This article is the second in a series that will take a look at gaming in education and why teachers should embrace this up and coming trend.
The first article in this series pointed out that over 60% of teachers use games. While the majority of game use is for supplemental activities, there is a growing movement of teachers who use games for instruction and assessment.
How do these teachers find and then evaluate the games that they use?
The most common way of learning about any educational tools is from peers. While face to face networks are limited by the number of interactions with people in one’s grade, school, or conferences, online professional learning networks have become invaluable.
The edWeb.net network offers a game based learning community of over 8,500 members, along with open discussions and a monthly webinar on different aspects of edugaming. There is also a Google+ community of gaming educators that discusses games and game based learning. It is not as active, but can be a good place to ask a question. A number of education games also follow the #GBL hashtag on Twitter, and educators can often ask a question and receive answers, especially if they tag active Twitter users such as @MatthewFarber, @gtoppo, @mr_isaacs, or @RafranzDavis.
Matthew Farber of Valleyview Middle School in Denville, NJ often finds games through social media and sources that share-out innovative games. Gerry Marchand of Huntley High School in Illinois similarly Googles about games and looks for comments and reviews on social networks. They both emphasize that they play the games themselves, looking to see if the mechanics and content work for their classes. They point out that the mechanics of a game, or the way players act and interact in the game, can often teach a concept or skill regardless of the game’s narrative, especially higher order skills such as cooperation, problem solving, and balancing priorities.
“Personally, and for the teachers that I’ve worked most closely with, we find new games via our students. Simply listening to their input and what they’re excited about can point you in the right direction,” says Lucas Gillispie, director of academic and digital learning at Surry County School in North Carolina.
Many teachers simply ask their students, “What games do you like to play?” and “What do you learn as you are playing the games?”
Kae Novak, an instructional designer at Front Range Community College and the chair of ISTE’s Games and Simulation Network, points out that active education gamers follow blogs like Kokatu, Polygon, and Gamasutra. These are sites that review consumer games, and by skimming the reviews one can often get a sense of whether or not the games might be appropriate teaching vehicles.
Novak points out that playing the game has to be part of the processing; it’s through experiencing that game that an educator determines if she can link the game to the knowledge, concepts, and skills that need to be covered in the course.
One can get a sense of that process by looking at Jon Spike’s blog entry on using the Gone Home game as a learning tool for his students. He read about the game on another blog and approached people in his district about using the game to teach ELA concepts. After determining the skills that could be taught and assessed, he was able to plan out lessons with a coteacher.
In fact, educators often rely on reviews by other educators. While Gone Home is for a general audience, Never Alone is a game designed to teach about the Alaskan Innuit culture. Here is a video review by Chris Luchs, an avid gamer and Associate Dean of Career and Technical Education at Colorado Community College.
The Metagame Book Club is where a number of gaming educators trade notes on games. In the Spring of 2015, there were two active tracks, one on Game Studies on Interactive Fiction, and the other on Lee Sheldon’s The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game, which was discussing game based learning, gamification of education and ways that you incorporate these elements into your class regardless if it is traditional, flipped, hybrid, or fully online. A variety of other topics are targeted in the future.
A few sites focus on reviews of games. The GameIndex site, founded by Ohio ELA teacher Mallory Kessen, contains game reviews by educators for educators. Common Sense Media runs the Graphite website which reviews games, and then lets educators set up filters for age and content.
And then there are sites that curate great games.
In his Making School a Game Worth Playing, Ryan Schaaf lists a number of game collections. Here is a sample:
1. BrainPop’s GameUp offers over 100 free games covering Science, Math, Social Studies, Health, ELA, and Engineering and Tech.
2. GlassLab is a nonprofit that researches the best uses of games. Using their research and connections, they are creating a storefront for high quality education games.
3. PBSKids is a collection of games and resources for younger students.
4. Learn 4 Good has amassed a few hundred games by game type (Action, Adventure, Arcade, Board, etc.), but there are no filters by content area.
Dougal Mac Gregor, a student researcher at Lamar University in Texas provides the best summary. To find games:
1. Ask students what games they are playing, and what new games have come out that they like.
2. Browse Game libraries such as Valve’s Steam.
3. Browse Game Publications such as Gamasutra, IGN, and Kotaku.
4. Follow Game Review YouTube channels.
To determine which games can be used for a particular class or lesson, consider the following:
1. Is the game appropriate for the audience? (User friendly theme? Mature content? blood? violence? etc.)
2. Is the game fun/popular among kids? (Find out through online reviews such as forums, YouTube, and asking gamer kids)
3. Is the game too hard/complex for non-gamer students? (You may need help from Game Designers/Theorists to figure this out)
4. How can the Game Mechanics be incorporated into Learning Objectives? What can the students learn/accomplish through playing this game? (Learning Outcomes may or may not be Content-Direct)
The bottom line is that there is no easy way to find the right game; even with connections it takes time, effort and commitment. If you watch the Chris Luchs video above, you learn that he spent 8 hours playing Never Alone so that he could determine how to best use it. Jon Spike reads blogs, plays games, and then plans curriculum with a coteacher. Kae Novak networks with the ISTE Games and Simulation Network in addition to participating in the Metagame Book Club.
Why do these experienced educators spend the time and effort? Turns out, they find that playing games, networking with other educators, and teaching with games is enjoyable. Plus, it has the added benefit of being an engaging and effective medium for teaching and assessing their students.
One of the reasons we founded Games4Ed is to make it easier for games to be used in education. If you are interested in helping, either by reviewing games, conducting pilots, or helping with research, please register at our website.
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