Monday, January 10, 2011

Handheld Learning Research strand

{Unfortunately, the seminar got off to a difficult start because two of the speakers pulled out at very short notice.}

Nick Hughes (Nightingale Primary School) - Redbridge Games Network

Games: "Probably the most powerful learning tool ever invented" - Lord Putnam

Games are a contextual hub for learning - it can be no different from using a book as the context for learning. A range of learning activities developed using the game (or the book) as a base to work from. Games are something the pupils used to and can be exciting and immersive.

The network formed around people who were interested in using games in this way. It was partly funded by the council but they also charged people to join and the funds were used to buy equipment that is loaned out to the members.

One of the first things they did was have a Wii development day where they played games, collected their ideas and then took them back to school. Some of the activities generated from this day were tried out in the class. In general, the game playing does not take up a significant portion of the day - perhaps five or ten minutes to set the context and generate interest. The focus is on literacy, numeracy, etc. rather than the game per se.

Pupils described what they liked about using games and why they liked it. One child said he liked it "...because you can do stuff - not just watch". They liked that it was interactive.

One of the things the network is looking at is: do games keep you active? They are looking at the Wii and Kinect, with games such as "Just Dance". They do find it an effective way to get children physically active.

Another area they are investigating is how children can become games creators using 2Do It Yourself, Scratch and Kodu. They found it empowered the learners. Year four children wanted to learn how to use action script in 2DIY (previously introduced to year 6 classes as it was considered advanced work), a child used Scratch at home and came back to teach the teacher how to do scrolling background games.

Just starting to experiment with Flips Books on the DS. {Derek Robertson is doing stuff in Scotland with Flips Books too. - DM} There are top books in this series, for example Artemis Fowl, and they are currently only £4.99 in Toys R Us!

Quotes from children: "It's not about the game." and "It's secret learning." The games help develop learners who are excited, interested and engaged. Ofsted have recognised the value of games, so schools need not be frightened about using them in class.

{Note to self: Two or three times, Nick used Wordle clouds to summarise data collected from free response questions. Worked well - visual impact plus key issues/words clearly indicated.}

Some of the discussion was how you use immersive games where you need more than ten minutes to get into them. It was acknowledged it can be difficult but perhaps it could be set up and running in the background when pupils come in from break.

Also asked why the research community has not fully engaged (with a few exceptions) games based learning. Is it still seen as fun and therefore not appropriate for education or for academic study? Lots of questions to be investigated, for example, can we show that games are at least as good or more effective than "traditional" tools.

We need the research to show to parents, directors of education and the press (and...) that games in schools are not a waste of time and money. In some ways, edutainment is seen as more acceptable but possibly {probably? - DM} less useful. Worth noting as well that games (not computer games) have been used in schools for ages.

Do games need to be tweaked to make them more "educational"? The Network was very clear that they did not want this. They see the teacher as being key - the teacher chooses the commercial off the shelf game and chooses how to use it to promote learning. They do not rely on the game creator to do the teaching.

Is there a "grammar of gaming" that can be adopted to help learning? {Does that extend to the language of games, e.g. cheat sheets instead of revision sheets? - DM}

Chocolate broccoli! Can you make a game that is entertaining and is good for you? Should you try? Extrinsic motivation has diminishing returns - do we really want to adopt game systems to reward children for brushing their teeth longer?

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