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Post date: Friday, 2 June 2017

Digital gaming, coding, and makerspaces in NZ schools (Part 2)

As promised in my previous post, today I'll discuss a few points of interest from the just-published report Digital technologies for learning: Findings from the 2016 NZCER national survey of primary and intermediate schools.

There’s lots of interesting information in the report, and I encourage you to have a look at the whole thing if you have time.  For this blog series, I’ve pulled out some of the “digital games-related” data that might encourage further conversation.

Today, let’s look at whether primary and intermediate teachers said their students were playing digital games and simulations, and/or coding or programming, as part of their classroom learning.

Do primary and intermediate students use digital games and simulations for learning?

More than half (55%) of the 771 primary and intermediate teachers we surveyed said their students did play digital games and simulations as part of their learning, either “often” (17%) or “sometimes” (38%).

A further 15% said this wasn’t currently happening in their classrooms, but they (teachers) would like it to happen.

Adding these together suggests around 70% of teachers we surveyed were positively disposed towards the idea of their students using digital games and simulations for learning.

If you’re wondering about the other 30% of teachers, 27% indicated that this was something that didn’t happen, and that they (teachers) did not want to happen in their classrooms. (The remaining 3% simply didn’t answer question).

What kinds of digital games and simulations were teachers and students using?

We don’t know, because the survey didn’t ask teachers to name or describe which games and simulations they were using. (Getting good data on this kind of thing is actually a lot messier than you might think, particularly in a big survey!).  It’s a pertinent question though. Whenever we  go into schools to interview game-using and game-making teachers and students, this is always something we ask about.

If you’re a primary or intermediate teacher and want to tell us what games and simulations you and your students use, why you use them, how they link to your curriculum goals, and what’s good about them, feel free to drop your thoughts into the comments below.

What about coding and programming?

Obviously, not all coding and programming involves digital games, but they often do have a relationship, particularly for primary and intermediate students. For example, young learners’ opportunities to learn about coding may come about through software that encourages or enables them to design or modify their own digital games through code. There is also a variety of learn-to-code software that employs a game-based learning environment to teach children how to code.

Here’s what we know from the survey:

  • Only 19% of teachers said their students were using digital technologies for coding or programming (15% “sometimes”, 4% “often”).
  • A further 43% said they would like this to be happening in their classrooms.

Adding that up, we can infer that around 62% of teachers we surveyed are positively disposed to the idea of students engaging in coding and programming as part of their classroom learning, even if this isn’t something all are currently doing.

However, just under a third of teachers (32%) said this was not something they wanted to do in their classrooms. (And about 5% skipped the question).

Why might some primary and intermediate teachers not want their students to do coding and programming in the classroom? 

I can think of a few plausible reasons. For example:

  • this may be an unfamiliar area for some teachers, although it is interesting that overall, more teachers said they would like to include coding and programming (43%) than those who said they did not want to (32%).
  • teachers might see coding and programming as less relevant, or less of a priority, than all the other things that students could be doing in their classrooms.

Given that our survey included teachers who taught students ranging in age from new entrant to Year 8, with all of the things that might be important for students to experience in the curriculum, it seems reasonable that coding and programming might be lower on the priority list than other kinds of learning activities teachers and students might be doing in the classroom.

Although teachers were not specifically asked to discuss their perspectives on coding and programming, 15 teachers did mention it in written comments about the role of digital technology in their practice. Most of these comments alluded to the professional learning, time, or access to devices that teachers felt they would need to be able to support students learning to code.

I would consider teaching coding in my classroom. However, I would need to see practical applications in the classroom in ways it could enhance my students’ learning. I would need a lot of professional development.

Not having enough devices is an ongoing frustration. I would love to use Minecraft and coding to engage students but simply can’t find the time at the moment to learn about this myself.

I think coding is the way forward, needs to start young but also requires a lot of one to one time to teach juniors.

Was there a relationship between the reported use of games and simulations in the classroom, and teachers’ interest in students coding/programming?

I was curious to see how teachers’ responses to these two questions related to one another.  Most teachers (94%) responded to both questions, while 6% skipped either one or both questions.  The table below shows how those 94% of teachers’ responses to one question related to their responses to the other question.

This analysis suggests that 50% of teachers we surveyed seemed positively oriented towards digital games/simulations, and coding/programming (the pink squares), as things students were doing, or might do, as part of learning in their classrooms.

Twenty-nine percent seemed less inclined towards either one or the other of these kinds of activities happening in their classrooms (blue squares). Finally, 15 percent were disinclined towards both (green square).

How does the frequency of digital gaming/simulation and coding/programme compare with other ways students are using digital technologies for learning in the classroom?

Great question. For more discussion on this, see chapter 2 of the full report.

So what do you think?

What do you think about these findings from the national survey? If you’re a primary or intermediate school teacher, what’s your take on students learning with or through digital games, simulations, coding, or programming?  Let us know in the comments below!

 And while I’ve got you thinking about gaming, coding, and so on, have you checked out our upcoming conference?

In my next post, I’ll discuss national survey data about the prevalence of student gaming clubs and makerspaces across primary and intermediate schools. 



Games for learning

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