Friday, 30 September 2011

Developing Communication Skills via Games Based Learning

"In socially deprived areas more than 50% of children begin school without the ability to speak in long sentences, which experts say can lead to problems in later life. One hundred schools across England are taking part in a day without pens to tackle this speech deficit... Language impairment is found to be an issue for two-thirds of children with serious behavioural problems, 60% of young offenders, and up to 90% of unemployed young men." - BBC

And from another article from the BBC quoting the communications charity ICAN, "Once upon a time a family would spend a lot of time talking and nowadays of course they have DVDs, the internet, the TV and so this formal communication process in terms of talking and listening has got worse due to lack of opportunity."

To be fair to Jean Gross of ICAN, she is not saying new mediums stop conversations but they can become a distraction in family discourse. Of course the alternative might be true; the family might discuss whether they liked a film and what it meant. This leads me on to point I have previously made in this blog. It is not the technology that is the issue; it is the design and the delivery in the classroom that is limiting games based learning outcomes.

And now for something completely different
As I wrote in a previous blog (The Art of Conversation) games based learning can anchor conversations: In our games-ED products the gameplay is structured around rounds, whole class involvement 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  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.

Moreover, the game provides a situation (creating a sustainable community)  to practice communication skills in terms of listening, presenting arguments and information, negotiating and providing instruction. The games allow different students to communicate and provides a powerful collaborative learning environment.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Sir Ken Robinson, Education and Gamification

Firstly, let me be honest, the main reason I wanted to do this blog post was to embed the fantastic RSA animation of Sir Ken Robinson’s speech on Changing Paradigms in education.

So, how does this link to games based learning and the gamification of education? Well, Ken Robinson’s main argument is that the current education was designed to meet the needs of the Industrial Revolution and is structured around an intellectual model of the mind that categorises people as academic or non-academic. As a result, he states that many brilliant people think they are not.  He states that we live in an intensely stimulating time yet many children are bored (and thus restless) at school. And there we have it, now I can crowbar gamification and games based learning into Sir Ken’s narrative.

  • Games can offer an aesthetic experience. They can immerse students (players) in a situation that challenges them and rewards them or as Sir Ken might say,” allow them to be fully alive in the moment”.
  • As Sir Ken states, “collaboration is the stuff of growth … great learning happens in groups”. Games based learning needn’t be a solitary exercise. Most of the games I have designed have been built on the construct of multiple teams playing different roles in a virtual community.
  • Games based learning can (and I believe should) support creative thinking. Simulation based games are a particularly powerful way to do so. Games are not linear and allow students to explore complex interactions and cause and effect, constructing creative solutions to problems as they happen.
  • Games based learning  allows students to explore contentious issues and potential solutions such as those surrounding climate change.  Our games-ED product The Climate Game requires various teams (stakeholders) to develop a solution from a diverse set of viewpoints and in doing so generates an understanding of the subject while encouraging critical thinking skills.
  • Games encourage students of all abilities to work together and provide a way to engage reluctant learners. They can go beyond utility value into encouraging an appetite for learning and so adding vitality into the classroom.

Sir Ken believes that the habits of our institutions need to change. And maybe, at a macro level, they need to. But, we don’t need to wait for a revolution, there are things that can be done right now and gamification / games based leaning is one of those things.

If you want to see the larger speech then here it is:

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Games Based Learning, Education Policy and Market

Looking at a recent speech made by Michael Gove and the responses to it tell us as much about the education system as it does about games in education.

In the section of his speech on harnessing technology in the classroom he stated:

“In addition to the debate over what is taught, and the issue of who does the teaching, we also need to think about how the teaching takes place. So as well as reviewing our curriculum and strengthening our workforce, we need to look at the way the very technological innovations we are racing to keep up with can help us along the way. We need to change curricula, tests and teaching to keep up with technology, and technology itself is changing curricula, tests, and teaching.”

He went on to say:

“Computer games developed by Marcus Du Sautoy are enabling children to engage with complex mathematical problems that would hitherto have been thought too advanced. When children need to solve equations in order to get more ammo to shoot the aliens, it is amazing how quickly they can learn. I am sure that this field of educational games has huge potential for maths and science teaching and I know that Marcus himself has been thinking about how he might be able to create games to introduce advanced concepts, such as non-Euclidean geometry, to children at a much earlier stage than normal in schools.”

He concluded:

“These developments are only beginning. They must develop on the ground - Whitehall must enable these innovations but not seek to micromanage them. The new environment of teaching schools will be a fertile ecosystem for experimenting and spreading successful ideas rapidly through the system.”

A number of games related blogs have been positive about Gove’s speech but others have been more circumspect. For example, The Guardian wrote a critical account in “Is Michael Gove's concept of learning in the digital era outdated?

My view: I guess we need to take him at his word, until we know more. He recognises the importance of technology in the education system. He cites the use of games in mathematics classes and goes on to say that they enable accelerated learning.

I recognise the Gove didn’t expand greatly on the use of games based learning. But is the Guardian is correct in stating “the problem is, Gove's speech represents an out dated concept of technology and learning; it is part of a lingering belief that computers should be used merely as information retrieval and reward systems within the traditional education system.”

Certainly, there are broader examples of games based learning including the work we do at games-ED:

But, could it be that he simply Gove just hasn’t got very good examples of the use of games based learning. Maybe, we simply need to wait and see. And with one third of secondary schools becoming academies, there will be more freedom in the education system anyway. As he says, “the National Curriculum should provide a foundation of knowledge. Great teachers, inspired by love for their subjects, should make the classroom come alive". Will he practice what he preaches?

Instead of looking for a game based learning to be decided on from the top, the industry needs to create the products teachers want and teachers need to take a few more chances in their classes. Who knows the market might just get it right and then it might not…