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

Is the Label “Games Based Learning” Useful?

Whichever way you look at it the words Games Based Learning create a very neat little box. In that box we are meant to see all “learning” that is centred on, or “based” around a game – which invariably and most recently refers to a console or computer game.

In the recent few days I have come to question the terminology we use. Two things have sparked such curiosity. The first was reading Doug Belshaw’s book “Best of Belshaw” – in which he includes a blog post titled “The problem(s) of 21st century literacy/ies“. The term “literacies” intrigued me and Doug’s quote from Doyle (1994) made me think about the term “games based learning”.

In the last decade a variety of “literacies” have been proposed, including cultural, computer, scientific, technical, global and mathematical. All of these literacies focus on a compartmentalized aspect of literacy. Information literacy, on the other hand, is an inclusive term. Through information literacy, the other literacies can be achieved (Breivik, 1991). In attaining information literacy, students gain proficiency in inquiry as they learn to interpret and use information (Kuhlthau, 1987).

If we continue to use the term Games Based Learning are we just perpetuating a compartmentalised aspect of learning?

Ewan McIntosh underlined my thinking in reference to his recent blog post about the lack of mainstream attention gaming receives and how this impacts negatively upon the use of it in education:

The potential to learn in the game, as well as learn from their production, is lost to all but the most culturally open and connected of educators

In reply to a question on Twitter Ewan said we have to be careful that the terminology doesn’t compartmentalise what is going on when using a game in the classroom- in much the same way the rhetoric of “literacies” has done.

I am undecided, for two reasons.

Part of me knows that when I am explaining about gaming in the classroom to people who have no prior experience, the term “Games Based Learning” helps to succinctly phrase what I mean. It also puts the words “games” and “learning” together.

On the other hand if we set it apart from everything else, if we make the neat little (x)box for it to go in, are we missing the point? Surely it is all really just about learning, in all of its polka-dot and peanut butter flavours and forms – no matter whether it is from a game or from a film.

Ban Consoles at Home

Imagine for a moment you have a Nintendo Wii, or similar, in your classroom (perhaps you do already) which you use for games based learning. Topics or subject units you teach are centred around the use of a specific game and you are in the middle of one such topic.

One day a parent comes into your class and tells you that as a punishment at home their child is banned from using their own games console. The parent knows about the work going on in your class and wants to know what you are going to do about it?

What would you do?

This interesting situation was posed to me recently (some of you might be able to figure out in which context) and is completely fictional. Nonetheless it is a very interesting point for discussion with more and more games based learning work going on in schools.

Consoles for Classrooms

I think that every classroom should have a console.

That is basically what this blog post is proposing, you can read on and find out why I think that, but that is it in a nutshell. You could stop reading right now, but please take away that first sentence, those first 9 words and consider them carefully if you do.

I have made the most of games based learning in my classes over the last 3 years and I passionately believe in the impact on learning it has. We have explored the world of Myst, done stealth written subtraction using Wii Sports Golf and even driven a whole curriculum topic with the sheer joy that is Endless Ocean. I have seen our whole Year 4 year group working with their Nintendo DS consoles and using Maths Training everyday. Besides my own use I am always amazed and inspired by the cadre of great innovators using games based learning.

The children become excited, engaged and wrapped up in their learning. They want to do well, they want to find out more, sometimes they don’t even realise the learning that is taking place because they are so immersed in the places we can take them. They invest in the learning that is going on because the return is something they understand and appreciate.

Radio Daze by Ian Hayhurst
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

Gaming on consoles falls into the “Home” bracket and not in the “School” bracket. For some people those brackets need to be separate. Boundaries never to cross. In my opinion, as educators, we need to open our eyes to the potential gaming can have and merge these two realms. We need to leverage the children’s natural engagement and use it to their learning advantage.

Six years ago we installed SMARTBoards throughout the school and I also installed video players. In those six years DVD players have plummeted in price. We wouldn’t be without access to a DVD player now. Broadband in UK schools has become a standard, cheaper, faster and for some countries a basic human right. We wouldn’t be without internet access.

The internet, the DVD player, the class computer are all platforms to deliver content that makes learning fun or more engaging. So why do we not consider a console in that same bracket? They often do a better job.

In many ways I think that console games like Endless Ocean deliver even richer content because it provides a space that can be defined by the learner. The platform that they are delivered on is cheaper – a class Nintendo Wii can be less than £150 (with games). I think it provides amazing value for money in the right hands.

I hope that the Building Schools of the Future project in the UK has found that small amount of money to equip classrooms with consoles. Seems a small drop in the millions that have been invested. Yet that small drop can lead to an endless ocean (sic) of learning. (I nearly deleted that one but it is so cheesy it is staying in!)

Is it suddenly some big surprise that games based learning is engaging our learners? Not to me. If not then why is this type of learning still such a niche. I am going to say it again, I think that every classroom should have a console.

You can take away the first 9 words or the last 3, it is up to you.

Consoles For Classrooms