Games Based Learning

Learning Diary by Anna Laghigna

based on my notes from  EUN Schoolnet Academy Mooc
2nd Round 2015

Source: http://gamifi-ed.wikispaces.com

MODULE 1

Why use computer games in the classroom? How can Gamification help teaching and learning in a 21st century classroom?

"COMPUTER GAMES ARE THE MOST POWERFUL LEARNING TOOL OF OUR AGE"       -           Professor Henry James, MIT

Gamification is the use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts. Games-based Learning was taken in little consideration before 2009, but in the last few years the whole concept has really started to take off.

CC-BY-SA by rledda82 via Flickr

Personally, I have never been very keen on games and teaching secondary senior students I have little experience of gamified teaching and learning in the classroom. However, as a dedicated teacher and curious innovator, I am aware that we need to find new, daring ways to improve our teaching practice and reduce the cultural gap with our students. I therefore understand that Game-based Learning or Playful Learning can make learning easier and help release tension in the classroom. Games offer challenge, progression, reward, personalization and real-time interaction. Characteristics equally relevant to any 21st century classroom. In this respect, I find the following video more meaningful than thousand words:

Play is useful because it simulates real life experience — both physical, emotional, and/or intellectual — in a safe, interactive and social environment. The achievement lies in the act of learning and understanding itself. Whether or not we make a distinction between “simulation” and “games”, interactive digital tools can offer an efficient means to provide effective contextualized learning experiences.

Games offer a competitive but non-threating environment, they allow to build positive relationships, they provide a common language between students and have cultural relevance to them.

Although playing games - and videogames in particular - is often considered a leisure activity, no doubt while playing children and adults alike are fully concentrated on the activities and goals and often develop strategies that include problem solving, critical thinking and cooperative learning. So the challenge is now to exploit this learning potential also within school syllabus.

There are a couple of books that deal with gamification in learning. The first one by James Paul Gee is "What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy". James Paul Gee is often described as the father of video games in schools.

The second book worth having a bit of read is Marc Prensky's book "Don't Bother Me Mom - I'm Learning!" It is quite a famous book also because it contains the famous phrases "digital natives and digital immigrants".

From the paper: "Imagination Project" - http://www.imaginegames.eu/

"Games in learning can develop mathematical and linguistic skills and knowledge and can support the development of key competences, including digital competence, creativity and innovation, citizenship, and lifelong learning. They can also develop ‘soft’ skills including strategic thinking, planning, negotiating skills, group decisionmaking as well as eye-hand coordination. There is a growing body of evidence to support the use of games for learning, showing how they are interactive, engaging and immersive, thus increasing motivation and engagement in learning. They tend to be most effective when educational content is embedded and they are used with certain curricula and pedagogies." p.5

Source: OLPC Foundation, CC BY 2.5 via: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Laptop_per_Child

Students love playing. Unfortunately, teachers have little time to dedicate to playing games in class. This is as a whole too time-consuming and it is usually considered more suitable to primary schools and kindergarten.

However games are important because:

  • Students learn while playing a game.
  • They can understand a new concept or idea, take on a different view, experiment with different perspectives.
  • Besides, they learn about fairplay and rules, respecting others.
  • Games provide a context for entertaining activities.
  • Games become meaningful activities to practise a new topic, vocabulary or concept. They acquire the content because games are engaging and funny!
  • Through games students can learn a variety of skills. Students can develop critical thinking skills, creativity, teamwork, and communication skills.
  • Students establish connections with different areas while playing games.
  • Some games trigger sensory experiences and social skills.
  • Students can put into play their background knowledge of different subjects such as maths, language, geography, PE, history, etc.
  • One important thing about games is that they are competitive, but also non-threatening, and there is something about that actually encourages people to learn rather than scare them off the learning experience.
  • Another important aspect is that games unite people and foster collaboration and social skills.

The age  and developmental stage of the child regarding the use of digital learning tools should also receive adequate consideration. There are some significant differences in neuro-development between early childhood years, primary school years and older kids from 10/11 years old up, and different needs. Games have always been a natural efficient tool for learning at every age provided they are age appropriate, but the digital environment in itself is essentially cognitive. It tends to overstimulate and disconnect the child from the physical environment and the integral use of all the senses.

Therefore educators should be mindful as regards the right age to introduce them and the right balance to be managed with other whole body - whole senses engaging activities. Of course this is mainly a concern for the pre-school and early school years and not so much for older classrooms where the digital tools are a powerful media for learning.

Further readings:

EUN Manuale per i Docenti http://games.eun.org/upload/GIS_HANDBOOK_IT.pdf

IMAGINE Publication: Digital Games for Learning

EDUTOPIA: Implementing Game-Like Learning Principles

HISTORIA: Game-based learning for history

ISTE: Playing Games in School Video Games and Simulations for Primary and Secondary Education

MINDSHIFT: Guide to Digital Games + Learning

Education Scotland: Game Based Learning Portal

Gamifi-ED Project: Encyclopedia of Learning Games ranked by students and teachers.  A-Z listed games

Presentation by Timonious Downing: Teach Generation G: Through Gamification and Game Based Learning

A publication suggested by a Norwegian colleague. "The Walking Dead in school – moral philosophy after the apocalypse" by Tobias Staaby, teacher and special advisor on games in learning at Nordahl Grieg upper secondary school, Norway

A collection of video games for learning:

Module 2 - Games for
Thematic Learning

“NOW WHAT WE ARE TALKING ABOUT HERE IS COMPUTER GAMES NOT JUST AS GAMES, BUT AS A WHOLE NEW LEARNING FORM OR PLATFORM OF LEARNING AND ONE THAT HAS QUITE LITERALLY, UNLIMITED LEARNING POTENTIAL” - Lord David Puttnam

Thematic Learning & Project-based learning

When a project is being done at school it usually implies a contextual hub, i.e. a thematic scenario within which the project unspans, which should possibly be reality-based. These real-life projects often have a theme, which in some cases might not be relevant to a child.

Videogames can provide a relevant scenario to learning and serve as contextualization hubs. As Ollie Bray suggests in the video, 'Some people might say: “That’s got nothing to do with education, apart from the physical activity that is involved”. But of course for a creative teacher, you might say: “we’ll start off by playing 20,000 Leaks and we will use that as a context for teaching about seas and oceans”. For example, children could research the world life under water. They could research the science behind buoyancy or the science behind how ships float. They might go online and they might even follow some ships around the world using GPS tracking systems. The only thing that is really holding us back is our imagination'. In providing contextualisation to learning, a game play can be an important part of the theme and an important part of the project.

How can commercial games that already exist on the market be used to provide a powerful context for learning?

In my opinion, commercial games and consoles are way too expensive to be taken into consideration in Italian schools. There are other priorities ahead of videogames, like for example wifi connectivity and digital infrastuctures in schools. That being said, there is no doubt great potential for teaching and learning in commercial games that exist on the market. Graphics and game dynamics are for sure more engaging, because of the big investments made into them and the involvement of professional game designers.

How to use games for thematic & project based learning:
playing Wall-E

How can a game be used to support the curriculum? Many teachers might think that actually Wall-E has nothing to do with what we have to teach the children in class. However,  we can use this as a context for learning to reinforce some other key curriculum ideas.

For example, the film is set in space on a planet, and that provides a context for teaching about space and the solar system, that some planets have got oxygen on them and gravity changes as you move from planet to planet, all kinds of rich scientific activities in there. Since Wall-E himself is a robot so that gives a teacher a good opportunity to teach about robotics and command and control. Moreover, the planet that Wall-E lives on is a big refuge tip, it goes around recycling goods, so maybe that gives you a context for teaching about the environment and about recycling. And if you have really watched the film, you will understand that it is a robot living on a planet, but actually it is really a film about friendship and relationships. And maybe you can use this game to introduce some of those difficult concepts which sometimes children struggle with: bullying, loneliness and empathy. Just like any good game combined with any good teacher, you can actually use it to do whatever you want as long as you have a good sense of imagination.

While playing, some of the children can write down the data to be used for later activities in Maths, numeracy, literacy or literature, etc. Besides individual work, group work and newspaper reports on the story of the game and on the story of the film can be developed using the game as the context for learning.

The game could be used to reflect on the impact of consumer society and humans on the environment. It could help raise awareness and make students think about our planet. The deserted Earth is a powerful message in the film and the game. Topics such as pollution, global warming, recycling, waste reduction etc. can be learnt and reflected upon while playing the game. Other social and emotional topics could also be included, like health and green economy.

As a teacher of EFL, I don't know whether I'll have a chance to play a game like e-Wall at school, but for sure I can recognize great potential for learning also in the 2008 film by Walt Disney. Just asking students to describe some of the scenes and the-day-after scenarios in the movie is a great speaking/writing activity that can involve teenagers at a very deep level.

How to use the Olympic Games for learning

It is quite easy to link Olympic Games to different aspects of the curriculum. In language classes, the first activity that comes to my mind is to practise vocabulary about sports.

On www.engames.eu there are plenty of exciting activities to learn and practice new vocabulary, including some games. The following one is called On target (requires Flash). The task is to read the definition and then choose the best option. If you answer correctly you get a chance to shoot the Evil ducks. A Bottle Bonus is granted if you shoot a bottle.

Further topics suggested in the course:

Culture and Global citizenship: Starting from the athletes and their nationalities, students can develop projects on countries, lifestyles, etc. While children are working and researching the different athletes, they can get some digital literacy skills and understand which websites to use, which websites not to use, going away and actually researching something for real.

Social Studies: Olympic values. Doping and other complicated issues around substance misuse can be introduced to the class while researching and done in a playful way to talk about something which is very important.

Geography: countries and different time zones.

Writing: Students can write reports on the Olympic Games happening in the classroom (on wifi), but also on the Olympic Games that are actually happening in real-time.

2.4. How to use games for thematic & project based learning: further resources

As Ollie Bray suggests, games based learning and thematic learning is also being used very successfully with older children around topics like Guitar Hero, where students plan tours, world tours, with those virtual bands. There are other off-the-shelf games that are still very popular like Rock Band or Lego Rock Band, which can be very successful in developing thematic learning approaches.

And increasingly we see the rise of narrative-driven games such as Hotel Dusk: Room 215, but also other games which are available also for tablets. A useful resource that we can explore is this website Engage Learning: www.engagelearning.eu

Further resources suggested by Mooc participants in the following Padlet:

Module 3 - What games are out there that will help children learn?

In this Module we are looking at games that are not usually available in shops but which have been specifically designed for learning.

The main purpose behind them is therefore gamified learning. There are lots of educational games that are really bad, some are not very educational. They might look nice sometimes if they have been designed by games designer, but they lack the educational input. The flip side of the coin is that an educational game might have high educational input but looks terrible, because the game play is boring, repetitive or with poor graphics, so the children do not engage with it either.

It is important to remember that there are a lot of educational games out there, so that a teacher needs to think very carefully about whether they are educational or not, and whether they will suit educational needs and purposes.

In the following Padlet, Mooc participants have pinned their ideas about bad educational games:

3.2. Language Games

Ollie Bray suggests that the use of computer games and the use of gamification has really revolutionised how it is possible to learn another language from a computer, from a game, rather than from somebody who is a native speaker in that language. Language apps and language games have got massive potential in the classroom and massive potential for independent learning at home as well.

He suggests the following games for language learning:

My French Coach for the Nintendo DS or the Nintendo 3DS. It is available also in Japanese, Chinese and Spanish, and it is very cheap to buy once you have got the handheld console. It also offers 150 language lessons, which are quite personalised to you because depending on how you get on with the content, it will recommend that you go back and repeat a lesson or maybe that you skip some lessons.

The interesting thing about using this kind of game is that it can be useful in classes where the  teacher is struggling to get the children in their class to speak out loud so they can check the pronunciation. This because a game is competitive but it is also non-threatening. The children are quite happy to speak to the games console and get that wrong but they do not feel embarrassed by that, whereas speaking out in front of one of their peers sometimes there is a bit of apprehension there, sometimes there is a bit of embarrassment.

There are lots of language apps from the Android App Store or IOS Store. The problem of course with apps is that some of them are very good, some of them might not be as good as they could be, some of them are free, some of them you have to pay for, so the important thing is go out and to test out these apps beforehand.

When dealing with apps a good idea suggested by Ollie Bray is to set a homework task or a home learning task, get our students to go in, to explore different language app each, and then to come back and to review it. So you can decide which one is the best and maybe use that with the class.

Another very popular app for language learning is Duolingo which is free, although there are some premium services that you can buy as well. What makes it a good app is that lessons are progressive, around basic languages or phrases. As you work your way through the early lessons, then it lets you unlock other levels so that is quite gamified. The exercises are interactive, they include video and pictures. Also, you are able to track your progress, not only as an individual but you can also track it against other people that you are linked up with on social networking sites.

Other games or apps useful for language learning suggested by course participants  in the following Tricider.

3.3. Movement Games

Movement games have been around for a long time and are often called exer-gaming, because they aim at actually getting people to exercise through the use of game play. Games consoles like the Nintendo Wii and more recently the Xbox Kinect, completely revolutionised how you might be able to use computer games to develop an increased heart rate and to develop movement.

If these activities are run in class, the children will be circulating around over a period of time. So in terms of movement games, there might be massive potential in the classroom, not only to keep fit, but also to have a little bit of fun as well. In the following Tricider, other apps or games are suggested that could be used in the classroom:

3.4. Brain Training

Brain training games aim at getting your brain moving a little bit. Some of these games can be really good, but some might not be as good, so it is really important to try out these different games. There are lots of people these days claiming to be able to improve your brain power or your mental arithmetic, but the reality is that there is no kind of scientific proof for that.

These are some of the brain training games suggested by Ollie Bray:

Math Workout is very good, not only is it free, but there are a lot of activities inside. Sudoku is also very good for improving maths, improving mental arithmetic. Math Duel, which kids really enjoy using (availabe from Android but not not for Apple iOS). Players have to compete against the people in terms of doing different sums, and of course because the game learns with you, the sums get more and more complicated as you progress with the game.

Other brain training games suggested by MOOC participants in the following Tricider:

3.5 Simulation Games

There are also a lot of simulation games that are available, sometimes they are called serious games and can be used not only for training purposes, but also to improve learning and teaching. Ollie Bray mentions:

Simcity - perhaps the greatest simulation game that has ever been created.Farmville - great simulation game to help teach children about agriculture and also the processes and the hardship of being a farmer. Players have to run their own virtual farm, look after the animals, decide what they want to buy, keep an eye on the weather, manage their budget, manage time carefully.RollerCoaster Tycoon, where you are actually designing a roller-coaster for people to ride, but there are also all the additional things around designing the theme park as well, so actually not only it can be used to teach the kids about physics and about speed, but it can also be used to introduce some more complicated things around tourism.Plague - can teach young people some of the challenges to do with infection and how quickly infection can spread. There is a lot of hidden learning within games like this.Other simulation games suggested in the following Tricider:

3.6 Further resources

Two good websites are suggested that can be used to source information on games.

Primary Games Arena - provides web-based games that fit into different curricular areas, for example ICT, Maths, English, Science, etc. It is using the power of the community to not just suggest games, but also to rate games, which can be used in the classroom.

Learning Games For Kids - As well as having web-based games in here, this website also links to some apps. The disadvantage of it is that apart from the database being a lot bigger and quite good, it is not rated in any way.

Module 4
What can we learn from games?

How could a games based approach be used to develop traditional teaching methodology. This approach is sometimes referred to as the ‘gamification of learning’.

Scrabble can be a good example of that. How can we take this traditional game and make it more engaging. How can we augment it and improve it by using some technology?

By using games in the classroom, the learning enviroment becomes more flexible. No confined horizon is really set and the circumstances can change.

By adding narrative, storyline, a theme, or fun graphics to our lessons and activities students feel more engaged.

Being an EFL teacher, I think that through simulation games and roleplays  students can participate more actively in discussions, for example about global issues. Certainly, they will get more motivated and could work both autonomously in groups or pairs in a more complex way. Language games and quizzes can be very useful to activate language learning by exploring new vocabulary and topics, as well as for formative assessment.

4.2. Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality (AR) is a growing field of technology where real life is modified and enhanced by computer-generated sights and sounds. By using a tablet or a smarphone it is possible to overlay an image with a further video, image or text so that the real world merges with a virtual world. Because a tablet has got an accelerometer in it, and because it is constantly connected to the internet via 3G or via Wi-Fi, it can superimpose a layer of virtual data onto a real-life landscape through its inbuilt camera. The concept of augmenting the real world with digital data is starting to get more and more popular.

Advantages of AR - (Contributed on the Mooc Padlet by Aneliya Nokolova)

Can increase knowledge and informationPeople can share experiences with each other in real time over long distancesGames that provide an even more "real" experienceThings come to life on people's mobileForm of escapism

Disadvantages of AR

Spam and SecuritySocial and Real-Time vs. Solitary and CatchedUX (User Experience): Using AR can be inappropriate in social situations.Interoperability: The lack of data portability between AR environments (such as Wikitude AR and Layar AR browser).Openness: Other people can develop their own layers of content to display

In the following video Ollie Bray suggests possible application of augmented reality in the classroom.

Here are some useful links mentioned by Ollie:

  • A video from IKEA showing their AR app in action.
  • The app Seek and Spell which allows you to use your mobile phone to play virtual scrabble on your school playing field.
  • Pac-Manhattan allows to explore an urban place. Players must be careful not to get caught by the ghosts and at the same time, they are encouraged to explore it in a very playful way.
  • The Hidden Park. It is a fantasy story in which students can use their phone GPS in order to be able to navigate around. When they get to certain locations, they have to do certain challenges. In another activity, they use their phone as a scanner to discover what is actually living in the trees.
  • Teachthought recently produced a list of 32 Augmented Reality Apps for Education - some of them are free, but they are all worth exploring.
  • Xbox 360 Kinect Playful Learning titles see: www.xbox.com/KinectforKids. While watching National Geographic TV or Sesame Street TV through your games console, you can activate parts of the programme that are interactive. For example you can actually appear in the programme in Sesame Street TV and the characters will recognize the sorts of colours that you are wearing and then wear the same colours as you. You can also do things like practise counting exercises by throwing virtual coconuts into the television programme and they will throw virtual coconuts back to you.

For further Augmented reality tools and resources suggested by course participants, see attached Padlet:

4.3. Geocaching

Geocaching is the largest treasure hunt in the world and it is carried out with the use of a GPS, either a handheld GPS or one on your smartphone, in order to find places and to try and find physical objects.

As Ollie Bray explains in his article appeared on Teachthought "Using Geo-caching in primary schools": "Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are becoming very common these days. Hill walkers use them, cars come with satellite navigation and many modern mobile phones are GPS enabled. But did you know that people around the world have hidden over 1.5 million pieces of geo-located Tupperware? These are called geocaches and are part of a global game of hiding and seeking treasure using GPS.

A person can hide a geocache anywhere in the world, pinpoint its location using GPS technology and then share the geocache’s existence and location online at geocaching.com. Anyone with a GPS device can then try to find the geocache.

Educaching is similar to geocaching but the teacher hides the caches on a temporary basis (maybe in the school grounds or local community). Educaches normally contain challenges linked to learning outcomes and thematic learning.

Geocaching and Educaching are great activities to do with young people. Finding a geocache can add a different purpose to your journey and encourages you (and your learners) to look at your surroundings in a completely different way".

If you go to the Geocaching website, you can put your postcode or your zip code in, and all the Geocaches close to where you live show up. Then you click on the Geocache and you can find out whether it is a big Geocache or whether it is a small Geocache, you can download the coordinates, and off you go!

It is a great and fun activity, which combines physical activity with technology. Kids love it. On the Geocaching website they provide great information on how to start geocaching: https://www.geocaching.com/guide/default.aspx

Further reflections by course participants were reported on this Padlet:

4.4. Gamification

How can we use some of the concepts from computer games to improve something which maybe is a little bit more boring traditionally?

Microsoft Research have added a gamified approach to some of their tutorials using a free plugin for Office 2007, 2010 and 2013, called Ribbon Hero. Instead of working  through traditional tutorials, you can play your way through the tutorials using a little character called Clippy. The quicker that you produce the tutorials, the more points you get. It has got a social aspect to it as well, so you can share and compete via Facebook.  As you move along, you gain points and these points come into achievements. Once you have gained all your achievement points, you unlock another level, and in this case you unlock a more advanced tutorial, so it is learning from the domain of computer games and actually taking some of these ideas into more traditional activities.

There are other ways to gamify products. A Microsoft PowerPoint presentation can for example be gamified by using a little programme called Microsoft Mouse Mischief. It allows you to gamify traditional Power Point quizzes and presentations by connecting more than 1 USB mouse to a computer using a USB hub. This means that you can add up to 24 mice and 24 people actually in the environment and moving around. It is a very quick way to add a degree of interactivity and a degree of gamification into what can be called a traditional PowerPoint presentation. Microsoft Mouse Mischief for Windows 7 and Windows 8 can be downloaded for free from microsoft.com/multipoint/mouse-mischief.

There are an increasing number of areas in life that are becoming gamified, often without us noticing initially. Participants have contributed ideas on the following Padlet:

4.5. Digital Badges

Traditional physical badges have been used for many years by various organizations such as the Scouts and sporting organizations (eg: swimming clubs) to give people a physical emblem to display the accomplishment of various achievements.

While physical badges have been in use for hundreds of years, the idea of digital badges is a relatively recent development drawn from research into gamification. In 2005, Microsoft introduced the Xbox’ 360 Gamerscore system, which is considered to be the original implementation of an achievement system. Since then other organizations such as Foursquare and Kahn Academy have started to use digital badges to reward their users for accomplishing certain tasks. Also European Schoolnet Academy uses digital badges, which many participants proudly display on social media to show that they have achieved their purpose.

Mozilla has also developed a system of Open Badges and a number of organisations are now issuing digital badges for the participation in a variety of activities. To create very simple reward badges for students a teacher can also use classbadges.com.

I like to award badges to my students. Lately, I have increased the use of Edmodo badges which I assign students as positive feedback on particular occasions or special efforts in class (Critical Thinker! Great Communicator! Great Presenter! Brilliant tutor of classmates! Inspired writer! etc.) There are so many badges available that can be adapted to our needs! My Students love them! I have collected 77 badges so far to choose from for a wide range of tasks.

4.6. - How could you gamify your classroom?

I have not entirely gamified my classes as a general praxis. I have just been experimenting a few tools, which have added fun and competition to learning especially in the assessment phase. I have mainly used different kinds of vocabulary games in my lessons, like the ones offered by Engames.eu. The games have been extra activities, not part of the actual teaching.

I would like to further expand the use of Edmodo badges and integrate in my teaching practice more formative quiz tools like Kahoot and Socrative, which I have already used a few times with excellent feedback from my students.

I plan to use more games also to explore vocabulary and complex topics. British Council LearnEnglish Kids has lots of free online games, songs, stories and activities to have fun and learn English:  http://learnenglishkids.britishcouncil.org/en. Also the Monkey Puzzle World Tour by Cambridge English.org is worth a try.

Classnet tools and Classcraft also offer great games. Classcraft in particular is a new online program that contextualizes various elements of the classroom for students in a fun, interactive way and tracks student progress.

I would also like to use QRCodes and Aurasma for AR.

I would like my students to become involved in the creation of games, especially after presentation of their multimedia projects in order to grab hold of their classmates' attention and gather feedback from them. Zondle, Educaplay, Tinytap are good tools for that. http://learningapps.org/ also gives the possibility to create games individually.

The Infographic below provides great insight on how to combine Gamification & Instructional design. I find it very useful, especially considering what learning outcomes we as teachers expect of our students. Pedagogical objectives come first, I think.

Source: http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2013/05/6-easy-steps-to-use-gamification in class

Module 5 - Designing Games

5.1 Introduction to Game Design

As Ollie Bray suggests the main aim of teaching young students how to design their own games is to transform mere consumers of digital content into a new generation of creators of digital content. We need to have more and more young people able not only to consume but also to create digital assets across Europe.

When looking at game design, time progression should be taken into consideration. Computer games design should not be only addressed at secondary school, but at primary school as well. Young people can start designing games at a very young age and there are many tools and digital packages that can help us do this.

Another big point about designing games in schools is that it provides a real hook to get young people interested in coding. Across Europe there is a big focus at the moment about how to teach young people to code digitally. Students often do not like coding: they find it quite hard since it includes a lot of complicated Maths. Videogames can serve as a perfect contextualition hub to introduce coding in the classroom. But it is important to start from a very early stage.

Designing games also allows to introduce cross-curricular projects. Good computer games also present many good characters in them, that can be culturally relevant to our contemporary society.

So when thinking about game design, it's not only about the coding involved in it, but also trying to get young people think about how the story or the characters have developed over time, like in the example of SuperMario.

The following document by EUN provides a brief introduction about Games Design Software: Games design tools with reference to the following designing tools:

  • 2 Simple DIY (paid)
  • Minecraft (paid)
  • MIT Scratch (free)
  • MIT Scratch Junior (free)
  • Microsoft Kodu (free but PC and Xbox only)
  • Project Spark (free but Windows 8.1 and Xbox One only)
  • RPG Game Maker (paid)
  • Unreal Development Kit ­ UDK (free ­ premium options also available)
  • Microsoft Powerpoint (paid)

5.2. Simple Games Design Tools

The first thing to say of course is that in order to teach the principles of games design, sometimes some non-computer games are probably a very good place to start.

Mouse Trap is an easy game to introduce game design with young children. Some tools that are not actually designed to create computer games, like Microsoft Powerpoint or Apple's Keynote can be useful to develop specific narrative driven games or mystery games. By adding action buttons into the presentation, the direction and flow of the story can be changed. Here the point is not about complicated coding but rather about telling a story and including simple variables in any game. Powerpoint and Keynote allow us to do this very easily. Students can create more complicated stories or work out presentations collaboratively that include some interactive elements in them.

Another interesting tool is 2Simple DIY. It is a commercially available game from 2Simple software company that allows the development of a whole range of games.

Lots of people have heard of Scratch, but fewer know of Scratch Junior. It is available for the iPad and Android platforms. Scratch junior features more of child-like interface and it is optimised for touch because it is designed to be used on a tablet computer.

Games Design for Younger Children

All of these game tools can be used also for people that are a bit older or for those that are young at heart.

Since its launch, Scratch has received widespread acclaim as an ideal environment through which to introduce learners to computer programming and computational thinking. Scratch has been around for a number of years, but Scratch 2.0 is now completely web-based and this has been a massive improvement for its use across schools in Europe. If you do not have an Internet connection, you can still download the previous version of Scratch and use it locally on your PC.

Scratch is similar to Lego. You basically slot all the different blocks in order to get your characters to do things. On the Scratch website, you can see the projects created by other Scratch users. You can play other people's games and leave feedback. This is a very useful thing to do with members of your class. There are also plenty of video tutorials available on Scratch, some also translated into your local language.

On the Official Scratch Day schools from around the world get together to share, play and comment on each other's Scratch games.

The Royal Society of Edimburgh provides some excellent resources for schools, which can help teachers and students get started with game design and computing. Among these there is one called "Starting from Scratch" and "Itching for More" (joke on Itch/Scratch implied). The latter is an extension of Scratch which includes another piece of software called "Build Your Own Blocks".

Kodu is available from Microsoft, both on Xbox and on the PC. If played on a PC, an Xbox controller can be plugged. It gives the impression you are developing games on an Xbox, while actually it is just a simulation on your PC. Compared to Scratch, Kodu features some really advanced graphics. It is very immersive and you can do things in order to get instant feedback, which is exactly what children and young people demand these days. Because characters can be made to speak and talk, and you can input text into the game, there is great potential to develop literacy. Like Scratch it is based on blocks and it can help young people develop computational thinking. It can also be used to teach Science. Good tips on how to use Kodu in the classroom and some useful tutorials can be found on Interactive Classroom curated by English teacher GeekyNikki including an interesting Powerpoint presentation on Kodu Lab and a whole Padlet on Computing Resources:

Also Consolarium, The Scottish Centre for Games Based Learning, provides some video tutorials on how to use Kodu.

Recently Microsoft have developed a project called Project Spark. It is unfortunately only available for the Xbox and Windows 8.1. It takes code to the next level in terms of being an immersive game, with complicated gameplay and sophisticated physics engine.

Minecraft is a sandbox based on blocks. Anything can be built with these blocks. The only limit is your imagination. There are a lot of resources available to help support Minecraft in the classroom. These include MinecraftEdu and Minecraft Education Wiki.

Advanced Games Design Tools

This type of game design tools is more suitable for older students. In the video, Ollie Bray provides accurate review of the following tools:

RPG Game Maker is a PC-based game designer that allows the creation of games similar to the ones that can be usually played on Nintendo DS. These games are map-based, which means that you can explore different aspects of the game and most importantly they are narrative driven. Students can develop their own stories, fight scenes, create different pathways depending on which direction they want to take the game in and the choices that the game players make.

UDK - Unreal Development Kit has been used to create some popular games, like the Batman games or Infinity Blade. UDK is a free game engine, which requires the signing by school of a licence agreement and the payment of royalties only if you want to sell your game. What this means for schools is that we can use industry standard games design software for free in our schools. It can be very empowering for students, although it can be quite complicated to use. Good tutorials are available. It has got very good physics engines, which contain quite complex Mathematics to create special effects. Visual scripting tools can be used to introduce older children into what is actually required in game play as well as digital storytelling.

Similarly to Project Spark and Kodu, UDK introduces different levels. This ensures that the game remains progressive and that different students can work on a different level of the game.

The Royal Society of Edimburgh has produced two other interesting things, although they are not directly related to game design, that are permeated with game design. One is called I love my Smartphone, which encourages young people to develop smartphone apps, and the other one is a unit on information and web based information systems called Information Everywhere.

Module 6 - Why is it important to teach about games?

Gamification is a good way to involve students in a learning activity. By creating a playful context, tension is released and new topics can be explored without fear to fail.

As Rebekah Sthatakis suggests on her Blog in the post: "Game Playing in the Classroom: The Value of Games in my Class":

  1. Students can learn while playing. By playing a game, students can understand new concepts or ideas, take a different perspective, or even experiment with different options available for them.
  2. Games provide a context for engaging practice. As a teacher of English, I consider important that games provide meaningful contexts for the use of the language as students have to write commands or understand what characters are saying or even read instructions.
  3. Through games students can acquire different skills. Games require students to develop and use critical thinking skills, creativity, teamwork, and good fairplay.
  4. When playing games, students can develop a variety of connections with the content and can generate positive memories. Those positive emotional connections lead to positive attitude and can facilitate learning.
  5. Games capture students’ attention and actively engage them. Students love playing games, so through games it is easier to focus their attention and add fun to the lesson.

6.1 - Responsible Use

We live in a society characterised by an overwhelming presence of modern technological devices. As educators we need to make sure that games and technology as a whole are used by our students in a responsible way. Having games at school can help us teach our children to play games responsibly also when they get home.

A useful resource for educators, which was made available by Insafe and funded by European Commission, is Play and Learn: Being Online. it is an activity book which offers children from 4 to 8 years of age 30 pages of fun and games. It gives them a glimpse of the impact modern technology can have on their everyday life. Above all it offers an opportunity for parents and teachers to sit together with their children and discuss these important issues. It is available for download in several languages.

6.2 - PEGI and Parent Controls

Computer games are often perceived as dangerous and addictive by the public and parents in particular. In order to gain a wider trust about the use of games in school, it is fundamental to know about the control mechanisms that have been introduced to protect and safeguard children online. One of these is PEGI.

PEGI stands for the Pan European Game Information. It is an initiative which has come at the Interactive Software Federation of Europe, and consists in a series of symbols present on all computer games that can be bought in the shop.

PEGI provides a classification system for video games based on two parts:

Age range and Type of content that might be included in the game and the sort of things that you might have to watch out for.

For certain games that have particularly difficult or troublesome content, you need to be over 3, over 7, over 12, over 16 or over 18 (slight differences for Portugal because of legal reasons). This is in order to prevent children to be victims if they come into contact with content they are not emotionally ready for.

Interestingly enough, over 50% of all video games classified by PEGI are within the 3+ category. In the 18+ category, there are just over 400 games, only 4% of the total amount. Video games are often judged as highly violent or sexualised in the press or in the media, but actually there is a very small amount of that type of video games actually in circulation through European countries.

PEGI classification is also via content. There are special symbols which provide warning for example because of violent content, bad language such as swearing, reference to drug use, games of a sexual nature, gambling, very scary games, racist or derogatory towards a certain culture, or internet-enabled.

The PEGI OK sign is a relatively new initiative to get around games which are not bought in shops, but designed as apps or downloaded from websites. If the game is PEGI OK, it means that it is suitable for all and you have got nothing to worry about.

PEGI has produced a few useful resources, which are good for educators but also good for parents. One of them is the PEGI app, where you can quickly see the classification of a variety of games. This is available for Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, and Microsoft Windows Phone 7.

Nearly all games consoles or devices where you can play games or develop games have very sophisticated parental controls. On the PEGI website there is a page providing guidelines on how to adjust and change parental controls on your device.

Because of the rise of online games, there is also now a sister website which is pegionline.eu, which is dedicated to online safety codes, in particular around gaming and the social use of gaming as well.

6.3 - Evolution of Games

Computer games as well as the people playing computer games have changed over the years.

Freemium games are just one example. Nowadays, many high quality computer games are given away for free just to make them become popular. Once you have started playing the game, you are asked a very small amount of money to upgrade or to get bonus points. This is something educators and teachers must be aware of. There have been cases all over Europe, certainly a lot in the UK, in which people have been running up these in-app purchases, maybe without their parents knowing and since it is linked to a credit card account, people have got very big bills.

Games are more immersive than in the past. Kids are playing video games now on high definition screens. Sometimes they play video games on projected high definition projectors.

Games are looking a lot more real than what they looked like 10 or 20 years ago, certainly 30 years ago. Games are now very real also in the way that they sound: if you shoot a gun in a game, the reason that it sounds so realistic is because it will be a recorded gunfire which is then being spread across. Games are even starting to feel real now as well: because of some peripherals which are available for games consoles, if you get shot in the game, it has got compressed air canisters in it and you can feel a bit of a pressure on your head or on your body. There still are games which ask you to do inappropriate things. So the issue of Internet safety and responsible use remain cutting edge.

As Ollie Bray explains, if games are looking real, sounding real, feeling real and you are doing real things, it can be more difficult for our kids today than in the past to differentiate between what is fantasy and what is reality. Some of these boundaries have become a bit blurred. That is why it is very important that we are constantly talking to children about their game play experiences and about what they are doing online.

Image: TGS 2014 gamer PC via Commons-wikimedia.org

Personally I am not a good gamer. I have never been, neither as a child nor as a teacher. What seems to me is that games have become more and more sophisticated not only as for their graphics but also for the play dynamics. Some games involve a player psychologically to such an extent that he might become addicted to playing. I remember the case of a boy in the school I worked at a few years ago, who ended up playing videogames day and night and had to give up school. He also gambled his parents' money on games. Her mum told me that he was convinced he would not need to find a job. He would be earning enough money just gambling online. We could not do much for him, unfortunately. This is an example of what might happen when boundaries become blurred between reality and fiction, but also of how urgent it is for educators and teachers to become aware of these risks.

6.4 - Talking about Games

Given the importance of games and gaming culture in our society we should talk about games in schools and in our families. Unfortunately, this is still often not the case.

As educators and teachers we should give young people the opportunity to speak about all their experiences online, including video games. It is a matter of good questioning and showing interest in terms of what that child does outside of school. No matter if they had a positive or negative experience, we need to be interested in what they are doing. For example:

  • What types of websites do they use?
  • What types of games do they play?
  • What does that game or that website do?

If we can do that, then we will be able to quickly understand if children are feeling distressed, either via the website or via the game, and we will be able to offer them advice.

Some children will come into contact with inappropriate content that they are not emotionally ready for, and knowing that they should not, they might not be willing to speak to a responsible adult about it. No matter what systems and filter we put in place, children will still come into contact with that content, and when they do, we need to be there as educators and we need to be there as responsible parents to scoop them up, talk them about it, tell them it is alright, and to offer that kind of nice and sensible advice.

Image: Gamer demographic via Wikimedia.Commons.org

Another reason why we should talk about games in schools is the risk of game addiction. In some countries like China game addiction has been medically diagnosed. So game addiction and the amount of screen time is definitely something that we need to be keeping an eye on. Again, the point is conversation and good questioning. We need to know what children are doing both in the school and at home.

All technological devices are very powerful. They have several purposes. They have got strong media content to be able both to broadcast and create media. Both games consoles, tablets and mobile phones produce video, watch video, they message both to people and away from people. They are the hub of your social network and of course a web browser. It is therefore very important to be aware of parental settings and responsible use on mobile phones and tablets as well as games consoles as well as on normal computers.

There are a couple of interesting resources to explore: "The Playful Learning Computer Games" by Microsoft and "Play and Learn: Being online"

As for my personal experience, I do not have children of my own but I have often talked with my students about video games, which of course are one of their favourite hobbies. I asked them to describe the game dynamics, but they were very seldom willing to do so. They consider games as part of their private sphere and do not want to share their experiences with adults. They often reported that it is just a way to get lost in fantasy and forget everything about their day at school. I also asked what type of games they liked best. Apparently, they tend to get quickly bored and change games fast.

What worries me the most about playing games - and to some extent about gamification in the classroom -  is that particular sensation that might seize a player and prevent him/her from stop playing right now, maybe because he is about to reach a new level or because he must accomplish something first. I wonder how you could stop students from playing in class once they get fully immersed in it. There are moments in a game when you simply can't stop what you're doing and go to next job. I cannot figure out how a teacher could say: "Well done, folks. Now stop playing. Let's revise Grammar!" I am afraid that would be impossible!

Learning Designer

As final task for this MOOC I have designed a Learning Story through which students will learn from games and videos about the importance of eSafety and Cyberethics. The title is "Stay Safe on the Internet!"

I must admit that I started this MOOC with some hesitation. I have little experience about gamifi-ED in the classroom, and apart from a few games and quizzes, I have hardly ever used games as part of my teaching practice.

Throughout this course I have learnt a lot about gamification and games based learning. I have become more aware about the importance of playful learning in the classroom. I am going to experiment many of the tools suggested in the course and also by many participants and plan to integrate them in next year syllabus.

However, it seems to me that the point here is not that of using a couple of games once in a while just to add fun to our teaching. Probably, what needs to be done in our schools is creating new learning scenarios that integrate games for wider thematic approaches. To do so, we can make use of blended methodology that integrates PBL, gamifi-ED and technology-based learning. Big challenges await us!

It's been a very inspiring course. Thank you!

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