Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Art of Conversation

If Elvis had been singing about games based learning, he might have demanded, ”a little less action, a little more conversation”.

The history of the introduction of new mediums is littered with the belief that they kill the art of conversation. Those “halcyon” days when the family gathered around the piano and the men retired for port and conversation have “sadly” gone (as it happens, I would have worked down the pit or in the mill). It is argued that the likes of TV and more recently computer games have put another nail in the coffin of conversation, but I disagree.

New mediums can act as conversational anchors, like the fact that people can chat about Eastenders or Corrie at work the next day. Soap operas offer viewers the opportunity to put the actions and interactions of human beings into perspective, both socially and culturally (Brunsdon, 1997; Gillespie, 1995; Liebes & Katz, 1990). Games can also do this.

Even individually played games can generate conversations. “Have you seen this?” “How did you do that?” We have seen this in action: We have delivered two programmes, involving seven schools, using two different individually played games. These classes were far from quiet! And it also worth noting that “individual” games were often played by pairs of pupils, as they preferred to work this way.

Collaborative games, though, take conversations onto a different level. With our games-ED products the gameplay is structured around rounds and phases to encourage conversation. The learners talk in their teams, between teams, at a class level and with the educator. The game anchors these conversations allowing a natural set of questions (shown below) to flow during the course of the plan > do > review phases. These conversations are at the heart of the learning; they are inclusive and are not formalised / one-way. It is through these questions that learning flows. Together the class constructs their understanding, and makes tacit knowledge (emotions, experiences, insights, intuition, observations and internalised information) explicit.

Games can be action packed and so engaging, but it is their ability to anchor conversations that provides the key to their success in the classroom. They also provide a collaborative framework that suits both boys and girls, which I think would make a good starting point for my next blog.


Brunsdon, C. (1997). Screen Tastes: soap opera to satellite dishes. London: Routledge
Gillespie, M. (1995). Television, ethnicity and cultural change. London & New York: Routledge
Liebes, T. and Katz, E. (1990). The export of meaning: cross cultural readings of Dallas. New York: Oxford University Press

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