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 is focusing on using games to develop deeper levels of thinking and understanding.
I think, there’s a lot of good reasons for thinking about games as a context for learning – both playing games and creating games. I’m really interested in the environment that games and simulations present for thinking differently about learning, and about what students and teachers might be doing.
There’s been educational games out for many years, which have been at the more kind of simple drill and skill end of learning. But if you look at what’s going on in digital games now, there’s two things happening. One is that entertainment and commercial games are developing that are creating really engaging and immersive environments that children and adults are flocking to. Games like Minecraft and Civilisation, Second Life.
So you have to ask yourself, “What’s going on in these game environments and, what is it that keeps people in them and motivated and engaged and exploring?”
So that’s the first question I think educators could be asking, “What’s going on in the games that people are already interested in and playing, and “How can we understand the potential for that game play to deepen and enrich their thinking?” For educators it’s thinking about, how do you wrap a learning intention around a game that provides these kind of rich, complex experiences? So that takes educators’ knowledge about how to support good learning and marries that together with the potential of these sorts of games as a resource and learning environment.
The second thing that I think is happening is that as the education world is coming more to terms with games and what they can do. We’re starting to see the creation of educational games that are really trying to hit those deeper levels of thinking and understanding. For example, we’re starting to see games that help players to see a complex system like an environmental science system. And, so the game allows players to get in there and play with different variables, and see how a change in one variable can affect another part of the game. And so there are games out there specifically designed to try and take gameplay to these more complex levels of learning.
Thinking about teachers who maybe don’t know where to start and are interested in thinking about what kinds of games might be out there, and how they might use it. That’s a question a lot of teachers have.
My first port of call would be to get online, type in some questions, and see what comes up. And then, from there, you will hit on some resources.
I think that one of the best ways teachers can pick up ideas and explore their own use of games in the classroom, is by connecting up with other teachers who are maybe a little bit further down the track than they are. Often teachers who are the more exploratory game users are also using a lot of other social media and sharing what they’re doing because they’re excited. Twitter is a great way to connect up, Facebook, going to conferences, even asking your colleagues. They may be doing things that you didn’t know about until you open up that conversation about games and learning.