Rachel Bolstad (Senior researcher NZCER) and Dan Milward (CEO Gamelab) talk about the benefits of using games as an environment for learning. They discuss how playing games allows students to build knowledge and create things they’re interested in to see what they can do with it. Dan shares how in a workshop where students are creating games, they’re learning computer programming, the theory of game design, and the subject matter the game is about all at the same time.
What I think is unique and interesting about games as an environment for learning is that they let players do things that can often be hard to do in real life. And they let them explore and try things in a sort of safe environment.
So, there’s things you could do in a game like Civilisation that you could never do in real life, but yet, it lets you test things out, and build stuff, and blow stuff up and rebuild it. And doing that, I think, gives people an opportunity to see the world in a different way that’s often hard to do in our ordinary lives.
I think I would encourage teachers to go exploring as well because there’ll be all sorts of games out there that do things that perhaps you didn’t think that a game could do.
One game that’s recently come out that’s had a big profile is a game called “Never Alone”. And what’s interesting about this game is that it was developed with a native Alaskan Community as a way to preserve and share their language, stories, and cultural perspective on the world through a really engaging game.
Another game that I like is called “Citizen Science”. In this game you are solving a problem and the problem is that your local lake is polluted. So you take your dog down to go for a swim in the lake and you can’t because it’s so filthy. It’s actually dangerous. And so the question that this game puts to you is, “What’s happened here? How did our lake end up like this?” And it puts you in a position where you’re actually a changemaker. You’re trying to address this problem, and it brings in all sorts of science, and it helps learners to see how real science measures the health of water.
The beauty of a game is that it can collapse a hundred years into a single game. So in the game you can travel both backward in time and forward in time, so it allows people to see these complex environmental processes in a way that is often difficult to see in real life because we can’t necessarily see what our environmental choices now will lead to in 10 or 15 years. But we need to be able to think in those ways.
We run workshops and I’ll give you an example of one.
We took a historical character – we took Isaac Newton. And we created a resource whereby students had to create their own game where apples would fall out of trees, and they would have to create a programme where the character in the game would have to pick up those apples and throw those apples.
And in doing a workshop like that, they’re learning computer programming, they’re learning about a historical figure, they’re learning about maths and physics, and they’re learning about the theory of game design all at the same time.
Why I think game environments that allow learners to create and build and explore are really interesting, is in the power that they’ve got to let kids build knowledge, create things they’re interested in to see what they can do with it.
It’s a very personalised experience because as a teacher, you can’t necessarily predict, or even dictate, what kids might do with these tools, but actually letting them explore and experience and then seeing, what do they do, and using that as a basis for thinking about where you and the learner might go next in taking that thinking deeper, I think, is a really exciting opportunity.