Session 6: Games Based Learning

Welcome back from your placements! This week we’ll be looking at games-based learning (GBL): the use of computer games in the classroom.

You may agree with the proponents of this approach that we should tap into this significant aspect of children’s lives and replicate their immersion in the games environment, with the aim of directing their high levels of engagement towards authentic learning experiences. Or, like others, you may wonder whether games contribute to antisocial behaviour and trivialise events, and are therefore an inappropriate medium for exploring serious themes.

You’ll have a chance to weigh up the pros and cons as we play and evaluate games on a range of platforms this week: the Xbox Kinect, PS3, Wii, iPads and online on the computers.

As we’re doing this, we’ll think about the pedagogical basis for games and learning. Have a look at the FutureLab Computer Games and Learning Handbook for their useful categorisation of games into Behaviourist, (think stimulus-response games like Zondle where the rewards are extrinsic); and Cognitivist/Constructionist where the learning and the play are more integrated and the players actively construct knowledge for themselves, (think Tinkerbox on the iPad or microworlds like Spore). See Carlton Reeves’ Play with Learning blog for more on this.

Tinkerbox for iOS

Anther way of thinking about games is to consider the various ways in which they can help meet learning goals. A key distinction is the difference between games used as a starting point to inspire work across the curriculum, and learning which takes place through or within a game.

Tim Rylands, for example, is well known for using Myst as a stimulus for creative writing. And at our BLT event last week Ewan McIntosh shared writing inspired by Machinarium  (here’s a demo). Lynette Barr’s blog describes how she creates graphic organisers for  Scribblenauts, which recognises 10,000 different words, to encourage her pupils to use adjectives and nouns creatively. Dawn Hallybone is renowned for her use of GBL, and her blog describes the use of Mario Kart as a jumping off point: for designing cards, writing adverts, planning a launch party, exploring air resistance and friction, making vehicles, and timing races. Wii Sports has inspired work on collecting data and calculating averages in Dawn’s classroom.  FutureLab suggest the use of Guitar Hero to invent a fictional band tour, offering opportunities for learning right across the curriculum: news writing about fictional concerts, designing and building guitars, exploring sound as a science topic, calculating tour costs, and being interviewed in another language.


A different option is to learn through the game itself, either to teach content, (Endless Ocean for exploring marine life or Spore to explore animal adaptation), to teach skills (reflex and coordination, mental agility, logical thinking, musical rhythm or basic skills), or as a creative platform, (Little Big Planet for making things happen or The Sims for designing an environment).

Little Big Planet

Finally, there is potential for using games to teach social skills; to promote collaboration, turn taking, reflection and problem solving. Adventure games, strategy games, and multiplayer online games all have a place here. Find more ideas here and here.

Whichever approach you take, there is no doubt that the mediation of the teacher is crucial to making learning through games happen.  As the teacher, you need to take an active role in facilitating the game, mapping it to curricular aims, organising the classroom, and transferring the learning beyond the context of the game.

We hope you enjoy developing your own GBL philosophy this week.


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