Another dot in the blogosphere?

Interesting ≠ effective

Posted on: January 23, 2021

I was not surprised to read this tweet.

The tweet highlighted the main finding of a survey reported in this article:

More than 60 percent of teachers who are using games more often said the games are making learning more interesting for students, while only a quarter of the students playing more games said they make learning more interesting.

The article did not define what game-based learning (GBL) was nor did it give examples. The understanding and implementation of GBL varies from the incentivised gamification of tasks (which is strictly not what GBL encompasses) to full blown immersion and self-direction.

Gamification could include getting points for showing up, completing tasks, and levelling up based on said tasks. These are the low-hanging fruit of “GBL” — they are easy to implement and appeal to teachers and administrators alike because they look good on lesson plans and policy documents.

Game-based learning is a spectrum of structured and quiz-like challenges to freeform and exploratory MMO worlds. Objectives and outcomes vary from being closely standards-based to loose and emergent.

Teachers who are not given any or adequate professional development on GBL might use a layperson’s approach, i.e., use games to motivate and engage. This is the low-hanging fruit of trying to make lessons interesting.

But this a superficial approach that highlights how an interesting lesson is not necessarily an effective one. An expert and researcher on educational gaming, Richard Van Eck highlighted this when he said:

…children value games not necessarily because they’re flashy and entertaining, but because they’re “hard fun”—in other words, it is the thrill of the game’s challenge that keeps students coming back.

He also said:

Incorporating digital games as a tool for engaging students is okay… but if you do so on a superficial level, you’re not tapping into the benefits, like promoting problem solving and critical thinking.

I am not saying that teachers should not try GBL. But I am saying they should know what they are getting into. They should play video games first. Any game will do because the principles are largely the same.

They should also read up on educational GBL and/or attend rigorous professional development on the same. This will provide some structure in terms of educational theory as well as critical and reflective practice on GBL.

To not to any of this and to take, say, a vendor’s word on the wonders of some approved games in content system is to attempt to facilitate GBL blind.

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