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Post date: Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Games for learning research project update #2

Are you a "game-curious" teacher?

In October we convened our first games for learning project meet-and-greet with around a dozen game-curious primary, intermediate, and secondary teachers in Wellington.

Why do we call these teachers "game-curious"? While some international studies have focussed on the study of "game-using" or "game-playing" teachers, right now our research team is just as interested in the questions teachers have about games for learning, as we are about their current game-related beliefs and practices in the classroom. Finding game-curious teachers who want to work with us is an essential first step towards finding interesting and powerful questions to pursue in the next stages of our research process.

Our first meeting was all about getting to know each other and asking some open questions. Of course we (the research team) had lots of questions about these teachers. What was their background - both as teachers, and possibly, as gamers? Who did they teach? What was their interest in, or experience with, games for learning? How were they or their students using or creating games in the classroom? What kind of games were they using, playing, or creating?  Why were they keen to be involved in the project? What kinds of questions about games for learning were of most interest to them?

Our initial round of introductions revealed some variety in the room. For example, in terms of personal gaming backgrounds, this group ranged from self-described "noobs" (people with little to no personal experience with digital games)  to self-identified "gamer" teachers. One gamer teacher told us he had once spent 19 hours straight playing a game, while another explained that when she migrated to New Zealand, she brought "one suitcase of clothing and one suitcase of games". Some teachers were beginning to explore an interest in "gamification" rather than games per se, and some were less interested in digital games, and more interested in other kinds of games such as live action role-play.

Whatever their game backgrounds or reasons for wanting to be involved with the project, the most interesting thing about the introduction round was how quickly the conversations moved into deeply pedagogical territory. Several teachers linked their interest in games with a personal commitment to culturally responsive and/or constructivist pedagogies.

As one teacher put it, "I'm interested in gaming because it already belongs to the kids…To be responsive, I can't see how we [as teachers] could not be into [games]". The idea of games as a form of "self-directed learning" came up, along with the suggestion that many teachers don't realise what students are capable of when they are playing or making games.  Several teachers expressed a curiosity about something they described as "the hum" - explained as a dynamic shift of energy and engagement that they have observed in their classes when students are playing and making games. As one teacher put it: 

We spent the rest of the meeting using  gamestorming techniques to get all our questions about games for learning out of our heads and onto the wall on post-it notes.By the end of the session we had dozens of questions and wonderings up on the wall.

We started moving post-its around into thematic clusters, and used stickers to show which questions each of us was most captivated by. Here is a small sampling of the questions we came up with:

What role do games play in building learner agency and self-directedness?

  • Why are kids so prepared to fail in gaming but not in their learning?
  • How do we identify "the hum"? How do we create spaces where the hum can thrive?
  • How can we understanding the meaning-making students engage in when playing games with others?

How could games and learning inform or transform pedagogy?

  • How can games have a pivotal role in "whole" rich learning?
  • How can our learning about games transform pedagogy?
  • How can the principles of game design infuse all teaching?
  • How can gaming connect to critical pedagogy?

How do games influence the way learners experience and make sense of the world?

  • Is a game just a game to a child, or can they be more emotionally connected/invested?
  • What are the effects of alternate reality vs the real world?
  • Is a focus on winning in games having long-term social effects?
  • How do games shape students' historical consciousness?

Could games transform curriculum and schooling?

  • Are we trying to make games 'fit' into curriculum or do we need to flip it?
  • How can we use games in class without "schoolifying" out-of-school experiences?
  • How can we use games to replace school?

What about games, learning, and assessment?

  • How do we measure learning in relation to games?
  • How could assessment and gaming interact in a meaningful, authentic and useful way?
  • How can we use the engagement that games provide in assessment?

By the end of the session we felt satisfied that we'd raised more than enough questions to keep us very busy in the project over the next few years! Our team is now mulling over the questions and ideas that came up in the session and talking to the teachers about some possible next steps and when we can meet again and start doing some work in schools. We plan to keep working with this teacher group, as well as expanding our connections with teachers from other regions as the project progresses. We'll also start drawing some more explicit connections with the large body of existing research literature on games for learning.

If you're a game-curious teacher and want to stay connected with this project, feel free to email Comments on the blog are also welcomed!


31/12/2015: I am very interested in your research project. The questions in this post are very thought provoking and I look forward to seeing what your findings are at the end of the project, and the ensuing journey that leads you to them. So I will be following all up-dates very closely. I am currently studying at The Mind Lab in Auckland to complete a Certificate in Applied Practice (in Digital and Collaborative Learning) and recently did a Literature Review on the use of video and interactive simulations in the classroom to increase cognitive output - hence my interest in the project! I am not a gamer myself (yet - but may become one), however I can see the attraction of games from the students' perspectives and I am fairly sure that I would have loved to have learned that way when I was at school. The idea of using games for learning completely captivated me as I began thinking of the problems my boys (students) were having in connecting with their learning. At Year 8 they were largely "turned off" school and their opting for "failure" was "killing" me. I can't follow them to High School (but if I could I would) - I battled all year to get them to realise just how capable they could be and to believe in themselves enough to re-engage with their learning and begin to achieve what they were all capable of achieving. I so desperately want to help students like them! I hope this research can throw some light onto the effectiveness of games to increase students' cognitive output since much of the literature I reviewed was not reliable or definitive enough due to flaws in the research methodology. So I cheer you on from the side-lines and I am thrilled to know that such valuable research is being done in NZ.

The more I read about gamification of learning, the more I realise that 'games' are really just excellent units of learning - a clear and simply expressed goal with elements of surprise or mystery (ie, a good story), discoverable resources, frequent feedback on progress, elements of higher thinking strategy (ie, choice of action), collaboration and a willingness to accept setbacks along the way. Reflecting back on my best moments in teaching, I see that the lessons involved several aspects from the list, even if I hadn't thought of it as a game at the time. Much of the challenge in teaching today is to rediscover the essential features of learning and having fun in the company of others. That's very reassuring!

Kia ora Matt, thanks for you comments! We're just getting our blogging functionality working, so this is to let you know your comment has been approved and is now visible on the website - when I have another moment I'll reply again to add some further thoughts :)

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