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Posts Tagged ‘game-based learning

It is sometimes said that the most difficult learners to teach are teachers. As a teacher educator, I should know.

Most people would say this is because teachers are adult learners. But for me, the only difference between andragogy and pedagogy is that adult learners have more life experiences.

Experience is a double-edged sword. It can be used to cut apart every new experience that comes their way. But it can also provide rich context for new seeds to take root.

I have been conducting game-based learning experiences for the last seven years. I rely on off-the-shelf and mobile games to facilitate topics such as:

  • self-directed learning
  • collaborative learning
  • change management principles
  • game-based learning

While the topics are different, I use exactly the same games and the same five or six learning stations. I walk the talk that you can teach just about anything with just about any game. A tool might define a task, but it is the tool master that determines what it does.

That said, I have noticed different behaviours among the many groups of people I have tried to influence (teachers, managers, leaders; folks from schools, institutes of higher education, military, private sector).

The group I just worked with was an interesting bunch. This was a group of teachers from one school who have been identified as change agents. They are a mix of classroom teachers, managers, and leaders. I am hoping to work with them later in their school to effect change.

They were with me for the last three weeks to experience ICT-mediated change management principles. I used games as a context for change and a shared experience from which to extract change management principles.

After the first session, I noticed that the teachers who arrived earlier than their colleagues would start playing games at the stations without being told to or even without permission. I was not miffed, of course, because that is one things games do: They pull people in, and as a result, participants learn something whether they want to or not!

One week, I heard one participant tell his peers that he looked for a few of the games online and played them on his own time. The school is paying me for my services, but you cannot really pay for that kind of response.

I take offense at people who are dismissive of activities that are “all just fun and games”. Learning can and should be fun. But fun does not mean that it is easy. Ask any of my workshop or course participants and they will tell you I put them through mental and emotional wringers!

Games are a natural extension of learning and to dismiss our nature is to deny powerful opportunities to teach and learn.

One of my favourite quotes is: We do not stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing. It has been attributed to a variety of famous men: Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Lee, and Bernard Shaw.

No matter who said it, it is something I believe in. It keeps me mentally fresh and open to change. I do not just think about change, I live and breathe it. People see that and I think it is infectious. That is why I believe that important things cannot really be taught. They must be caught.

Mention video game-based learning (vGBL) to someone and look into their eyes. Some eyes will roll, some will glaze over, some will dart about, and some will widen.

The eyes that roll or glaze over belong to the skeptics or the uninformed. The eyes that dart about may belong to those who have some idea what vGBL is and they might be thinking about vGBL concepts or issues.

The eyes that widen in surprise typically belong to parents; the eyes that widen in excitement belong to their kids.

Karl Kapp curated what is arguably a few of the best current videos by leading names on game-based learning. I embed one here on Quest to Learn.


Video source

An even better resource is Kapp’s article in Learning Solutions magazine that was a rebuttal to someone who wrote an earlier article that “games don’t teach”.

I think that these two resources go some way in educating various stakeholders on the benefits of vGBL if they are open enough to contemplate them. When they do, the mindset of games as a waste of time might eventually become a quaint belief system that is best left in the early years of the 21st century.

In an inservice teacher course I offer to middle managers, I help participants uncover principles of change management by relying on the flipped classroom and video game-based learning (vGBL).

But I have discovered that we can only do so much over so little time. So I am thinking of offering two more electives. Here are two possible blurbs…

Flipped classrooms for middle managers in schools

The flipped classroom is not a new concept. However, it has recently gained some traction in classrooms across the globe because of new possibilities afforded by rapidly evolving technologies. Proponents of flipped classrooms cite increased learner engagement, more timely feedback, and deeper learning due to better use of learner time. But these outcomes are not guaranteed. Participants of this module will uncover theoretical principles of effective classroom flipping and balance these with the rich body of pragmatic advice offered by classroom flippers worldwide. As this module targets middle leaders, an emphasis will be placed on planning and implementing flipped classrooms at cohort level or school level.

Video game-based learning (vGBL) for the middle manager

The 2012 Horizon Report (K-12 edition) highlights game-based learning as a trend that will become more common in education in the next two to three years. However, vGBL is poorly understood and even more poorly implemented. For example, common perceptions about vGBL include using games for low level drill-and-practice, focusing on content-only learning, and that vGBL requires elaborate gaming setups. Participants of this immersive module will uncover principles of effective design and implementation of video game-based lessons as well as emerging issues on vGBL. They may also discover how to augment traditional instruction with game-based strategies. As this module targets middle leaders, an emphasis will be placed on planning and implementing vGBL at cohort level or school level.

When I read Why Games Don’t Teach, I had three immediate reactions.

My first reaction was that it was titled to provoke and provoke it did. The comments it drew from informed readers added real value to the article.

My second reaction was: They do not teach in the traditional sense. The third was: Of course games do not teach. Teachers do.

Attempts to disqualify games, especially well-designed ones, as poor analogues of teaching might be poorly informed.

Ask a gamer what s/he learns after (not during) a gaming session and you might be surprised what they learn.

They learn more after the experience and not during because they are given the time and space to reflect. The gamers’ examples of what they learn might not be about academic content. Instead, they might cite a new skill, an alternative source of information, or a new perspective.

The teacher must design the experience and seed or draw out the learning from the gamer. If s/he does not do this, the game does not teach and neither does the teacher.

So games teach? I am convinced that the answer is yes, but not in the way you might expect and in more ways than you can imagine.

A few weeks ago I shared how I started playing Clash of Clans with my son on our iPads. I reflected on some learning opportunities then. I have a few more now that I have played the game thoroughly.

One thing I do not really like about the game is that a much stronger village of warriors can attack mine and decimate it. But this is an opportunity to analyze my defensive strategies. I have reconfigured my village several times as a result.

As my son and I shared the same experiences, this gave me an opportunity to discuss the term “underdog“. I asked him if he knew what it meant. Initially he just pictured a smaller dog under a larger dog!

Then we talked about how we were able to successfully defend against strong attacks by being smarter. My son may not have the life experience of being an underdog, but he can now relate to what it feels like to be one (perspective-taking) and how to overcome problems (strategic thinking).

Speaking of strategic thinking, the game now provides instant video replays of how someone successfully or unsuccessfully attacked my village. I can also visit someone else’s village to see how they lay things out. These process artefacts provide insights into an opponent’s strategies and give me the opportunity to reflect critically.

When someone attacks me, I can take revenge by tapping on a button. Like all other games, we learn from failed attempts to defend or attack. The failures do not demoralize and instead motivate us to do better. The element of competition and even the need to get even drive us forward.

I can also form a clan with other players. My son and I formed an exclusive clan and we provide warriors for each other so that our armies are stronger in attack or defence. We have to anticipate what the attacking or defensive needs are, build our own capacity, and request what we need from each other. Sounds like 21st century work to me!

Whether we defend or attack, we have to analyze a stronghold for weaknesses. This is an opportunity to do gap analysis. We then attempt to fill that gap or exploit it.

I could wait for life to deliver its lessons to my son, but I am not waiting. I play mobile video games with him and together we visit life lessons in a fun and non-threatening way.


Video source

Oliver Quinlan, the creator of this YouTube video, titled it Learning From Games. His slide deck and a few notes are here.

In the video and slides, Quinlan provided content on four main points:

  1. Game-based learning
  2. Game-centred learning
  3. Gamification
  4. Game creation

There was lots of good stuff in the video. I particularly enjoyed the example of Howard-Jones’ work (2011). According to that study, the most activity in the brain occurs when there is only a 50% chance for success. However, in schooling, there is an 87% chance for getting rewards. Games designed with lower success rates are actually more appealing and generate the most brain activity than schooling!

If I had to nit-pick, I would argue that we do not just learn FROM games, but also WITH games. Learning from something has an old-school, delivery-oriented feel to it. Learning with games implies a dynamism between player, game, and related content that is more typical of off-the-shelf games.

I do not know any academic or well-informed individual who can read the claims of most experimental (or quasi-experimental) studies and agree wholeheartedly with them. Typically in these studies, one factor is withheld from one group but applied in another.

I am a proponent of game-based learning approaches, but I cannot help but process this study with some skepticism.

Here is a study in a nutshell:

The study examined student attention and engagement during 8 lesson cycles. CES is a K-5 public school with self-contained classrooms. The experimental group participated in a technology lesson that used digital games as its method of delivery or practice for the students. The control group participated in a technology lesson that utilized an alternative learning strategy. The alternative learning strategies selected for comparison with Digital Game-Based Learning (DGBL) included: a) carousel brainstorming, b) team webbing, c) concept attainment, d) jigsaw, e) learning stations, and f) roundtable. These alternative learning strategies were interactive, stimulating, and engaging for students. Research data was captured in the form of student observations and post-trial student surveys. Both groups were taught the same technology and content objectives utilizing varying instructional strategies.

The study concluded that:

Digital Game-Based Learning… groups showed more student engagement and time on task behavior than the alternative strategies. However, several trials did demonstrate that the alternative strategies produced more lesson engagement and a higher time-on-task group average than DGBL.

In terms of research design, the researcher did not indicate if intact classes were used. One is left to assume this was the case. The researcher also did not mention if the same teacher conducted both classes. If this factor was not controlled, then it could have impacted the results.

In most experimental studies where humans are subjects, there are confounding variables or other variables you cannot control like learner preferences, prior exposure to gaming, learner expectations, etc.

Classroom observations provide snapshot at best. Gaming is a lifestyle. Students learn with games even when they are out of class. So while the study opted to focus on what happened in class, the reality is that one cannot control for this factor.

The researcher might argue that it was what happened only in class that mattered and sought to determine if DGBL was a viable strategy. Staying on task and being engaged certainly contribute to learning, but he did not report if learning actually took place.

Instead, the focus seemed to be DGBL as an instructional strategy. But teachers teaching does not guarantee that learners are learning.

I would predict that if the results were analyzed statistically, there would be no or little difference between treatments. In other words, GBL is no less effective than other strategies, or better but not statistically so.

The question then is not whether to use GBL, but when to employ it.


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