be chunked into the time available and it must be played long enough for flow experiences. Experiences which require total concentration so that students become deeply and effortlessly involved (immersed) in the game, so much so that outside distractions are minimised (Csikszentmihalyi, 2004[4]). For a more detailed explanation of the models of integration above and the ten defining characteristics below, please click here.

Finding the right game is the next challenge and in choosing a game, it is important that the learning curve for being able to use the game itself is not too steep or this will detract from the benefits of the game in the first place. Villalta et al (2011, p2043-2047) highlight a range of important factors to success in incorporating GBL, and can be used as a useful checklist:

  • game progression – indicate how the game should evolve as the players’ progress.
  • clear narrative – games should be linked to a narrative or literary script that gives continuity to its activities.
  • content – curricular content must be embedded in the game’s functioning mechanics so that the game’s success is conditional to understanding its content.
  • gradual increase in difficulty – assists in maintaining students’ motivation to develop a certain ability or knowledge.
  • the teacher as mediator during the game – games do not guarantee learning unless they have the teacher as a main guide to the students’ cognitive development (Ke, as cited in Villalta et al, p2044)
  • mechanics linked to collaboration – interaction among the students and between the students and the game itself. Collaboration must be embedded into the game so that its success is conditional to having worked collaboratively.
  • on-screen information – how all the elements of the game are displayed, in such a way as to reduce the students’ cognitive overload.
  • recognisable elements – characters and objects on the screen must have distinctive traits that capture the players’ attention and can be customised (avatars)
  • accessible language – the text on the screen must have a clear message, be concise and easy to read.
  • action guide – systematic design that includes the educational and ludic aspects that might take place both in the virtual world and the real world.


Introducing GBL into the classroom, as with introducing anything new, there are going to be potential barriers that need to be addressed.

Teacher attitudes identifying themselves as non-gamers

Asking teachers their thoughts about GBL in the classroom without any prior knowledge of what GBL is could be a recipe for disaster as Dr Beavis relates to on the project, Serious Play: Using Digital Games in School to Promote Literacy and Learning in the 21st Century. Dr Beavis (as cited in Jennings, 2014) states:

“There is potential for things to go seriously wrong if the current enthusiasm for games based learning leads to the introduction of games in the classroom without knowing more about how they actually affect learning, values and understandings”.

It is also likely that teacher’s hold a number of preconceived attitudes about the positive (and negative) roles games can play in education and these views are derived from other media, such as television and print rather than firsthand experience – hence many teachers identifying themselves as non-gamers.

It is therefore imperative for teachers to afford the time to delve into the games they which to introduce to their classes, prior to implementation, and put themselves in the role of a learner (the student). Teachers also need to be comfortable with the possibility that their students might have a greater expertise in playing the game (Freitas, 2011[5]) and be willing to move from a passive teacher centred learning environment to an active student centred learning environment where the students also support the learning of others (Anderson, TEDx Talks, 2012).

“Video Games cannot replace a teacher or a curriculum, but judicious use of the appropriate games can complement an educational program” (Ashinoff, 2014, p3)

Given the teachers lack of experience, expertise and confidence, adequate professional development is required to ensure the success of implementing GBL. Teachers will need to be guided to resources that will help them understand how to implement GBL in meaningful ways and to ensure that focus is placed on the educational value of the game.

Parent perceptions / acceptance

Rules parents have in the home with regard to their child playing games have a profound impact on how they perceive games in the context of learning (Bourgonjon, 2011). Some parents feel less knowledgeable about games than television or other media given their own lack of personal gaming experience and or willingness to try out any new technology. This also makes it difficult for them to monitor game play and exposure to inappropriate content (Kutner, Olson, Warner & Hertzog, 2008).

Parents could also be in the generation who believe that games are simply a toy and nothing of real substance could be gained from them (Ashinoff, 2014), therefore when a child comes home of an evening and completes their homework, all parents may see is their child simply ‘playing games’ and wasting time on their iPads, and one would imagine many arguments around the reason why they should allowed to ‘play’ such games. Should teachers incorporate GBL in the classroom, it would be intended that the students take this learning outside of the classroom and into the home, therefore it is imperative that parents are also educated about GBL and given the tools and resources necessary to be actively involved in their child’s learning. When parents can accept that video games foster learning opportunities, like experimenting with knowledge, they adopt a more positive attitude toward the use of video games in the classroom (Bourgonjon, 2011).

Accessibility/Technical issues

Whitton (2009) highlights the importance of considering the range of accessibility issues that students may have with digital games for learning. It is therefore necessary to consider how a game would be inaccessible to someone if:

  • it is all based on pictures – visual impairment.
  • there is no alternate way to deal with sounds – hearing impairment
  • specific keystroke or touch combinations are required – mobility impairment
  • there are large amounts of text that need to be read onscreen – cognitive disability

Thinking about accessibility will help make sure that students with a range of disabilities will be able to use and be included in the learning experience (Whitton, 2009).

In order to extend GBL beyond the classroom, it would be crucial to ensure that all games aren’t reliant on internet connectivity. It would be negligent to assume that all students have access to a wifi network in the home, let alone enough monthly data allowance to be installing apps and downloading data from servers. Firewalls and filtering within the school environment could also pose potential risks in not having games work as they should in the school environment.


Games have a significant potential as a pedagogical tool and in order to begin to explore this potential, the common preconceptions about what games are and their value must be explored (Ashinoff, 2014). Teachers and parents need to have a clear understanding of what GBL is and how it is going to benefit the learning process. Students also need to be provided with a clear rationale for why the game is being used and why it is the best option for learning in this context. Setting ground rules for communication (eg what is appropriate etiquette?) and collaboration (eg what is collaboration and what is cheating?) is extremely important. This chapter has provided the literature behind GBL and teachers should be encouraged to explore this further. So teachers, guilt free gaming – are you ready to explore the benefits of game based learning in your classroom?


[1] Only accessible with CSU credentials

[2] Only accessible with CSU credentials

[3] Only accessible with CSU credentials

[4] Not available online

[5] Not available as a hyperlink due to restricted access


Ashinoff, B. (2014). The potential of video games as a pedagogical tool. Frontiers in Psychology, (5), Article 1109. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01109

Bourgonjon, J. (2011). Parental acceptance of digital game-based learningComputers & Education, (1), 1434-1444. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2010.12.012

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2004). Creator of the flow theory. Lego Learning Institute.

Edutopia. (2013, July 30). Katie Salen on the Power of Game-Based Learning (Big Thinkers Series) [Video file]. Retrieved from

Extra Credits. (2014, May 14). Extra Credits – How Games Prepare You for Life – Education: 21st Century Skills [Video file]. Retrieved from

Freitas, S., &  Maharg, P. (2011). Constructions of games, teachers and young people in formal learning, Chapter 8 in S. Freitas & P. Maharg, Digital games and learning (pp, 176-199)

Gee, J. (2003). What Videogames Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gee, J. [Josep Ramon Badia Albanell]. (2013, November 29). 13 Principles of Game based Learning Gee [Video file]. Retrieved from:

Hexter, N. (2017a). Blog Task #1 (Take Two) – Are digital games being overlooked in ‘digital education’ reform?. [Blog] INF541. Available at:  [Accessed 23 May. 2017].

Hexter, N. (2017b). Trends in digital games and game based learning. [Blog] INF541. Available at:  [Accessed 26 May. 2017].

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

Kutner, L. Olson, C. Warner, D. Hertzog, S. (2008). Parents’ and Sons’ Perspectives on Video Game Play. Journal of Adolescent Research, 23(1), 76-96. doi: 10.1177/0743558407310721

Miller, A. (2012). Game-Based Learning to Teach and Assess 21st Century Skills. Retrieved from

Steinkuehler, C., Squire, K., & Barab, S. A. (2012). Games, learning, and society: learning and meaning in the digital age. New York, NY; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

TEDx Talks. (2012, April 24). Classroom Game Design: Paul Anderson at TEDxBozeman [Video file]. Retrieved from

Villalta, M., Gajardo, I., Nussbaum, M., Andreu, J. J., Echeverría, A., & Plass, J. L. (2011).
Design guidelines for classroom multiplayer presential games (CMPG)Computers & Education, 57(3), 2039–2053. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2011.05.003

Whitton, N (2009). Learning with digital Games : A practical guide to engaging students in higher education. New York: Routledge.

Part 3: Invitation

Part 3: Invitation

Inviting organisations, systems or workplaces to meet, respond & adopt the challenge of game-based learning.

In this section:

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