Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘game-based

Today I critique an important message embedded in a tweet. The text is excellent, but the visual representation is not. This sends an intended mixed message.

Teachers can certainly learn five principles of instruction by unlearning what they were taught.

  1. Students do not always need information or instructions before learning by trying
  2. Failing is a means to an end in this form of learning
  3. Knowledge is better socially generated and negotiated than delivered or directed
  4. Students learn best when they (not the teacher) are actively creating and teaching
  5. Information does not always have to be broken down into simpler parts; authentic problems are complex

I would wager that most teachers would struggle with relating to and then implementing one or more of these principles.

Even though the ideas are progressive, they were presented with a poor choice of fonts and graphics. The font is from an old school video game and the background is an old joystick. These might evoke nostalgia or connect with adult teacher who used to game, but games no longer look like that and rarely use such controls.

The visual is a disconnect with current gamers on mobile, PC, or consoles.

My critique is not with the ideas. I agree with them and have even elaborated on them by providing my own explanations of the five items. But visuals are powerful and can often reveal the underlying mindset of the person who created the artefact.

My message is that if teachers want to implement game-based learning or use principles from games, they should play current games and seek to understand the learner first. Then they might understand learning processes. Then only can they start to teach in a way that is congruent to gaming.

The best video games are the ones that are driven by narrative. The stories are a product of the game designers, the players, or a combination of both.

Video source

The latest games seem to take on another dimension, that of cinematic yet personal narratives. These reel in players emotionally, provide elements of control, and give players a stake in the story.

Video game-based learning needs to have these same design elements. Drill-and-practice games and games tacked over traditional instruction typically do not leverage on these strategies.

If modern instructors want to be learner-centred, they must leverage on learners’ emotion and control so that they tell their own stories.

Video source

Like BuzzFeed, a SourceFed video is not the best source for the benefits of game-based learning. Such videos are high on entertainment and brevity, low on balance and depth.

But SourceFed is a step ahead of most local rags in that they provide convenient links to their sources in the description. You can read, direct your own learning, and make up your own mind.

Folks who follow the development of game-based learning will not find much to be new. But those unfamiliar with this practice might unearth a gold mine of information.

First, some context.

When I integrate video games in my courses or workshops, I do so not to deliver content but to provide participants with shared experiences from which to generate discussion, critique, and reflection.

I can use the same games for topics as diverse as self-directed learning, collaborative learning, mobile learning, video game-based learning, and change management.

Video source

While I can model this process of video game-based learning (vGBL), I realize it is very difficult for others to emulate because I have made the process uniquely mine.

This got me thinking about the possible categories or levels of vGBL. The taxonomy I am about to suggest is no way sequential or prescriptive, but there is an inherent value system.

I may add to or subtract from my framework in future. For now, there are four types of vGBL: 1) backward, 2) basic, 3) intermediate, and 4) advanced.

A harmful implementation of vGBL is drill-and-practice disguised as video games.

These sorts of games often require students to apply a fixed set of rules repeatedly for game rewards. These rewards have nothing to do with the content mastery and focus on extrinsic motivation instead.

For example, if the student gets an arithmetic problem right, a racing car moves forward or a squirrel gets a nut. This is similar to giving a child a sweet every time you tell them to be polite. They do not learn why it is important to be polite; they learn they get rewarded for doing something.

This sort of implementation perpetuates the wrong idea of vGBL and gives vGBL a bad name.

To dissuade teachers from adopting this strategy, I get them to experience drill-and-practise “gaming” from a learner’s point of view. When they reflect on how boring it is, I ask them how their students feel. It is a powerful lesson in taking a learner’s perspective.

Mention vGBL and most teachers think about how video games might be used to motivate their learners and/or teach content in their classrooms.

While there are some great games that might do these, this approach is potentially harmful and not sustainable in the long run.

Using games to motivate is one possible reaction to needing to teach content that is boring. To borrow a phrase from other thought leaders on GBL, this is like getting kids to eat chocolate-covered broccoli.

However, gaming merely to motivate is like applying a superficial bandage to a deep-seated injury. It does not address why there is a disconnect between teaching and learning.

Video games worth learning from are also costly. They take a long time to create and cost a lot of money. Given their development time, they also run the risk of being irrelevant by the time they are ready.

It is unlikely that teachers will find a game that addresses their context, scheme of work, or administrative standard. There will invariably be some social or pedagogical customization.

When teachers take parts of video game experiences and integrate them into their lessons, they breach the level of intermediate vGBL. They may start to operate outside the boundaries of what the game was designed to do.

One teacher might use a game like Civilization to teach historical principles. Another might use Angry Birds to seed a discussion on terrorism (watch this short segment in my TEDx talk).

Video source

Yet another form of intermediate vGBL is taking advantage of mobile and location-aware games outside the classroom. This MindShift article is a good example of what I mean.

I should add that the mobile-assisted “learning journeys” that some schools here put students through are neither location game-based nor learning-oriented in their implementation.

This form of vGBL is like design thinking.

Teachers might experience games and then deconstruct them to identify what makes them effective. I do this in my workshops by asking participants this question: How might you incorporate game-based learning without playing games in class?

Elements that emerge from effective vGBL like failing forward or just-in-time/just-for-me learning are principles that I draw out from workshop participants. Then I challenge them to integrate one or more principles into their teaching.

This form of vGBL is challenging. If participants are teachers, advanced vGBL focuses on challenging, changing, or improving pedagogy. If advanced vGBL is designed for students, the focus is higher order thinking skills, metacognition, or value systems. Game play and content is almost secondary and a means to those ends.

Video source

This video tries to answer the question: Can video games make you smarter?

This all depends on how you define smart. The video summarizes research on attention span, mental focus, visual acuity, visual tracking, brain physiology, etc.

These are not things that schools and testing agencies might look for.

But ask caregivers of those with mental disorders, ADHD, or dyslexia if these are important. Ask tuition centres how they might give their learners an edge (and provide a juicy new section in their marketing material). Ask anyone who takes care of the elderly if mental sprite is important.

I love this Teens React video by the Fine Bros.

Video source

I must remember to add it to my list of reflective resources for participants of my game-based learning workshops.

They might ponder on questions like:

  • What is the effect of failure in this game?
  • Why to the teens persist?
  • When and why do they stop?
  • How is the teaching and learning different from what happens in a traditional classroom?
  • How do you transfer these game-based principles to teaching (and even if you do not play games)?

I was prompted to write this as I was part of two recent Twitter conversations that revealed how some teachers still confuse game-based learning (GBL) with gamification.

There are several differences and I will just mention two fundamental ones. I am also going to mean video game-based learning when I make reference to GBL.

First, gamification relies on game mechanics. This could mean using the element of competition with leaderboards, collecting points or badges, levelling up, and so on. Learners are not actually playing a game; the teacher has not actually designed a game. They are all using elements or strategies that are game-like.

As its name implies, GBL requires the integration of at least one game for learning. It might be a mobile game, console game, desktop game, online game, serious game, off-the-shelf game, etc. Learners must play an actual game.

Second, I think that gamification is largely extrinsic. A teacher wants his/her students to do something and there is a reward system to get them to complete tasks. A student may not want to do those things, but the incentives are tempting or motivating.

GBL is both extrinsically and intrinsically motivating. But I would argue that if the games are carefully chosen and the activities are managed well, the motivation for playing and learning becomes intrinsic. The students play and learn not because they have to but because they want to.

I should also point out a potential pitfall of poorly designed gamification and GBL. Students may not actually learn what you want them to learn (typically content). With gamification, students might value the incentives over the content; with GBL the immersive play might be the be-all and end-all.

One way to deal with this issue is to recognize that gamification and GBL do not guarantee the learning. The teacher will still need to facilitate activities that consolidate learning and get learners to reflect on their learning. To quote Dewey:

We do not learn from experiences; we learn from reflecting on experiences.

To do this in my teacher education classes, I rely on small group and whole class discussion, one-minute paper reflections, individual and collaborative writing in wikis, thought-capture with online stickies, just-in-time instruction, etc.

For further reading on gamification and GBL, I recommend this article at MindShift.

Click to see all the nominees!

QR code

Get a mobile QR code app to figure out what this means!

My tweets


Usage policy

%d bloggers like this: