Midlands games-based learning project reports improved engagement and skills
Sixteen schools across Wolverhampton that have involved students and teachers in a research project involving Sony PlayStation 3 games consoles using LittleBigPlanet2, the creative adventure game, are already reporting positive feedback.
Presenting his interim findings at the Learning Without Frontiers festival at Olympia, London, Don Passey, senior research fellow with the Department of Educational Research at Lancaster University, said the game players had developed team-working, communication and thinking skills while the "ambassador" students who worked with them felt their team-working leadership and planning skills had improved. The teachers felt the skills they improved most were thinking, team-working, planning and generating ideas.
Although the final survey and analysis of the skills developed of all those taking part won't take place until the project finishes at half-term, the initial reactions have been very strong, with one headteacher commenting: "I have never seen so much speaking and listening take place in one lesson."
"The really interesting thing about the ways students work on the project it is the amount of teamwork, discussion and planning that takes place around the scripting and computer work, and the incredible amount of communication that goes on," said Don Passey. "And this work also brings in other pupils who don't normally engage or contribute in class or to other initiatives in school.
"The skills that the students are developing are clearly those that employers need - team working, communication, logical thinking, and all done with enthusiasm.
The Little Big Planet Challenge project, as it is known, was commissioned by the Wolverhampton Local Education Partnership (LEP), Inspire, and supported by games-based learning consultant Andy Goff of Interactive Opportunities Ltd. Evaluation is by the Department of Educational Research at Lancaster University.
The students created their own teams, made up of four to eight players and "ambassador" supporters, supported by their teachers. LittleBigPlanet2 requires collaborative and creative game-playing strategies as players create new levels of play, and the students, from Wolverhampton secondary and special schools and pupil referral units, were kept firmly at the helm, with back-up and guidance from their teachers.
LBP2 allows players to construct their own games, or 'levels', which means that a wide range of skills are required. While some are technical, others include "artistic, team working, logical thinking and planning skills", says the interim report.
The 2011 game playing took place in extra-curricular day-long workshops, one in October, one in November and one in December. Many schools set up after-school clubs to run the activities, but one exception was a PRU which brought the gaming into the curriculum for lesson time activities for ICT, again with positive results.
An online survey at the outset established a baseline picture of skills for participants and the interim poll was taken after the first three months. The final survey will be undertaken when the project ends in February.
The research design for LBPC was intended to:
- "Identify the development of 21st century skills – the skills that employers and trainers want, that might be developed in the short term (over a six-month period);
- "Identify widening career opportunities – the longer term routes that students and teachers become aware of when they create games;
- "Consider ‘building scenes for learning’ – alternatives to texts or notes, that have in the past been presented to students in book or video form, or have been created as text notes by students, which could now be developed."
The following key points emerged from broad discussion among the participants:
- ‘Other students’ are involved – Teacher quote: “Less confident children have been more communicative and self esteem has noticeably improved over the weeks”;
- After-school clubs require high commitment – Teacher quote: “They actually turn up at lunchtimes to work on storyboards”; – quote from a teacher;
- There are high levels of discussion – Quote from short-stay school headteacher observing a session: “I have never seen so much speaking and listening taking place in one lesson”;
- Teachers do not need to drive engagement;
- The affordances of the game are important – Teacher quote: “The use of technologies not normally associated with the classroom has engaged the student’s and has enabled them to gain an insight into how game creation can evolve from planning through to the end product.”
Andy Goff started up Interactive Opportunities Ltd in May 2011 to deliver consultation on school transformation around innovative ICT including games-based learning that can achieve significant learning opportunities and outcomes for students. He is developing after-school clubs in response to the Next Gen Report, and ia particularly pleased by developments in Wolverhampton's Little Big Planet Challenge, working with Inspire.
'Students being given the opportunity and tools to think creatively'
"To date there has been notable engagement with the consumption of games by students as games based learning," he says. "This project has been very different and is about students being given the opportunity and tools to think creatively and to create games.
"In my opinion all of the students have been amazing, and have truly shown what positive outcomes can be achieved and fun had when they are asked what they think – and in this case given one of many engaging digital mediums by which to express themselves. I would especially like to thank all the teachers for their support in this project."
Don Passey is a veteran of more than 20 years research into ICT for learning and teaching, back to the time when computers first went into British schools. Like others with this background, he remains fascinated by developments. "Technologies continue to offer opportunities for learning," he said. "It is vitally important that projects are run with different technologies in different ways, so that we can see how they work for teachers and for students. Evidence so far indicates that the LBP project certainly offers some new and important opportunities for schools and for teachers. We will have more detail for the final report."
Learning Without Frontiers 2012
Interactive Opportunities will soon make available a set of free resources to help schools start after-school clubs to foster the kind of work outlined above (but not specifically on LBP).