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Constrained ideas in game-based learning

Posted on: January 7, 2017

 
Why do some consultants, designers, and teachers constrain video game-based learning to old or current practices?

That was the question I asked myself when I read this article, Gaming in the classroom: what we can learn from Pokémon Go technology.

The piece offered what seems to be some good ideas on how to leverage on gaming. The examples were:

  • whole-class discussions of how the movement of tectonic plates has affected GPS readings in Australia (science, geography, English)
  • photographing both real insects and virtual Pokémon and then writing up Pokédex entries for the insects they have collected (science, media studies, ICT, English, art)
  • designing classification flowcharts for Pokémon as a lead-up to classification of animals (science, English, maths)
  • assigning students the job of Pokéstop tour guide (Pokéstops are often positioned in front of historical locations), requiring them to research and report on the history of the area (history, art, English)
  • framing maths problems around the data available for each Pokémon such as height, weight and strength. For example, if I have 3,700 stardust, what combination of Pokémon can I power up that will use up all my stardust? Or Asha’s house is 600m from school. The only time she plays Pokémon Go is as she walks to and from school every day. How many days will it take her to hatch a 5.0km egg?

The ideas are better than what some teachers I know would come up with. But teachers tend to teach the way they were taught and constrain gaming to current constructs and practices of curriculum.

One construct is discrete units or silos like separate academic subjects and the subtopics within. Gaming tends to transcend this by being cross and multidisciplinary.

One practice is repetition by way of drilling simply because “this was how I was taught”. This was why drill-and-practice dominated early educational “games” and are still common today. Some refer to this practice as serving chocolate-covered broccoli.

Another traditional construct and practice is class or curriculum time. Specifically how tasks need to be completed like a checklist in class and within tight curriculum time. What falls through is then called homework and extra classes. Gaming happens any time, all the time, or on-demand.

The shortcut is simply this: Teachers bend games to the will of curriculum and distort what could be very powerful game-based learning into game-incentivised teaching.

To change teaching, the teacher needs to learn to behave like the learner-gamer by exploring, experimenting, and experiencing. The bad news is that there are no shortcuts. The good news is that gaming is fun.

The article was not without its merits. The best part was this:

the general capability priorities such as critical and creative thinking, personal and social capability and, of course, ICT, could also be taught using Pokémon Go as students manage their school and social lives, build relationships with others, work effectively in teams and make responsible decisions.

As this game is not played from behind closed doors, it even encourages conversations about personal safety. Discussions about the intersection between reality and the virtual world and digital etiquette are easy to imagine.

The constructs and practices to draw from the paragraphs is that game-based learning should be authentic, context-based, relevant to the learner, and transferable. Such ideas are not constrained by the baggage of schooling.

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