Game based learning 09

London’s GBL09 conference seems an appropriate first post for this blog, as it featured three particular proposals that cover a wide range of methods of using videogames for learning.

1. Retrofitting commercial games for learning

Derek Robertson (Learning and Teaching Scotland) and others talked at length about using commercially-available hardware and software in the classroom. Largely, this method involved purchasing popular hardware (Nintendo Wii and DS, Playstation 2) and using software as a starting-point for extended school projects. For example, Vicky Mackenzie (East Dunbartonshire) discussed using Wii Sports’ tennis game as a central part of a geography project where pupils planned routes and also produced customized team logos. In each of these cases, the branching learning opportunities afforded by engaging pupils was seen as more important than the learning outcomes of using the games themselves.

2. Creating bespoke educational software

Dr Jacob Habgood (Sumo Digital) argued that most attempts at educational software have been like ‘chocolate covered broccoli’ – i.e. an uncomfortable mix of gaming and learning. He presented excerpts from his PhD – a dungeon-crawler fighting game with number-wielding skeletons. Two versions of the game were produced – one with maths teaching intrinsic to the skeleton-battling, and the other with the maths content made extrinsic. Dr Habgood argued convincingly that the intrinsic model was far more effective in not only teaching the maths content, but also in engaging the users.

Click here to see the presentation in full.

3. Creating a totally new learning environment

Atari founder Nolan Bushnell used his keynote address to present his vision of the future of classrooms. He envisaged that classrooms could be made more like office environments, with pupils working at terminals in separate pods, communicating with each other and the teacher remotely. While some of his arguments struck a chord (such as arguing that one specific teacher cannot be ‘in phase’ with every pupil in the class, therefore allowing pupils access to many different educators online would be valuable), there were ripples of unease among the audience comprised mainly of teachers and educators.

At times, GBL09 felt an uncomfortable mix. Speakers discussing adapting commercially-available games to the curriculum (or, more often, using commercial software simply to enthuse pupils, making more traditional schoolwork more palatable) outnumbered those who spoke about creating all-new educational games. Perhaps a clearer distinction needs to be made between retrofitting commercial games and creating bespoke software for learning (surely both are valid, possibly for different purposes) to avoid GBL09’s lengthy post-lecture Q&A sessions debating the differences between the approaches.

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