Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

3 Answers to The Problems of Game-Based Learning


Digital games have the potential to create active and engaging environments for learning, supporting problem-solving, learning through failure. Leveled learning lets learners progress in their own paces. Students can play, explore, experiment, and have fun. However, there are troubles with gamification of education. This paper “The place of game-based learning in an age of austerity” from Nicola Whitton of Manchester Metropolitan University, UK tries to address these issues.

In two very significant ways educators lack the skills and knowledge to delve into a rich integration of gaming in their curriculums. For starters, most teachers have not been trained in the pedagogy of gaming in their teacher education programs. Using games in the classroom requires a rethinking of the student-teacher relationship, a new model for ownership of tasks, complex structures for support of learners, new ways of evaluating learners, and a host of technological integration issues that most teachers are not prepared to undertake.

Additionally, teacher-training programs seldom include even a list of educationally appropriate games. Consumer games are also relatively expensive and change with such regularity that it is challenging for teachers to evaluate them to determine their efficacy in the classroom.

This paper presents three alternative ways in which the theory and practice of computer games can be applied to education, without the expense. First, the option of developing simple and cost-effective games with low technical specifications, such as alternate reality games, or using virtual worlds or one of the growing number of accessible game-builder toolkits to create educational games, will be explored. Second, learning from games rather than with them is discussed, examining game techniques that naturally enhance learning, and embedding those elements in traditional teaching practices. Third, the paper presents the option of giving learners agency as game creators rather than simply players, so that it becomes the process, not the product, which facilitates learning. The advantages and drawbacks of each approach are discussed, looking at both practical and pedagogic issues.

The paper considers the background and the practical limitations of using high-end commercial games in classrooms. In practice, commercial games are typically used in education for imagining possibilities, stimulating creativity or fuelling discussion, rather than teaching content directly. Then, the paper will consider three alternative approaches to using games to support teaching and learning, by:

Presenting a range of tools and techniques for creating low-cost games

  1. The use of alternate reality games (ARGs) is a growing area in formal education, and one that offers great potential for educators to create engaging game-based learning experiences on a budget. ARGs offer numerous pedagogic benefits, such as the ability to facilitate problem-solving at different difficulty levels, and steady and ongoing progression with tangible rewards.
  2. A second option for educators who want to develop low-cost games is the use of multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs) as game environments, such as Second Life or OpenSim. Many are free to use (although there may be costs associated with building or owning land), development is relatively quick and easy, and incorporation of communication, such as text or voice chat, is seamless. However, there may be technical issues.
  3. A third option for creating low-cost games is the use of free, or inexpensive, digital game development toolkits, such as Adventure Game Studio (www.adventuregamestudio.co.uk) for developing point-and-click adventure games, Game Maker (www.yoyogames.com/gamemaker) that allows the creation of a whole range of game types, Inform (www.inform-fiction.org) for creating interactive fiction, and Sandbox Gamemaker (sandboxgamemaker.com) for the development of three-dimensional games.

    Adventure Game Studio

    Adventure Game Studio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Considering ways in which teachers can learn from games and apply these techniques to traditional teaching

  1. The use of games can be an excellent way to support constructivist pedagogies through active learning and participative teaching approaches. Games also employ mechanisms such as scaffolding. The use of regular, timely intrinsic feedback allows players to see the immediate consequences of their actions and keeps them constantly informed as to their progression through the game.
  2. A crucial aspect of games, particularly in relation to their potential for learning, is that they provide safe and playful environments in which failure is an accepted part of the game dynamic, and learning through mistake-making is the norm.
  3. In games, players have control over their own actions, the ability to make flexible decisions, freedom to explore the game environment and discover a wide range of potential options, paths and directions within the game.
  4. Computer games can teach a lot about successful interaction design, which could be applied to the design and development of online learning and teaching experiences as well as traditional teaching and learning would allow educators to benefit from game-based learning without the high-end development.

 Exploring the notion of empowering students as the game creators themselves (refer to the tools mentioned above)

  1. Prensky (2008) argues that there is a fundamental difference between ‘mini-games’, which are simple, focused and take less than an hour to play, and ‘complex games’, which are the typical large-scale commercial game, rich and multi-faceted, with many hours of game play. He says that mini-games are more appropriate for education games, particularly those developed by learners because the “design of mini-games is relatively simple, and is often easily borrowed from other mini-games.
  2. While using the model of learners as game creators can be a very effective pedagogic tool, it is applicable to a limited number of curricula, and the institutional infrastructure needs to be in place to make this approach effective.

We think there is one key argument pointed out at the end of this paper that reminds us something really important in this century.

A move from didactic content-focussed pedagogies to collaborative co-construction of knowledge is essential to support learners to gain the critical thinking and information literacy skills they will need for the future, and games (as well as other innovative pedagogies) can be a key tool to underpin this transition.

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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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