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Game-based learning is something that is mentioned quite frequently in educational discussions and articles. It is, understandably, a controversial topic – particularly when the games being used were not specifically designed for education (World of Warcraft and Minecraft, for example).
The panel at SXSWedu on Deeper Game-Based Learning consisted of two teachers, the director of the Educational Gaming Environments Group, and the author of The Game Believes in You.
Paul Darvasi, a teacher at a private school, uses a game called, “Gone Home” with his high school English class. Darvasi is a huge proponent of game-based learning, but he does caution, “Be judicious. Think carefully about how you integrate games into your curriculum.” The teachers who bring games into the classroom with the intent of enriching the curriculum content and engaging students will be much more successful than those who introduce games solely for the source of entertainment.
Peggy Sheehy, who uses World of Warcraft to teach about the hero’s journey in The Hobbit, told us that it is essential to be transparent to gain parental support. Once parents are invited to the classroom to participate in the lesson, they recognize the value and become her biggest champions.
Both teachers believe that game-based learning has transformed their classrooms into places where students have lost their apathy and are truly participatory in their own learning. They also agree that it allows students to receive regular feedback, and to constantly improve their learning based on that feedback. As Sheehy explained about traditional classrooms, “When you get a 60% it means you failed, but it should mean, ‘Wow! I mastered 60%; now let’s see how I can achieve the other 40!'”
If you want to incorporate game-based learning in your classroom, take baby-steps, according to these two teachers. And, make sure you elicit parental support early. Sheehy says, “Teachers are saying, ‘How do we begin?’ not ‘I don’t want to do it!'” To which Darvasi replied that we shouldn’t “fear something we don’t do well. We need to change the mindset.”
If you are an elementary/middle school educator, you may want to take a good look at Zoombinis, which was developed for tablets by EDGE at TERC. TERC is a non-profit organization that includes game designers, educators, and researchers. They are very interested in hearing from educators and developing meaningful curriculum for using games in the classroom. I’ve had a great experience so far with using Zoombinis in the classroom, and hope to share more about specific ways to tie it in to your math curriculum in the next few months!
You may also be interested be interested in using Minecraft in an educational setting. I recently published a post on this from a session I attended at TCEA that may have some helpful resources.
To re-iterate Darvasi’s advice, while game-based learning should be done with deliberate planning in your classroom, do not feel like you need to know everything about it before you use it. As with many thing in education today, sometimes we are better teachers when we aren’t the experts 😉