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Game-based learning

Game-based learning and gamification are both trying to solve a problem, motivate, and promote learning using game-based thinking and techniques.

What is a game?
Game: a form of play or sport, especially a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.

Is game-based learning the same as gamification?

  • Gamification is taking a learning process and applying game principles (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to it.
  • Game-based learning (GBL) is taking a game and using it for learning. GBL is aimed at teaching a discrete skill or specific learning outcome, rather than being a complete pedagogical system.

Gamification vs games-based learning: What’s the difference?

In this video, Rachel Bolstad (Senior researcher NZCER) talks about her research into the environment that games and simulations present for thinking differently about learning, and about what students and teachers might be doing. She suggests one of the best ways teachers can pick up ideas and explore their own use of games in the classroom, is by connecting with others and sharing.

The development of entertainment and commercial games with really engaging and immersive environments provides a huge opportunity for exploration, problem solving and creativity.

What’s going on in these game environments? What is it that keeps people in them and motivated and engaged and exploring?

“Enjoyment is the reason for players to begin, sustain, and repeat exposure to digital games.”

  • The experience of "effectance" or the immediacy of feedback to the player.
  • Repeated cycles of suspense and relief, curiosity, and an increase in self-esteem.
  • The fascination of becoming part of an alternative reality and playing a new role in simulations of spatial environments and/or interesting narratives.

Transforming learning

Learners and teachers as game users ➜ Learners and teachers as game creators

Using games for learning ➜  Using games (and game-thinking) to transform learning

In this video, Rachel Bolstad (NZCER) and Dan Milward (CEO Gamelab) talk about using games to deepen and enrich thinking – both through playing and through creating them.

The psychology behind why gaming helps students learn
Mitch Weisburgh, Co-Founder and Director at Games 4 Ed, explains the science behind why gaming helps students learn in this blog post from November 2015.

Educators who believe: Understanding the enthusiasm of teachers who use digital technologies in the classroom
This 2015 study used qualitative methods to explore why some teachers embrace the use of digital game-play (DGP) in the classroom. A summary of the research is on the Digital Education Research Network (DERN) blogpost – Teachers and digital games in the classroom

NZCER exploratory project
NZCER Project leader, Rachel Bolstad investigates the actual and potential role of digital games to support "transformative learning opportunities" for diverse learners in diverse New Zealand schools.

Netsafe: Tips for online gaming
This article by netsafe talks about how to keep your family safe when gaming online.  

Games + The Future of Education  (NZCER) 
Join this Google+ community to share ideas, resources and participate in discussions about gamification and game based learning

Mindshift guide to digital games and learning  (pdf)
This publication explores the opportunities and challenges of game-based learning, including useful tips and tricks for using games in the classroom.

Scratch overview  
A video created by Michelle Chung and Karen Brennan of the ScratchEd team at Harvard University demonstrating how the programming language in Scratch can be used to create interactive art, stories, simulations, and games.

Dawson primary school scratch game 
Students at Dawson Primary School show how they created a scratch game and all the learning and challenges they faced along the way.

The making of Gallipoli in Minecraft
Students from Alfriston College re-created the landscape of 1915 Gallipoli in Minecraft®, block by block. Working with Auckland Museum staff and utilising our First World War collections, the students learned about the experiences of the New Zealand service people in the 1915 campaign.


Curriculum for the future
A set of three resources designed to stimulate open-ended conversations about learning and curriculum today and into the future. The resources can be used separately or together, and in any order.

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Game-based learning
A series of easy to read articles from Mind/Shift about using game for learning, includes useful reviews and links to games.

MinecraftEdu provides products and services that make it easy for educators to use Minecraft in the classroom. They make a special version of Minecraft specifically for classroom use. It contains many additions to the original game that make it more useful and appropriate in a school setting. 

Minecraft in education
Information about using Minecraft in the classroom.


The Watchers
A free digital/board game about online privacy. The game, and the process used to create it, is premised on kids having agency and developing digital citizenship. Students can use the game to practice making assessments about which individuals or companies they should share their information with, as well as critically thinking about what the consequences of those choices may be. The Watchers is appropriate for ages 8+, but guidance from an older student or adult is recommended.

MIT Game Lab
The games available on this page were all created by students of the MIT Game Lab and for research purposes. These games are short, 5-15 minute experiences, each made as a polished vertical slice of gameplay.

Created by a physics teacher, Classcraft is a role-playing game for the classroom. Teachers are the Gamemasters, controlling the action. Students play in teams and pick from three unique classes (warrior, mage, healer), each of which come with their own health, ability points, and powers.

Mission US 2: "Flight to Freedom" Trailer 
It’s 1848. You are Lucy King, a 14-year-old slave in Kentucky. You want to escape but how will you do it? Will you find a path to freedom? This one of four great games at Mission US, a multimedia project that aims to teach history content through interactive games.

GARBAGE DREAMS Theatrical Trailer 
Take on the role of the Zaballeen, who recycle 80 per cent of the rubbish they collect on the streets of Cairo. Start with one neighbourhood, one factory, and one hungry goat. You have eight months to get recycling as high as you can. The game was developed to accompany the Garbage Dreams documentary

The last symphony – game design research
This is a hidden object game set in mid-1960s England. The player is a museum curator tasked with the creation of an exhibit about R. Carmine, a composer from your city with an unusual past. By finding the objects, players reveals the stories of the people who owned them and the melodies that go with them. It’s one of many games created by the MIT Game Lab .

Typoman: a platform game where one letter changes everything  
A clever hybrid of both platform games and puzzle games, Typoman asks you to overcome obstacles by manipulating words, in a black and white world of shifting ledges and shifting meanings. Do you need to find a way past a pool of water being filled by the word RAIN? Just swing the letter D towards it and watch the water DRAIN away.

e-Learning community discussions

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