Games-based learning: a personal view

by Amanda Wilson

Six months ago I would have said that games in the class were not a way for children to learn mainly because I never thought of them as educational tools. I never really connected education with entertainment. Being of the Super Nintendo generation I’ve always made the association that games are simply for playing and enjoying; whether it was Mario World or Street Fighter and not for learning with.

Even today Mario’s still my favourite. My own girls play games but until they had their DS consoles they were never that interested in them, only occasionally going back to it when they wanted to. Now that they have them they are taking an interest in games. However, I don’t simply want them playing any old game and started to look into other games that may be more worthwhile -- dare I say educational for them. Brain Training seemed the most obvious game to start off with as it had lots of problem solving activities to complete. This is a game we all enjoy now, well them more than me. However, one day I will get that brain age down(to nearer my own age)!

While researching for my honours project on teaching children about programming, I have been coming across other work being done in schools with technology. One such project is the Consolarium – Scottish Centre for Games and Learning in Dundee, who have used Brain training in some schools to help with children’s mental maths ability. I’m the first to admit when I first read about this I was wary: a class full of children playing a game on a console. How could that surely help them at all? However, as I read more about what the group was doing I started to see that there may be some potential for games-based learning in the class. The children weren’t left with the console for a long time; an initial concern I thought at first but in fact they only used them for about 15 to 20 minutes each day alongside their other work and not as a replacement.

Futurelab is another organisation who is looking into the use of using computer games in the classroom with some encouraging results already being shown. They are looking at making learning and teaching more engaging for the 21st century by using innovative practices. Some, such as their Teaching with Games project, include using commercial games in the classroom to help educate.

I can see why using games could be a good idea; most children play them in one shape or form. Whether it’s on the PC or on their DS. Also they seem to take notice more when you mention games. On a recent placement I undertook as part of a module I was in with a class of 13 year olds and working with them to make games in Scratch. When they heard games being mentioned they became more interested in the lesson.

I guess that sometimes change has to be implemented in order to keep the children interested and educated. Then games-based learning may be a way to go. Though I think that with the amount of technology available these days it has to be used wisely and within the curriculum. They should not be given the technology to use simply because it is available, rather they should be given the chance to use it in a way that is going to be beneficial to them and their education.

About the author

Amanda WilsonAmanda says: I am a married mum of 3 who is a “mature” student. Graduated a short while ago with a 2.1 in Computing, and now going on to do my PhD. As part of the degree I undertook a project of teaching children to program using Scratch. (Look out for an article from Amanda about using Scratch.) I’m a member of Computing At School.

This article was first published in Computers in Classrooms, the free e-newsletter for educational ICT people.