Monday, July 10, 2006

Games in Learning symposium

Outline of a ACEC Cairns 2006 symposium in which I am involved, along with Mark Piper and Tony Forster:

This Symposium is structured to discuss the interplay between learning theory and games in learning.

Many and varied voices have come forward recently advocating the use of computer games in learning.

There is a steady proliferation of software in both the game playing and the game making arena. Games are simultaneously becoming both more complex to play and easier to make.

Marc Prensky has delivered provocative speeches to educators advancing slogans such as “engage me or enrage me” and has drawn distinctions between “digital natives” and “digital immigrants”

In his writings James Gee has used games to explore new definitions of literacy … rather than read / write we now have recognise / produce … the latter is much broader and we need it to describe all the various multimedia genres that have become our new learning environment

Clark Aldridge has argued that computer simulations will be the next innovative wave of e-learning.

How do these newer approaches compare with the constructionist approach advocated by Seymour Papert with respect to the programming language, logo? Papert’s approach included the Instructional Software Design Project championed by Idit Harel, where students built software for other students to learn with.

There are still divisions between those who see games as good educationally and those who see them as bad or dangerous educationally (violent, addictive, another fad, edu-tainment)

There are also inertial (established curricula) and bureaucratic blocks (eg. filtering systems) in place making it hard for some teachers to implement games in education

There are also divisions amongst those who support games in education about the best way to go

Richard Van Eck has advance three possible ways in which games might be introduced into the curriculum:
1) have students build games from scratch;
2) have educators and/or developers build educational games from scratch to teach students;
3) integrate commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) games into the classroom

Bill Kerr and Tony Forster favour the first approach, students building games from scratch. Mark Piper favours the third approach, integration of COTS games into the curriculum.

The first approach does teach higher order thinking because students have to learn a programming language. The main block here is the difficulty in training teachers up to the skill levels required to facilitate this process.

The second approach is limited by the cost of developing educational games, particularly if they are to have the polish of commercial games. Do educational games need to be as polished as commercial games to be accepted by students? What would a good educational game look like? Would it concentrate on content or would it impart more generalised skills?

The third approach risks doing "more of the same" with the game being used to dress up otherwise boring and irrelevant content? Can COTS games really provide an environment which is dense with learning or are they only "add ons" with the real learning occurring in a conventional way?

With rapid changes in the lifetime of the relevance of the body of knowledge, some educators have recognised that generalised cognitive skills are becoming more important than content. This has been acknowledged in the Essential Learning Standards (ELS). Can game creation help students develop the generalised cognitive skills they will require?

How can a classroom teacher be expected to do all the learning and research required to achieve competence in a Games in Learning approach and to convince school administrations to facilitate such an approach? What level of competence is required of teachers, do they really need to be more advanced in their understanding of technical content than their students? How do teachers gain the confidence to face a class where the students know more than they do?

Bill Kerr (South Australia)

Bill Kerr has written and taught courses at Year 11 and 12 level in South Australia designed to teach programming and multimedia through the use of the Game Maker program. He has developed extensive Game Maker resources and makes them freely available for others at Articles theorising the interconnection between immersion in a programming language and learning can also be found at Bill’s site, He maintains an active blog at which regularly discusses games in education issues as well other questions. He is a member of the ASISTM Game Maker cluster.

Mark Piper (Queensland)
Mark Piper has worked at Nambour State High School as the Head of Department Information Communication technology, where he has developed a curriculum based on a Games in Learning framework. He has also taught IPT and computer studies for over 20 years. As the Project Officer for Games in Learning he is committed to developing programs, supporting schools and facilitating professional development in the integration of games in learning. He is currently Project Officer responsible for the Games In Learning project for the Queensland Department of Education and the Arts based at the ICT Learning Innovation Centre on the Sunshine Coast.

Tony Forster (Victoria)
Tony Forster is the parent of a student at Haileybury College, Melbourne. He started Haileybury Computer Club in 2003 ( . Computer Club is open to years 1 to 8. It is based on constructivist learning principles and students are encouraged to make their own games using Gamemaker. He believes that this provides an effective environment for the development of higher order cognitive and metacognitive skills. He has written on this at He has presented at a number of seminars and PD sessions on Gamemaker.

In 2005 he led a successful cluster application for funding under the Australian School Innovation in Science, Technology and Mathematics (ASISTM) Project. The cluster held the inaugural Australian Game Programming in Schools Conference in 2005 ( and organised the national computer game programming competition Screen It! 2005 in conjunction with the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (

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