What Can We Learn About Assessment From Video Games?


Through the ongoing debate about assessment via Purposed I came across this presentation from last year by Derek Robertson at the eAssessment Conference in Scotland.

There are a few points that I wanted to highlight that are worth drawing out and discussing further. Just to say that, if you didn’t already know, I am an advocate for games based learning and how it can positively impact on the work we do in school, so it was great to see Derek sharing some of what he has learned regarding assessment.

Derek outlines in his presentation what we can learn from games and what they are very good at:

  • Giving dynamic and ongoing feedback
  • Presenting incentivised learning experiences
  • Using meaningful profiles and reports
  • Trusting in the ability of the player/learner
  • Nurturing growth mindsets
  • Maximising the potential of peer assessment
  • Presenting purposeful and relevant learning intentions
  • Ensuring assessment is not “done to” learners
  • Giving the players the best chance of success

If you notice from Derek’s points he uses the terms player and learner interchangeably as we have to learn to be successful and progress through a game. So it is natural extension that just about all game mechanics pivot around a player being a learner.

The first of Derek’s points: “Giving dynamic and ongoing feedback” is what in my opinion refers to formative assessment. It is the “ongoing” assessment that takes place. Lots of the examples he shared in the presentation were in fact summative assessments, goals scored, points in total, notes correct. You may even argue that unlocking badges or bonus material is summative as it is the result of a set of actions within the game; on the other hand it signals progress and is provided on the course to an overall goal. Perhaps here is where the definition becomes a little blurred.

During his Slash-like demonstration on Guitar Hero Derek referred to the summary score sheet including notes completed correctly, but it is the feedback during gameplay that interests me the most. The types of “dynamic and ongoing feedback” that help a player improve at the point of learning – the summary sheets help us to reflect on how we scored but this is the same as what grade did I get.

Guitar Hero gives all sorts of feedback during gameplay that encourages a player/learner to adjust their play – this comes through visual cues such as simple traffic light dials, auditory signals from the sound of the correct or incorrect notes being played and of course points and mini-goals that further enhance what can be seen.

These are all straight forward and can be seen throughout many games – perhaps it is the timing and overall strategy of ongoing feedback that would reveal something inherently more valuable to teachers. Not just seeing the individual method of feedback in isolation but placing it within the whole picture, the whole plan for supporting new players and helping them to be successful.

Incentives are also important with regard to learning experiences and Derek makes this point in his summary. This is illustrated in more detail by Girlie Delacruz’s work on” Games as Formative Assessment Environments” in which she conducted some studies with regard to how formative assessment and feedback affected maths and game performance. They used a purpose built game to learn about fractions and various parts of the game feedback were altered and presented to different groups (see the study detail in the presentation below).

Delacruz summarised the outcomes, explaining that: “Incentive + Scoring Information is superior to minimal scoring information, with better performance on:

    • Math achievement measures
    • Game play”

In the game their is a simple structure to work within and normally a game “currency” that can be used to incentivise a player – in the work from Delacruz it was simply points (see Slide 18) but what would that be in the classroom? Perhaps something meaningful within the topic or project? In a previous post the debate shifted to these short term incentives and Oliver Quinlan pointed out in a number of comments:

Unfortunately points scoring and rewards are in the short term ‘easy’ ways for teachers to motivate pupils to do what the are told. Look at the number of ‘team points’ and ‘star charts’ that exist in primary schools. This may get them to behave in the required way, but it teaches pupils that only things that are worth doing are things that get them a number score…

I think it is worth bearing in mind always whether we are rewarding children or just bribing them. That is just behaviour, let alone the potential implications for motivation and dispositions to learning that happen if children are trained to only value tangible and quantifiable outcomes like rewards and grades. Dylan William’s work has shown the impact that losing rewards and grades can have for intrinsic motivation, and focusing attention on learning rather than just the outcomes.

Once more it seems we need to strike a balance and create a system that makes best use of incentives for learning as per game design but perhaps addresses what Oliver points out, making them more meaningful and broad so that they do not remain Pavlovian nor isolated within that context.

It would seem that the role of the incentive is crucial in game mechanics and how a player progresses and indeed learns using a game. The question for me would be how do I use these ideas within my own teaching? Do we try and design an incentivised curriculum project? What practical ways can I implement such a system with not only one player but potentially 30?

10 Steps to Take Games Based Learning to the Next Level

If you carefully choose the right sort of game it will engage the children in your class – in my opinion you have to take that as a given. It is what you do with that engaged group of children and how you make a difference to their learning that counts.

  1. Games can be used in isolation – they can be just as effective in single lessons.
  2. Don’t dwell on just the game – think beyond it, how can you leverage that enthusiasm.
  3. Make time for your own play. Set up a different save profile, that way you can stay one step ahead.
  4. Plan ahead, but also decide not to plan! Discovery in gaming is an important part of the experience – sharing the unexpected with your class is amazing.
  5. Explore the literature surrounding the game, online walkthroughs and game manuals are a great way to encourage reading and writing.
  6. Mimic the immersive nature of the gaming environment in your classroom.
  7. Build displays that develop with time as the unit/game progresses.
  8. Allow the children to play independently as well as in small groups.
  9. Step back and watch the community of practice develop – you will see children exploring things together, explaining and sharing.
  10. Consider using the game in a different room with a small focus group, which sometimes allows them to have a much more in depth experience.

The clearest message from my experiences I can offer is to leverage the children’s enthusiasm into other areas of the curriculum.

Pic: get big! by Don Solo – Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

Using Kinectimals to Support Play in the Early Years Classroom

I would like to introduce to you Marc Faulder who is currently a newly qualified teacher working in Foundation 2 at my school. Last week I challenged Marc to attend TeachMeet Midlands and present about his brilliant work he is doing with the XBox Kinect and the game Kinectimals. He did a great job with his presentation and has followed it up with a guest blog post explaining his ideas. I hope that soon I will be linking back Marc’s own blog where he can continue to share his ideas and classroom work. Over to Marc…


My blog post follows on neatly from the themes discussed by Tom Barrett in his work with Nintendo Wii’s Endless Ocean. I took on the challenge of introducing Games Based Learning to my Reception class, and to myself! I used an X Box Kinect because game play without a controller seemed ideal for Foundation Stage children. After a 2 – 3 week project on animal homes using Kinectimals as a stimulus, I have reflected on the impact that Games Based Learning had on children’s enquiry. My reflection is structured around four themes; organisation, planning, supported play and Kinect sensitivity. I hope that the successes, difficulties and solutions I found help with any Games Based Learning planning in your classroom.


  • Originally game play happened in a whole class
  • In twenty minutes only 4 children had a turn: class lost interest
  • Moved X Box to a separate classroom, and groups played on Kinectimals on a large screen TV.

  • When returning to the classroom, the whole class discussed progress each group had made in the game – sometimes through role play which was effective.


  • Originally my planning was very structured.
  • I should have given children more time to explore game play, like you might give children time to explore a new book.
  • When planning group activities on Kinectimals, I planned for specific events in the game.
  • I found that not all groups would unlock that part of the game, or they would choose to explore another part of the game.
  • Planning became much more open ended and child lead.
  • I attached questions relevant to any aspect of game play – what is this place like? Which animals live here?
  • This kind of planning required more resourcing.
  • As well as game play, children in the group engaged with objects and artefacts that might be found in that environment on Kinectimals: shells, sand, logs, leaves, pine cones…

Supporting Children’s Play

  • Back in the classroom, children would recreate game play through their child initiated play.
  • They made the water tray a rock pool home
  • They fed our Tigger teddy or lion puppet carrots and water – as that is what their Kinectimal ate in the game.
  • Children used the resources from the group time in their own activities
  • Writing became incidental; they wanted to write ideas down from the game to share in the classroom

Kinect Sensitivity

  • The camera was sensitive enough to recognise large scale movements the same as small scale movements – any sized kick or throw would give the same response in the game
  • But the camera isn’t sensitive enough to prevent adults from intervening.
  • If a child was struggling to play the game, I could crouch behind them and either move their arms for them or use my hands to model the actions required
  • Transition between players was mostly seamless. Players can step in and out of the cameras viewpoint and the X Box would continue the activity that was being played.
  • There is also a swap player function during game play, but we never had to use this.

Final Reflection

Games Based Learning isn’t about playing on the game every day, for long periods of time. I’ve realised that the game is used to inspire children’s interest and is a great format to let children take control of planning and learning. As game play doesn’t occur at the pace I played it, I had to be much more open with my planning and support learning through children’s interests. I have learned so much about my teaching and children’s learning through games.

SSAT Primary National Conference – Connected Classrooms

Today I attended the 4th Specialist Schools and Academies Trust Primary National Conference. I was invited to run some seminars for the delegates. Situated in one of the conference suites of the Emirates stadium, the home of Arsenal football club, the event accommodation was spacious and well equipped.

SSAT Primary National Conference 2010

I ran my hour long session twice during the day, it was titled “Connected Classrooms“. I based my practical ideas on 4 different connections.

  • Student – Student (same class)
  • Students – Students (different classes, countries, cultures)
  • Teacher – Student – Learning (connecting with our curriculum)
  • Teacher – Teacher (using Twitter for CPD)

I tried to keep my presentation simple and coherent, with a clear message about the ways we can use technology to engage learners.

We used the Nintendo Wii and I spent some time playing Endless Ocean and talking about the ways we have used it in our recent topic. I highlighted classroom blogging as a simple means to establish meaningful connections with other classes around the world.

Drawing upon my experiences of Twitter I spoke about why it is the most important CPD I have had. The most important connection we need to facilitate is between students in our own classes. I went into detail about how Voicethread can do this, the ways we have used it in a recent sequence of writing work and why it is one of my classroom cornerstones.

I think technology has the potential to both perpetuate traditional notions of classwork and to in fact smudge the definitions of what independent work means.

If you were one of those attending the sessions, thankyou for joining me and please feel free to leave me a comment about your reactions. I really value your feedback.

Looking Back

The sun will soon be rising on 2010 and I just wanted to look back at a hugely eventful year for me personally. Here are some of the things that have been memorable.

Last Christmas we spent our holidays in Australia. It was an amazing trip for me and I would dearly love to return to that part of the world, perhaps on a more permanent basis. When we arrived in Sydney our apartment was not going to be open until later in the day. We had landed about 8am and the prospects of entertaining a 2 year old with all of our luggage still in tow was going to be tricky. But to our rescue came Judy O’Connell and Dean Groom, both of whom I had known from our various online networks but had never met before. Judy kindly picked us up from the airport and we went back to her house where we were able to unwind for a little bit. Dean picked us up later and took us on to our apartment in Manly. I am so grateful for that amazing gesture of kindness – it got our trip off to a great start and illustrates the trust that can be developed through online connections.


The TeachMeet community has had an incredible 2009 and I have been fortunate enough to have been to five events in person. The BETT show TeachMeet began the year and I was just amazed by the scale of things and the huge interest from the commercial sector. In May Stuart Sutherland and I organised and ran the first TeachMeet in the Midlands, hosted by the National College for School Leadership. It was incredible to be part of the full organisation and we are hoping to hold another in 2010. I was delighted to be invited to do a mini-note at TeachMeet North East London and also to organise TeachMeet Channel 4 to bookend their education conference. In September I was able to return to the Scottish Learning Festival and another TeachMeet held in the BBC Scotland building. Along with popping into various Flashmeetings I also attended Dai Barnes and Doug Belshaw’s hugely successful EdTechRoundup TeachMeet which was held online. This added another amazing dimension to this incredible professional development event. With Stuart Ridout, I am currently organising TeachMeet Bett 2010 as well as TeachMeet Takeover – it looks like it should kick off another inspiring year of grass roots professional development.

When you get an invitation from royalty to a conference in another country you can be excused for being a little sceptical. But the inaugural World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) in Qatar was no joke. I was delighted to be included in only 1000 of the invited delegates from all over the world. A handful of edubloggers were invited but not many actually attended. It was a privilege to represent primary school teachers from the UK and be part of the wider discussions. Although the word “innovation” was in the conference name, little was done to “walk the walk” in terms of the communication processes used. That said, I blogged and tweeted my way through the event to encourage remarks and comment from a wider audience. I hope that if there is a 2010 event that more will be done to encourage delegates to share what they experience with a world audience.

This time next year I will have spent a term in a new job! After a bit of grumbling I stumbled upon a Deputy Head Teacher job that I believed would be a great opportunity. I spent the return flight from Qatar writing the letter, which got me an interview. The day and a half interview was a great challenge and I was thrilled to be offered the job. I will be starting as Deputy Head Teacher in the Summer term. I have been in my current post for about 8 years and I have been through some great times, but it has long been time for me to move on and face a new challenge. As part of the interview I asked readers of this blog and followers on Twitter to help with some testimonials. I printed them off and found a moment in the formal interview to hand them out to the panel – it was an amazing set of references and I have no doubt helped secure the job. Thankyou to everyone who contributed to the 20,000 character job reference.
Touching the surface

During 2009 I continued my involvement with multi-touch technology in the classroom. At BETT in January I met with representatives from SMART and organised an early trial of the SMART Table in my classroom. After working with it I felt it’s capacity to impact on learning was limited. Sadly the trial was abruptly ended, in my opinion due to an honest and frank account of my experiences I blogged about. Although critical of the SMART Table I was committed to helping SMART improve and develop it as it would directly benefit the wider multi-touch educational technology field. But, alas, they prevented that by taking it away and they did it, in my opinion, to limit the damage caused by my negative posts. I am now a member of the SynergyNet steering group at Durham University who are developing a multi-touch learning project, and met in November of this year for the first time. The developments at Durham are really exciting: multi-touch classrooms, networked tables able to pass media between them and a general focus on the pedagogies that underpin multi-touch enhanced learning.

This academic year we have been doing shorter half-termly topics in Year 5. We have found that although shorter, they are more focused. The first one was Sealife. Built around and inspired by the Nintendo Wii game Endless Ocean. It was a pleasure to work with the children during the 7 weeks as we explored, discovered and learned together. Using an open ended game to drive a topic was amazing to work with and the children were completely engaged and enjoyed every moment.

Maths Maps has been a long time in the making. Years ago I made some Google Earth resources that used the satellite imagery to structure maths activities. With the development of Google Maps and the ability to now collaborate on a map as if it is a document, such as a Google Document, I have been able to realise what I had always imagined with these resources. Each Maths Map is a maths topic with activities located on real life objects visible in the satellite imagery layer of Google Maps. In total the 3 current maps have been viewed 85,000 times, but more importantly the idea has inspired other teachers to begin using Google Maps to produce engaging content for their learners.


This year I finally made the switch to a self hosted blog. With the nudging of Doug Belshaw I bought some space and installed WordPress, transferred everything from my old blog and have been really happy here in my new home. The most obvious advantage is the personalisation that you can achieve with your own space. There is no limit or other person choosing what you can add or not. You are free to be as creative with your space as you are with what you write. I was pleased to have been nominated by my peers for 6 different Edublog Awards categories this year, thankyou to all those who wrote such kind words in their nomination posts.

I just tweeted about a couple of updates to two different “Interesting Ways” presentations. The IWB resource was started in November 2007 and now there are about 30 different crowd-sourced resources with a huge amount of shared expertise. I prefer not to be too tool-centric, nor do I like the formulaic “100 Awesome things to do with a Cabbage” sort of posts that have littered education blogging recently. In my opinion what sets the Interesting Ways resources apart is that (a) they all begin at zero, they are put out there not as a perfectly formed multiple of 10 lists and (b) they are built by everyone, the crowd, educators explaining and sharing their experiences. They are authored by the community and I feel lucky to be in the position to keep encouraging them along.

A memorable year in lots of different ways and Christmas at home this year has been made really special as my 3 year old son’s excitement has built to a feverish crescendo. I have been able to share in some of that too. I wonder what 2010 will bring? I am looking forward to it already. I wish you all the best for 2010 and hope you continue to join me.