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Posts Tagged ‘gbl

Recently I read a negative news article about Pokémon Go and thought about how this was like much of schooling.

Pokémon Go has not even been in Singapore for a week and already segments of the press have jumped on the negativity train. For example, TODAYonline proclaimed, Pokemon GO player chances upon dead body in Woodlands. However, by its own account, other people had already discovered the body. The opening paragraph read:

A Pokémon Go player found more than virtual critters on Sunday morning (Aug 7) when he chanced upon a crowd that had discovered a dead body off Woodlands Waterfront Jetty.

The gamer took photos of the grisly sight and posted them on Facebook.

“Facebooker posts photos of dead body” is not sufficient clickbait, nor was anything else that anyone else might have been doing. But Pokémon Go had launched here and was so popular that the paper had to ride on its coattails.

Pokémon Go is also misappropriated in schools. It is misrepresented and it is misused.

I know of a Singapore school principal who assumed that someone had paid for her school to be a Pokémon stop. She asked her staff who did it and if the stop could be removed. Those in the know tried to tell her that is not how stops work (you cannot add a stop unless you control Google Maps, but you might be able to remove it [1] [2]).

That account was not as bad as the one I tweeted earlier. In this other case, a school superintendent in the USA did not fact check and “emailed the entire district leadership team, warning them about the game because six teenagers already had been killed by wandering into traffic while playing the game.” This turned out to be a hoax.

This is history repeating itself.

People used to wait centuries or decades for paradigm shifts. For example, people had to be read to from rare, hand-written texts owned by elites before they learnt to read and practically owned their own libraries. We used to rely exclusively on fixed-time broadcast TV; now we have on-demand and online video. The changes and possibilities seem to happen every year, month, or week now.

Whatever the timespan of change, the repeating pattern is this: Something new and exciting to a typically younger generation is poorly understood and considered harmful by an older set.

The most common strategy against the perceived threat of the shiny and the mysterious is negativity. Anything negative will do. It can be shot, flung, or printed, as long as people notice and remain ignorant. This is why we have not seen the last of misrepresentations of Pokémon Go.

Early adopters will bravely try the new. Unfortunately for some, their creativity is not balanced with criticality; enthusiasm and pedagogy are not balanced with reality and research.

There will always be some teachers who wish to incorporate the game for the wrong reasons. To seem cool, to only take advantage of what is current, to use the “well, the kids are on it” excuse. These are not good enough.

To get to deeper WHYs of incorporating Pokémon Go, here are just a few critical questions:


  • What does the game offer that you cannot?
  • How do kids behave when they play and what do they expect?
  • What can you do after processing the answers to the questions above?


  • How do you prefer to teach?
  • What is game-based learning and what does research say is effective game-based learning?
  • How must your teaching change to enable learning that is game-based, not merely game-enhanced?

If a teacher does not have well-founded answers to these questions, then I predict that these will happen:

  • The fun gets taken out of the game in favour of curriculum or objectives.
  • The game gets tacked onto boring activities to try to make them fun.
  • The teacher creates a bad example of game-based learning.
  • Students and teachers swear off “game”-based learning.

I do not mean to dissuade teachers from trying to incorporate Pokémon Go or its ideas into their classroom. I mean to say that they do not do so blindly.

To not be blind is to open your eyes to read, open your hands to try, open your mind to new ideas, and open your heart to being a kid again.

How to see possibilities: Open your eyes to read. Open your hands to try. Open your mind to new ideas. Open your heart to being a kid again.

Learning is not a spectator sport. -- Chickering and Ehrmann

Over the weekend, I read an article in The Atlantic about educational escape rooms.

The central idea of these is that students must uncover content-based clues to unlock a box in order to resolve a situation. I learnt that these in turn were based on recreational escape rooms designed by the Japanese in 2007.

The article was intriguing in itself, but I liked even more a quote from a paper that it linked to.

Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write reflectively about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.

The paper was by Chickering and Ehrmann* in 1996. This was a message from 20 years ago and is still relevant now. So much of what we still do with “educational” technology is about answering instead about questioning, consuming instead of creating, and rushing instead of reflecting.

Each and every learner should not just be engaged with technology. Trying to engage is a function of teaching. Learners need to be empowered to participate because learning is not done from the sidelines. Learners must be involved, take ownership, and be intrinsically motivated.

*Chickering, Arthur and Stephen C. Ehrmann (1996), “Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever,” AAHE Bulletin, October, pp.  3-6.

I shared this cryptic tweet during the last #edsg fortnightly chat.

We had been focusing on the possible “game”-based changes to the Primary mathematics syllabus in Singapore.

I use “game” because what a teacher might understand as a game is not necessarily what students experience as gamers. A drill-and-practice “game” might be a welcome addition to the teacher toolbox, but it is not necessarily a game as the child understands it.

Hence, Godin’s blog entry was timely, specifically this part:

That’s why it’s so important to understand the worldview and biases of the person you seek to influence, to connect with, to delight. And why the semiotics and stories we produce matter so much more than we imagine.

Another dimension of differing world views is the focus of the activity. To a teacher, it is MATH game; to kids, it is a math GAME. For an adult, the game is for learning a math principle; for a child, the game is for racking up points, being the fastest, or topping the charts.

The students are likely to enjoy game initially because of the novelty effect. They might even participate over a longer term because of the extrinsic rewards provided by gamification tools (which are not game-based learning).

Neither a reliance on novelty and extrinsic drive are desirable because a teacher might be forced to take part in the race to hyper stimulate and entertain.

If a teacher does not get forced into the “engage them” race, it is because students soon realise that drill-and-practice is not really a game and they reject this practice.

Adults rarely get into the child’s headspace when trying to plan activities that are supposed to be good for kids. So here are three guiding and core questions (as contextualised in game-based learning):

  1. What does the child think (is a game/about gaming)?
  2. How do they think (as they game)?
  3. What can I design based on sound educational psychology principles and rigorous research?

For the good of kids, we need to focus on what is good for kids. We start with a focus on kids, not curricula, syllabi, assessments, or policy. To be learner-centred, you have to be kid-centred first.

Video source

I loved watching this video of a few mothers trying Minecraft for the first time.

It is one thing to read opinion pieces of the game, particularly in the context of education, and another to experience it for yourself. Then once you try it out, it is one thing to have a taste and it is another to immerse yourself and keep at it.

Despite the short exposure to the game, I like how one mother told her child to move aside so that she could do something in the game. That is a step closer to immersion. Csíkszentmihályi would refer to this immersion as flow. We might refer to it as being in the zone.

This is experiential learning and learning-by-doing at its best. These are natural extensions of who were are and that is one reason why games like Minecraft are so successful.

I have said it before and I will say it again: If you cannot reach them, you cannot teach them. If you want to teach the learner, you must first be the learner.

This is not just about gaming. It is one thing to observe a child playing; it is another to be the child playing. It is about taking the child’s perspective and having an educator’s empathy.

If you do not do something new like playing Minecraft, you will not know why it appeals so widely or how to leverage on it. The first step is the hardest. Take it and do.

BTW, I played Minecraft (mobile and PC versions) with my son and created several videos of what we learnt together.

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.

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.

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