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Post date: Monday, 15 February 2016

Games for learning research project update #3

Getting our heads back in the game

The school year has just kicked off, and after a brief summer hiatus, it's time for a new year's update from the Games for learning research team. This year we're really looking forward to getting our minds deeper into the big questions we have started to raise about games for learning. We're also really excited about sharing some of our early research findings with you in the coming months.

What's happened in the project so far?

At the end of 2015 we did a big burst of data collection. In October and December we ran two introductory workshops with "game-curious" teachers (in Wellington and Auckland) to tease out the questions of interest regarding games for learning. Both workshops were fascinating, attracting teachers from a wide range of different backgrounds, school levels, and school types. We even had a few game developers, adult educators, and other researchers in the mix! Through both workshops we’ve accumulated a rich set of questions and we're still referring back to the workshop data to help us clarify some of the themes that seem to matter most to teachers. (The post-it note mosaic of questions - pictured above - illustrates some of the questions raised by workshop participants. We thought the Pac-man motif was rather eye-catching). We've continued to receive emails from other game-curious teachers and researchers along the way, and people are starting to comment on this blog.  It's so exciting to hear from so many people who are interested in the project. It's also challenging us to think carefully about how we can stay connected and try to work with, and learn from, as many of you as we can. We value your questions, comments, and contributions, so keep them coming!

Towards the end of Term 4 we followed up the workshops with research visits to our first 8 schools, where we interviewed teachers and groups of students about how and why games have played a role in their learning. We've already seen a diversity of game-related learning, thinking, and practice. The table below summarises the classes we've visited so far.



Students' year levels

What game-related activities were part of their learning in 2015?

Ormiston Primary School



New Entrants +  Year 1

A newly-built school with an innovative learning environment (ILE) design. Play-based learning in the early years is a current focus of Caro's 2016 e-Fellowship research.

Kelburn Normal School (Wellington City)


Year 3 + 4

Coding and digital game design, code club and makerspace, designing and playtesting non-digital games, talking about games and learning.

Rongomai School



Years 4,5,6

Students exploring coding and gaming as part of a specialist STEM/makerspace classroom

Weymouth Primary School



Years 5 + 6

A game-curious teacher who is beginning to bring maths games and strategy games into the classroom and connecting with students over shared interests in games.

Tawa Intermediate



Year 7 + 8

Playing games for learning in the classroom, "gamifying" the classroom curriculum, and some student game design.

Ridgway School

(Wellington City)


Year 7 + 8

Playing games for learning in the classroom, coding and digital game design, talking about game design and learning.

Edgewater College



Year 10

Students playing, making, and analysing digital games within a digital design class.

Awatapu College

(Palmerston North)

Pete, Justin, and Jeremy

Year 10

An end of year "gaming camp" for gamer students, focussing on tabletop games, roleplay games, wargaming and a small amount of programming.

What's next?

From these initial 8 school visits we already have over 20 hours of interview data from 11 teachers and 74 students.  We are currently poring over these interviews and starting to identify some themes that we'll write about over the coming months. Here's a sneak preview of what's coming:

  • Elliot has started to explore ideas around expertise - and who holds it - in a game-playing or game-making classroom. What expertise do students bring, develop, and share in game-related learning? What expertise do teachers bring, develop, and share? Most importantly, how do these different forms of expertise contribute to better learning?
  • Sue is going to delve into how students think, feel, and learn through their engagement with games. She's also looking at how teachers and other adults perceive student gamers, how students' engagement with games compares with their or engagement with their other schooling experiences, and the curious question of how "failure" is framed within games and schooling respectively.
  • Rachel is interested in what motivates game-using teachers. What drives their curiosity to explore game-based learning in the classroom - even when they aren't entirely sure what they are trying to do or how to do it best? Why do some game-using teachers find it hard to talk with their colleagues about what they are doing and thinking? What can the experiences of game-curious teachers tell us about teachers' agency and what is seen as "permissible" within conventional school structures and practices?

We're also starting to trawl back through the large accumulation of existing research literature we gathered in the first few months of the project so that we can connect our data analysis and writing with existing research and theory. We're already seeing some interesting connections not only with other game-based learning research literature, but with wider literatures related to school learning, teaching, curriculum, and assessment.

As well as writing up some of our early findings, we'll be getting back in touch with our growing community of game-curious teachers and researchers, and looking at some options for further school-based research work this year.

Watch this space!

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