Game Based Learning – Game On!

I’m a gamer at heart. Have been since Dad bought home a brand new Apple Mac IIe sometime in the late 80’s. I played everything from Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, to Oregon Trail, to Lemmings, to the original Prince of Persia, and haven’t stopped since. After high-school I took a tumble into World of Warcraft and spent a good (read: very good) amount of time in Azeroth. I was in a serious raiding guild, even. I’ve since moved away from the MMORPG scene and am enjoying my PS4. I’ve just finished playing The Last of Us, which was a brilliant, captivating story and enjoy pwning n00bs via epic headshotz in Battlefield 4.

I’m also an educator, passionate about leveraging the affordances of the digital age for good learning.

Naturally then, I have come to this most recent paper in my Masters programme, “Game Based Learning”. Here is where my current thinking is at regarding gaming and education and it’s challenges and opportunities…

Games have the ability to be platforms for great learning or platforms for mindless consumption. I’m not saying that mindless consumption is a bad thing – I do it all the time, but only at home after a hard days work and when the 2 year old is asleep. School is for learning and challenging and growing the skills, knowledge, and dispositions people need for an increasingly digital future-world. Games are risky, perhaps, at school, because game-design is based on elements which immerse the gamer into the game world, keeping them wired in and playing. Educators need to be careful, critical, and judicious when selecting how to best use games for good, solid, helpful learning.

You can ham-fistedly, haphazardly introduce games into the classroom without considering their effect. Much like app selection, it’s important to choose games with a critical eye. Is this just fluffy, round the edges learning, or will the experience of the game truly bring about deeper understandings and authentic learning. Is the game a skill and drill game (which has it’s place) or a sandbox game? Games such as Minecraft and apps such as Explain Everything are powerful platforms where students can be flexing their creative muscles and producing innovative, personality-filled learning, for example.

But where might games fit? The technology is here, the will is here, but if we are mandated by the Government to be focusing heavily on reading, writing and maths, and being judged by the public and the Ministry on our reading, writing, and maths data in league tables and such, is there room for the judicious use of games? I certainly hope so, but can’t quite see how they might fit together just yet.

It’s my intention in this paper to find where the two may meet – gaming and traditional school stuff we have to do.

There is the other side of the coin here too – building the skills, knowledge, and mindset a programmer / creator of games requires. This is amazing, authentic learning, so rich in both skill development and dispositional development. To have students growing up understanding the world around them is created and create-able by themselves, not just there to be consumed, is powerful learning.

I’m also interested in this lingering notion that gaming is for socially-inept weirdos. I’ve felt it myself when explaining to people how I spent a few hours playing a certain game on the weekend. They don’t quite get it. The only people I can really talk with about gaming is my 7 – 11 year old students! What cultural, social pressures would gaming in a classroom face? Quite a hefty amount, I presume.

So that’s where my current thinking is at regarding gaming in education. A slight inch of sceptiscism which I’m finding odd considering my years and years of gaming experience, but mostly curiosity and interest and a true desire to find out how games could fit into the multitude of other competing considerations which swirl around schools. I’m really looking forward to exploring these challenging questions further.

Game on!

3 thoughts on “Game Based Learning – Game On!

  1. I like your comment about the nature of political education right now. Increased governance of schools and on-going negative political swipes at schools and teachers is a hidden issue for reforming classroom cultures. Arguably, the post modernist ideology that inhabits much of game culture (which itself is connected to the arts) rubs against a long running claim from ‘media education’ scholars that media in schools is limited, political and homogenous. This began with attempts to introduce film and television into schooling and continues today.

    As to game development, I agree, there is an industry growing up around games, much of which is replacing and reforming older forms (even so called Web2.0) example Twitch.TV over YouTube. Games are often mentioned in curriculum documents, but never really expanded upon in any detail.

    To me this is an opportunity. Perhaps not using WoW, but certainly to talk about Clash of Clans, Minecraft etc., in kid-culture and bring the essential jou and pleasure of play into learning designs. Whether one declares a classroom to be “game based learning” or something else such as “blended learning” really is a stealth move for many. Great post.

  2. Great post Matt. I’m enjoying reading posts about this subject from people who describe themselves as “gamers”.

    I agree that a big challenge for us is to try to determine the place of digital games, particularly video games, in educational settings. It’s a challenge for teachers to find the balance between “being in control” of the types of learning experiences you would like your students to be involved with, while at the same time “letting go” so that children can take more personal responsibility for their learning, and tailor it to suit their particular learning needs. Using digital games for learning in classrooms shares this tension between control and freedom. I agree with you that educators do need to be judicious in their selection of digital games that they make use of to develop “good, solid, helpful learning”, while also being open to the idea that the learning they may hope for may NOT be achieved, while other learning they didn’t plan for may be.

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