Co-written by Mrs. Devon Caldwell, Mrs. Leah Obach & Mr. Chris Obach as follow-up to a conference call with Dr. Richard Van Eck, an expert in the area of gaming in education.
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Where it all began…
In 2008, we attended the first-ever Microsoft Partners in Learning Canadian Innovative Educators’ Conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It was an amazing few days of inspiring sessions, tours, and connections with innovative educators and policymakers from all over Canada. Although we enjoyed all of our sessions and tours, one keynote speaker really resonated with us…Dr. Richard Van Eck, a professor of instructional design and technology at University of North Dakota. He shared his experiences and research with game-based learning, a concept that was entirely new to us. His work on integrating video games from various platforms to meet curricular outcomes was fascinating. Dr. Van Eck shared a sample unit that used I Spy video games in an early years classroom, and we were only too eager to try it out. These game-based learning experiences were met with high levels of enthusiasm and engagement from our students. It was a big success, but as teaching assignments changed and other challenges came to the forefront, game-based learning drifted to the back of our minds.
Cut to 2012….
As we developed our Microsoft Innovative Teachers project, Little Hands, Big World, we became more and more interested in the possibilities of using Xbox Kinect to further enhance student learning. We managed to obtain 2 Xbox Kinect consoles for the OLCS Kindergarten room and the HES Grade 1 room. We also purchased the game Sesame Street Once Upon a Monster which worked perfectly as the basis of a lesson on sorting trash and recyclables. It was a great learning experience for our students and us, but we weren’t sure where to go next. We needed an expert and Dr. Van Eck came to mind. He graciously agreed to a video conference call earlier this week, and 90 minutes later we had new direction in this exciting area!
Game On—Getting Started with Game-Based Learning!
- Game-based learning is a continuum—start small!
- Use game-based learning when it is the right fit. It can be a lot of work, so use your time wisely and plan these learning experiences for important topics.
- When properly implemented, game-based learning will enhance students’ critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.
- Explore commercial created games , but also consider involving your students in game development. Tools such as Scratch, Microsoft Kinect for Windows, and Microsoft Kodu are great starting points.
Don’t recreate the wheel—just add these tools to your toolbox!
- Dr. Van Eck recommended checking out the work of Lloyd Reiber. Reiber suggests developing simple, Powerpoint-based games for student use. While discussing this with Dr. Van Eck, tools such as Microsoft Mouse Mischief came to mind.
- Portal, an online puzzle game, offers exciting possibilities when infused into physics and math instruction (late middle-senior years level)
- Leah and her husband Chris have successfully used Nintendo Wii with students to create “Miis” that represent characters from novels such as The Hunger Games. The rich learning and application of knowledge that is required for these types of activities makes gaming a worthwhile tool in the classroom.
Exceptional technology can support exceptional learners
- Dr. Van Eck shared an example of a colleague using Little Big Planet, a PS3 game, to develop social skills in students with autism spectrum disorder. He reported that students felt more comfortable interacting as avatars, and these successful avatar interactions formed the foundation for social skill development beyond the game.
Gaming Can Make the World a Better Place
- Dr. Van Eck recommended exploring the work of Jane McGonigal, Institute of the Future.
- Jane McGonigal suggests that playing games online can help solve the world’s most urgent problems and tackle problems of the next century such as hunger, poverty and obesity.
- Why are people better in games than real life? When playing games, people are more motivated to do something that matters, collaborate and cooperate with peers and to try again after failure. In real life, when faced with failure, people are more likely to feel depressed or overwhelmed.
- McGonigal has dedicated time to developing online games that draw attention to real-world issues . A “World Without Oil” and “Evoke” are 2 examples she gives of online games that can help people collaboratively solve real-world problems and make the world we live in a better place.
- View her TED Talk here as she explains how gaming can make a better world.
The Right Tool for the Job
One of Dr. Van Eck’s suggestions for us was the idea that gaming in education should be used when it is most appropriate and most effective. Do what works best for you and your learners! It is a good reminder that not every situation/lesson/subject/outcome is best met by game-based learning. We have many different effective ways of teaching and it is important to select the best option for each situation. If the same outcomes could be better met by a simpler, more efficient activity, then it may be best to reserve your game-based lessons to achieve something you can’t already do efficiently. This is especially important because planning a new learning activity involving gaming will often require more time and effort. Make sure that your extra time and effort will take teaching and learning to another level! Project-based learning and self-regulated learning tend to be good fits for infusing gaming.
Getting the Goods
One major barrier in exploring gaming in education has been actually getting games. We have used free games that we could find online and also purchased used games when possible. We continue to apply for grant funding to further our collections of games, hardware and software. Dr. Van Eck also proposed the idea of approaching companies with our plans for using games in education and asking for evaluation copies of games to try out. We think this is a great idea and we’ll be dedicating sometime to pursuing this option!
Another idea that we came away with after conferencing with Dr. Van Eck was the importance of making curricular connections to games. It is not enough to have students just play games, learning and gaming must be interconnected and interdependent to be most effective. Students may have to replay and re-examine their game-based activity to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of outcomes. For example, have gamers consider an alternate perspective not represented in the game or explain the math concepts that are behind a game.
Don’t Judge a Book (or a game!) by Its Cover
Since it is difficult for us to purchase a lot of games on our limited budgets, we have to choose carefully. Dr. Van Eck explained that the pictures and description of the game are not typically the keys to determining the value of the game for your classroom. It is important to consider what the game requires players to do to be successful. Those requirements should be a good fit for your goals if you are going to invest in the game. Some tips for learning more about games before purchasing them included watching demos and walk-throughs to see what the games involve. Reviews on Amazon or tested lesson plans using the game can also be helpful. We’ve tried out some lesson ideas from Kinect in the Classroom http://www.microsoft.com/education/en-us/products/Pages/kinect.aspx#3
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