The need to and the prospects of transforming the idea of a traditional classroom with game-based learning

Photo by Jai Kishan Patel on Unsplash

Why now? Historically, the construct of a classroom emerged to create an economically viable system that works well with the scarcity of resources needed for education — Instructors and Classrooms(The Open Org Educators Guide, 2019). It is to prepare students for the rigidity of the industrial work culture and also for the ease of governance. But with the advancement of technology, faster evolving global conditions, conscious responsibility to move ahead together (diversity and accessibility friendly approach) access to dispersed resources worldwide, our approach to education needs to change as well. Educators and instructors could collaborate in ways not known to their predecessors, and learning could take forms and involve mediums, environments, and techniques that have never been explored before.

While textbooks are a very trusted teaching aid that has existed since the conception of the idea of a school, there are also many downsides to entrusting them as the only source of knowledge. To name a few, textbooks are not very easy to revise and update, they’re difficult to localize to fit the geographical or cultural context, and lastly, they are not always affordable. While OER has positively transformed the way textbooks are being used and circulated, by reducing the revision cycle length, making it affordable and more customizable, their adoption has still been very limited so far.

Opening the Textbook: Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2017(Survey)

Survey report: https://www.onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/oer2017/2017Opening%20the%20Textbook_format.html

Organizations like Khan Academy, Byju’s and Lynda have well-employed technology to improve learning and make it more accessible and dynamic. The technological abilities available to us today makes it easier to progress in the path of inclusive learning in the broadest sense by making more resources accessible to the masses and allowing people to connect with each other better. With making educational resources openly accessible(OER) and progressing towards inclusive learning, we already have the wheels turning in the right direction.

Effectiveness of Game-based Learning

Game-based learning has now for too far-along been recognized as a yielding approach when it comes to pedagogy in schools. Besides being a wonderful pedagogy tool(Prensky 2001), games have also been known to make participants learn through the various complementary activities that revolve around the core gameplay itself(Sousa and Costa, 2014). Various schools from across the globe have adopted play-based or game-based learning for improving their education delivery methods to ensure that students enjoy learning and are able to retain the impact longer. As opposed to textbooks, games don’t exert an objective impact on students. They allow them to immerse in the narrative and take part in the decision-making process and use their own creativity and problem-solving skills to find their resolutions/answers (Polin 2018). This approach trains them to deal with the unknown and apply their learning from their previous experiences to improvise. The replayability in the games provide students with an opportunity to reflect on their failures or mistakes, weight their decisions and update their strategy with agility — a skill that real-life demands at every stage.

In a recent study, it was found that educational games have a high potential for motivation(Stiller and Schworm, 2019). The typical education system that relies on textbooks as a medium of handing over knowledge and information lacks this flexibility to allow students iterate based on their updated understanding of the context or situation and only records the very binary results for their efforts. This leaves very little room for students to progress with their knowledge and explore further than the desired limit set by the textbooks. While playing games, individuals develop different new skills that is not likely to happen with the traditional method of delivering education (Steinkuehler, 2010).

Designing Educational Games

One could argue that every game has something to teach, and they sure do! Games like Civilisation, Minecraft and Catan could teach us about resource management, social and negotiation skills and impromptu strategizing, while others could make us better at problem-solving, logical-thinking, communications, etc.. The interaction of the player with the environment and with the co-players simulates a social setting that does not overwhelm or intimidate them as much as the real world does, thus providing a safe place for taking risks and carrying out creative explorations without the fear of any real-world damage.

However, while in a formal educational setting, with a curriculum goal at hand, the gameplay has to be much more streamlined to sync with the intended program rather than relying on improvisational situations to co-incidentally teach or touch upon the desired subject might. To drive the learning better, it is important for educators to either design or customize an existing game to meet the learning objectives. If designing, it is important that the game utilizes the crux of the subject area as an environment, and the characters and mechanics have to execute in tandem to ensure that while the conspicuous objectives are met, all the relevant stages in the subject matter are also duly highlighted and included in the gameplay.

Below is an example of a quick brainstorming I had carried out for a game design project to educate the newcomers in the Ph.D. programs related to scientific research on how the system works. This project — Open Science Game — was a part of eLife Innovation Sprint 2019 at Cambridge, UK, and the objective of the game was very clear — to ensure the research work is disseminated with an open access, there were the smaller dependencies of the process had to be highlighted to make a wholesome sense of the storyline.

Mapping by Veethika Mishra, eLife Innovation Sprint 2019, Team: Open Science game

This work later translated into a richer narrative for the overall gameplay. The team collectively strived to put together a set of rules, mechanics, actions, and characters to create a playable narrative with many possible pathways. (Image below):

Open Science Game — Prototype

This exercise came with a learning that it is extremely probable to lose or confuse the objective of the exercise with the goal of the game as a product. In the next write-up, I would talk about a few points that we could be mindful of to avoid making a miss while injecting engagement, fun, and interactability in a given educational content to qualify as an educational game.

Posted by:Veethika Mishra

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