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Post date: Thursday, 4 August 2016

Playing, making, discussing, gamifying: Many ways to use games for learning - written by Rachel Bolstad

My last blog post , “Games OR learning”, asked whether digital games might be viewed by some teachers as distractions or intrusions into students’ learning time. This post flips the script with a different question, “How are New Zealand learners and teachers using games for learning?”, drawing on early findings from the Games for learning project.

When we say “using games for learning”, we mean more than just students playing games. We are also interested in teachers and students who are making games, or analysing and discussing games. We’re interested in all kinds of games, including digital games board games, role-play games, and any other games invented by the teachers or students. We’re also interested in gamification of curriculum and teaching (a related topic that we’ll discuss in other posts). Above all, we are interested in the people who are making this happen - the teachers, and their students: Why are they doing what they are doing with games, and how do they think their game-related activities contribute to learning?

As it turns out, many of the game-using teachers we have interviewed so far  are dabbling in lots of game-related activities. To varying degrees, they and their students are playing games, making games, and analysing and discussing both digital and non-digital games.  Some are “gamifying” aspects of curriculum and teaching in their classrooms.  In the hands of these game-curious teachers, “games” are rich resource space that can be shaped, moulded, stretched, and connected to a very diverse range of curriculum and pedagogical goals.  Playing games is only the tip of the iceberg, and the games themselves aren’t even always the main focus.  For some teachers, it’s the coding and digital technology skills they are interested in. Others are interested in play-based learning and role-play.  The teachers in our project don’t just use games as a resource to learn something from, but as something to learn through, and this involves engaging with games in all manner of ways. As a player, designer, maker, fan, or critic, and sometimes as an expert who can use their game knowledge and skills to teach others.  

The stories behind how and why each of the teachers in our study uses games for learning are diverse, but there are some common threads. One of the consistent characteristics of these teachers is their motivation to engage their students, and allow space for learners’ interests and motivations to feed into the direction of learning in the classroom.  In our next few posts we’ll discuss what this looks like in different classrooms we’ve been visiting, from junior primary through to secondary school classrooms. We will look at what kinds of games the teachers and their students are playing, making, and talking about, how games fit into their curriculum, what motivates the teachers to keep exploring and developing their game-based learning practices, and what advice they would give other teachers about using games for learning.

Games for learning

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