Games, gaming and game development in Education


Lisa Galarneau’s presentation at the ULearn conference has certainly stirred up a lot of conversation about gaming in education – ranging from those who are inspired and enthusiastic to those who don’t see any place for computer games in the classroom. A lot of this is fuelled, of course, bu the sort of statement that was made in the TV3 news item about Lisa’s talk where the intro claimed that “games may be the future of education”.

Such extravagant claims are, or course, intended to stir imaginations and evoke response – all of which is constructive as we seek to address questions about the future of schooling in a digital and networked age. I have three children still at school, and while I would not like to think that their future will consist of sitting all day, every day in front of a computer games console, I am continually intrigued by the ways in which their engagement with digital technologies and participation in the online world is contributing significantly to their disposition as learners – both in terms of how they learn and what they learn – as well as with whom they learn.

In response to what I see as an undercurrent of negativity and ultra-conservatism among some at this conference, I thought I’d record why I am a supporter of the use (and ongoing research into use) of games, gaming and game development in education. Here are my three main reasons:

  1. Games are engaging – there is little doubt that games engage learners. As educators we are all interested in making learning engaging, relevant, delightful etc. There is much to learn from the whole area of games development that might inform the nature of learning activity that occurs in classrooms in the future. We need researchers like Lisa and others to lead us in this thinking – and we need to be engaging in conversations about how this can inform the nature of what happens in our schools and classrooms.
  2. Games can effectively mediate experiences and events we’ve long recognised the advantages of direct, purposeful experiences in educaiton – theorists such as John Dewey and Edgar Dale have provided excellent frameworks to support this. There are some really useful initiatives going on at present to explore how the exisiting gaming engines may be used to provide pedagogically sound, educationally-oriented experiences for learners. Second life is a good example of an open, simulated environment that is being used by some educators, while simulations such as Darfur is Dying provide a more focused experience based on specified learning outcomes.
  3. Game development is effective for teaching important skills – Games in education needn’t be focused only on playing games. I believe there is a lot to be gained from providing students with the tools and abilities to create, construct and contribute to their own games. Using such tools students have the opportunity to develop and use skills that are going to be in demand in a digital world – including programming skills, graphical and design skills, collaborative skills etc. There is an increasing focus on the development of games that can be modified by the user (MODs) which fits this category also.

I could elaborate more on these ideas I’m sure, but for now this summarises where I’m coming from. I think we ignore the potential impact of games in education at our peril – and we simply can’t wait for our politicians and policy makers to complete their “risk mitigation” on this – those who are already using, playing, making and modifying games with their students. We need to capture these experiences, share them and learn from them and eachother (and that includes the students). There’s already a plethora of information available to us to support what is happening in this area, so let’s just do it.

8 thoughts on “Games, gaming and game development in Education

  1. Hi Derek

    I feel sad to hear that you think you’ve noticed an “undercurrent of negativity and ultra-conservatism among some at this conference”. Do you think that the ICT developments are now slowing as we reach the late adopters? I wonder if they are at the conference by choice, or because it is expected of them by a cluster?

    As for computer games, I have recently read back over Marc Prensky’s Learning@School presentation and noted his comment that, “Students want games NOT because they are games, but because they???re the most engaging intellectual thing they have.” Sadly, I think this is the case. I have two sons (15 and 18) totally engaged with World of Warcraft. It is fascinating to watch, as well as to listen to the conversations – discussion on tactics, resource management, leadership etc – it is hugely complex. They are doing very well indeed at high school (with no great effort), but find much of their NCEA life boring and frustrating. Computer games are so complex and challenging, and also so rewarding. A friend’s son spends all his spare time programming games. Personally, I’ve always been a game-player, right from childhood – all the traditional board and card games, and I now enjoy computer games too.

    I wonder if those who are critical of computer games, have ever actually played some of the more complex games. Of course, this debate isn’t only about any particular game, but what it is about computer games that does engage students, and then how can we translate this understanding into the classroom.


  2. Hey Derek,

    I noticed a negative undercurrent at ULearn too (regarding DGBL ??? digital game based learning). And rightly so. There are so many demands impacting the educational domain these days ??? teachers have to be sceptical and protective. However what concerns me is that if teachers remain within their meticulously constructed educational domain then a common language with other domains (such as gaming ??? which is just as valid as organised education) will not evolve.

    In this particular case I see the solution as simply being:
    – provision of exemplars of gaming environments in education
    – teacher testimony regarding how they implemented DGBL
    – student response
    – learning outcomes
    – efficacy research

    Teachers need to ???see??? the evidence first hand, not just hear about it from an expert. Currently the whole DGBL dialogue has too many theoreticians and evangelists.

    I enjoyed Lisa Galarneau’s presentation and thought that it provided a good stimulus for conversation. However it would be nice to see hands on presentations regarding DGBL implementation by teachers for teachers.

    My suggestion is that at ULearn 2008, instead of listening to another expert on DGBL, let’s all just go into a MMOG and have a gander.

    Andrew Carswell

  3. Andrew
    I think you’re right on the button here – the ULearn experience was fruitful in that it helped get DGBL “out there” among a wider audience – and I agree with your five point plan on where to next. Let’s talk about how to make it happen!

  4. We’ve (EI) have just put in an application to the Ministry of Economic Development to build a MMOG for enterprise students – if we get it, it would be great to have you involved in some way…

    Andrew Carswell

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