Friday, 9 September 2016

Playing to Learn and Learning to Play: Game based learning in schools

In the summer, I attended three days of professional learning at an ETFO Summer Academy around, "Game Based Learning in the Classroom" and wanted to share some of my learnings and wonderings...

Game Based Learning vs. Gamification

Game Based Learning (GBL)- Game based learning involves intentional planning of games with defined learning outcomes which involve active participation, critical thinking, probing of and practicing of real world concepts. Within the context of game based learning,  experiences can be enabled that aren’t always possible in real life. Some of the key components of game based learning are that the games used have to have intentionality and are tailored to individual learners. 

Gamification- Gamification is the application of game design elements such as the acquisition of points, competition and rules of play to non-game concepts.  Some examples of gamification include when you use a promotional App (e.g.- Air Miles, Starbucks) to gather points and "win" free product, when you use a product like "Fitbit" to gain achievement badges, or using Apps like "Class Dojo" to shape desired behaviour. 

Both GBL and gamification have some positive implications for the world of education in that they are both hands on, give immediate feedback, encourage perseverance and are engaging for participants. However, from my point of view, GBL has a very distinctive upper hand over gamification.  Gamification is reward based (extrinsically motivating) where as GBL is intrinsically motivating.  A great analogy I heard in my course was around the concept of "edutainment" where the instructor compared gamification to "chocolate covered broccoli" explaining that by taking the concept of a worksheet and disguising it as a game, gamification makes the proverbial "broccoli" easier to swallow.  Since gamification often attempts to make a concept or behaviour that is not likeable more palatable or user friendly, in an education setting this implies both that education isn't fun and that games aren't educational, effectively insulting both education and gaming.  

Games are amazing at creating a sense of "place" and story...think of the possibility that this creates for learning, where the gamers act as "virtual citizens of the world".  Using this form of media to enter other cultures or historical events educates players through their play. Along these lines, there has been a paradigm shift over the past few years, where there have been increased conversations about how different groups of people are portrayed in games (check out the hashtag #gamergate). This is another excellent opportunity to create a entry points to discussions around diversity, equity, inclusion, media bias, human rights and digital citizenship with our students.   

I was also amazed to discover that there is a whole movement around "Gaming for Change" that incorporates concepts of social justice into gaming.  For more information, check out the website, Games for Change or this Ted Talk by Jane McGonigal, "Gaming can make a better world".  

Ways to use games in the classroom:
  • During guided activities
  • For independent practice as a balanced math or literacy centre. An fun example of a math website based on Ontario content that will be launching in the fall is TVO's mPower.
  • On an interactive whiteboard as a whole class modeled activity or as a centre
  • As a summative task to capture understanding
  • As a provocation activity
  • For home practice
  • As a "minds on" activity at the beginning of a lesson or unit of study to activate prior knowledge and prepare for new learning, either independently, in small groups or as an entire class
  • As a differentiated option for demonstration of knowledge (e.g.- Using Minecraft to build a and label a model of the digestive system v.s. drawing and labeling a picture)  
  • To intentionally develop and gather information about learning skills and 21st century competencies in conjunction with curriculum content knowledge.  Using the concept of "breakout" games from Breakout Edu is one of my favourite ways to do this!
  • Really, the possibilities are endless!

I would like to leave  you with one final thought.  I have often made the case for "pedagogy before technology", meaning that we should just be using tech for tech sake as something to be checked off a "to do" list.  The same case could also be applied to game based learning...I certainly don't want people to read this post and think that every academic task has to include gaming because it is engaging. However, after thinking a bit more about this topic, I feel that it is also worth asking, "What is it about this particular technology or game that is engaging or useful to the users?" "Is this something that can support or work into our teaching methods to support learning in a meaningful way?"  If so, then perhaps sometimes it can drive the pedagogy.  Just a bit of food for thought...happy gaming!