Computer games, school and young peopleThe positive impact of games-based learning on the social interactions and relationships between students - and between students and their teachers - is often overlooked in all the hype around using games in the classroom, according to the Computer games, school and young people report from education innovation unit Futurelab.

It says that relationships between teachers and students during game-based activities were strengthened “because young people were able to take increased personal and collaborative ‘ownership’ of activities, with teachers granting them greater responsibility and recognition of their media knowledge"

Funded by Government ICT agency Becta, Computer games, school and young people is based on a survey of 1,634 primary and secondary teachers in England, ranging in age from the mid-20s to mid-50s. Researchers also interviewed 10 teachers already using games in schools and 10 small groups of children familiar with games-based learning in an exercise designed to “test out the hype and enthusiasm for using games in education and to identify a sensible rationale and practical strategies for teachers to try out games in the classroom".

The project ran for nine months and found that some of the teachers who took part in the interview endorse the view that game playing is an integral part of many young people’s lives. They didn’t necessarily see them as a ‘fun’ incentive for learning in the classroom: "It is the teacher’s duty to understand and to engage with them [games] in the classroom.”

The research also found that, despite favouring the pragmatic approach to games based learning (concentrating on “local, social and interpersonal concerns instead of grand, all encompassing theories”), a majority of the teachers (60 per cent) believe computer games can help learners’ cognitive and ICT development, logical thinking, planning and strategising. And those who use - or who are considering using - games in the classroom are encouraged by their desire to motivate and engage learners.

On the other hand, just under half think playing computer games can lead young people to develop antisocial behaviours. And there is concern at the persistent lack of knowledge in the profession about how games might be used educationally, and the fear that learners might not get the connection between gaming and learning. Moreover, despite young people’s familiarity of games and their importance in the classroom, says the report, some teachers believe learners need to develop their ‘media literacy’ competence so they can “critically evaluate the role of games (as well as other media) in the modern world”.

Good local strategies seen as important for change

According to the teachers surveyed, good local strategies would encourage staff to take risks in the classroom which could result in the successful use of games in the schools. An example cited by them is the promotion and development of gaming in Scottish schools by the Consolarium, which is funded by Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS). It has also been highly influential beyond Scotland.

“This has provided teachers with the ‘permission’ to try out games in the classroom and has allowed for the dissemination of practices to other settings,” says the report. But “In order to maintain the impetus generated around games it is going to be important for ‘games champions’ working at local and national levels to disseminate examples of practice, provide training for staff and liaise between key policy agencies, the games industry, local authorities and schools.”

Computer games, school and young people doesn't just reflect the shifting attitudes among teachers towards games-based learning; it is also highly practical. It is packed with rich insights and examples of good practice with games like Nintendogs and Endless Ocean. And the recommendations for teachers and for policy makers are constructive and full of potential to continue the changes that already being started in UK classrooms.

“There is a lot of hype around using games in the classroom," says Ben Williamson, senior researcher at Futurelab, "but the truth is there is no need to treat them as separate from other resources. Games can - and are - being used with the current curriculum effectively. Furthermore, computer games are a part of many children’s lives and so it is important that teachers take them seriously as an influential modern medium that can support learning.”

More information

The report Computer games, school and young people and the poster Possibilities for learning with computer games are available as free downloads from Futurelab. Games and Learning part of Futurelab's Project Reports section also contains full data from the survey and policy recommendations.
Learning and Teaching Scotland's web pages for games-based learning
Consolarium blog
Hot Milky Drink is the blog of Derek Robertson who runs LTS' Consolarium