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Posts Tagged ‘game-based learning

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.


Video source

Tom Chatfield outlined seven ways video games engage the brain. You need to fast forward to the 8min 40sec mark before any of the seven are mentioned!

  1. Having experience bars for measuring progress
  2. Offering multiple long and short-term gains
  3. Rewarding effort
  4. Providing feedback that is rapid, frequent and clear
  5. Including elements of uncertainty
  6. Creating windows of enhanced attention
  7. Interacting with other people

I am still coming down from the high I got from presenting at TEDxYouthSingapore yesterday. I’ll reflect on that later.

In the meantime, I discovered a TED video via a tweet:

The proper URL to Gabe Zichermann’s TED talk is here and I have embedded the YouTube video below.


Video source

The benefits of games in education was something I left out of my own TED talk because I had to tell my own story and also because the likes of Zichermann and Jane McGonigal tell much better stories about this topic.

FAIL by Sixth Lie, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  Sixth Lie 

One of the things that invariably emerges from any video game-based learning session I facilitate is the importance of failure in gaming.

In traditional instruction and testing, failure is demoralizing and even stigmatizing (if you are labelled stupid).

A consequence of traditional instruction is something like this: If you fail to learn, you learn to fail. If you do not do as your teacher (or tuition teacher) says, you do not learn short-term formulas to exam-oriented success.

When you do not make the grade, this happens: If you learn to fail, you fail to learn. You lose motivation and believe that you cannot change your label.

However, under most gaming circumstances, failure to achieve success the first time round motivates the gamer to try again and again. The gamer learns from his/her mistakes, or in the case of social gaming, from the mistakes of others.

Here is what makes game-based learning meaningful and powerful:

  • the context, problem or test is provided first
  • the task is just out of reach, i.e., difficult but not impossibly so
  • information required is typically provided just-in-time instead of just-in-case or the gamer seeks the information as needed
  • the gamer learns by doing and trying
  • the game provides a safe place to explore, test hypotheses and fail
  • the game provide immediate feedback
  • you are allowed to have fun

GBL challenges traditional instruction and turns it on its head. The test comes first and the information later. Learners are encouraged to actively experiment and take risks instead of passively consume.

We need to unlock the principles of good games and game-based learning. If we do, we can say that kids are not addicted to gaming; they will be addicted to learning instead!

I read this NYT article and I loved this response by Cathy Davidson.

One of the main ideas of the NYT article was that the push to adopt various technologies was not leading to higher test scores. One of Davidson’s responses was that we should not be integrating technology to raise test scores but to promote meaningful learning and prepare learners for the way they will live.

I agree. The problem is not that technology use is not raising test scores. The problem is the view that test scores should be the indicator of successful technology integration in the first place. Traditional test scores should not be the benchmark for determine if technology adoption or integration is successful.

I would go so far as to propose that if you only want higher test scores, forget about creative or meaningful use of ICT or interactive digital media (IDM). Just focus on test preparation!

To put it more simply, if you aren’t going to change anything about schooling, then don’t use technology. After all, today’s technologies serve as disruptive forces to leverage upon, as this blogger argues.

If you really want higher scores, then have newer tests that measure the other opportunities technology brings to the classroom. As one teacher in the NYT article pointed out:

… look at all the other things students are doing: learning to use the Internet to research, learning to organize their work, learning to use professional writing tools, learning to collaborate with others.

To reinforce that point, I quote Davidson:

We must, if we are responsible, educate them for the world they already inhabit in their play and will soon inhabit in their work. The tests we require do not begin to comprehend the lives our kids lead.

So measure these life skills and test if you must. But let us also look at the learner’s ability to organize, evaluate and collaborate.

Tigers Play Fighting in Water 5 by Abysim, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Abysim 

The other thing I took away from that quote is the importance of play.

In the animal kingdom, other mammals prepare for life through play. While our own mammalian lives are, by our own measures, more complex, I think that basic principle still holds true.

Somehow we are schooled to leave this behaviour behind even though it is the most natural of instincts. We label such behaviour childish.

Do mammals outgrow the need to play? They seem to, but they retain that capacity. Humans are the slowest among the primates to develop independence, so we play more and longer. We retain our capacity to be child-like.

Our sense of play should be encouraged instead of being stifled. It is what makes us explore, take risks and learn from experience. It is tools like the iPad that encourage play and that is why they are so natural and popular.

What modern day kids do in their play is relevant to the world that they will inherit and inhabit. I am certainly not the only one who believes this. The Davidsons, Gees, Squires, Appelmans, and McGonigals of the world certainly seem to think so.

For now we live with traditional tests. Gee would argue that games are essentially one series of tests after another. They just do not look alike and they measure different things. So it is a testing time in more ways than one. I say we deal with it with some serious play.


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