Thursday, 6 March 2014

Games Based Learning – A Danish Experience

Recently, I was lucky to be invited to Aarhus in Denmark by the British Embassy Copenhagen / UKTI (UK Trade & Investment) to exhibit and network at the Knowledge is Great Conference. The conference was an opportunity for British and Danish companies along with educators and civil servants to discuss the future of games based learning.

So what did I take away from Denmark regarding games based learning? Firstly, schools get 50% funding towards the purchase of existing or bespoke digital resources. The Danish games based learning professionals were concerned about what would happen when the funding was removed in the coming years. A valid comparison was made to the demise of e-Leaning credits in the UK. Investment by schools could simply fall off a cliff. Civil servants from the Ministry of Education recognised this as an issue but were happy to let the market take control. Personally, I couldn’t help feeling that it would be nice to have a UK funding cliff to fall off, but I believe there is a place pump prime the industry.

But encouraging take up is not all about pump priming the supply side. There are demand side deficiencies as well. Specifically, teacher take up of games based learning. Here there are strong parallels to the UK situation. Teachers, while intrigued by games based learning, are reticent to take the leap rather like a novice player in a platform game. Pernille Korzon Dünweber from Serious Games Interactive made the point that there was a place for funding teachers in the use of games based learning.

Kristian Emil Andreasen (kanda) observed that the conference wasn’t attended by any entertainment games companies. I responded that there wasn’t intrinsically a problem with that; because while games based learning and entertainment games are obviously related, their design premise differs. Specifically, games based learning should be designed with learning at the forefront and not be crow barred in at the end. But, I think Kristian's point does have a broader significance, which was the point he was really raising, that games based learning needs to be fun and not just worthy, else students will reject it.  Designers need to strike a balance between game play and learning outcomes.

Following on from the importance of game design, at the start of a group discussion, the facilitators asked the group to name their favourite game of all time. While this was a simple ice breaker, it revealed the Achilles Heel of part of games based learning industry. Of the 20 people in the room, half struggled to name a computer game that they had ever played. Clearly, for a lot of people at the event, computer games are more theory than practice.

Kathleen Stokes from Nesta spoke enthusiastically about games based learning from a UK perspective and talked about students becoming makers as well as consumers. Roll on the Year of Code, I say.

All in all, I would say Denmark and the UK are similar in terms of games based learning. There seems to be an enthusiastic but slightly frustrated band of developers, a government that is keen to promote games based learning and an education system that is still getting to grips with what it all means.

Highlights of the trip other than games based learning were happening upon the Aarhus Cathedral which, while fairly utilitarian from the outside, has an amazing interior with some spectacular frescoes. Vivien Life (British Ambassador to Denmark) kindly hosted a lovely evening meal at Nordens Folkekøkken. Also, I had a chance to visit the art gallery (ARoS). Your rainbow panorama by Olafur Eliasson on the roof of the gallery is a unique and amazing experience. I am told that Den Gamble By open air museum is also very impressive, but I didn’t have time to see it.

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