Games papers at BERA

I’m currently at my first British Educational Research Association (BERA) conference and feeling a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of people, conceptual difficulty of some of the papers, and unpleasantness of Heriot Watt food.

Been to a couple of papers on games this morning.

Graham  Downes and Susan Haywood from Bath Spa University presented first with a talk entitled Gaming and Learning: Computer Games and Education. They presented a model of computer games as ‘ludic texts’ with both narrative and ludic elements, and a continuum from stories (picture books) to talking stories (with hotspots, music, narration, embedded games) to games.

Their research has been carried out in the context of children’s computer gaming, and they put forward the following characteristics of children playing computer games: a) compulsive problem-solving; b) simultaneous objectives; c) multimediation (simultaneous activity); d) flow. They suggest that there is an issue of home-school dissonance and that the integrity of games are lost when they are moved into a classroom context.

Secondly, Harry O’Neil from UCLA/CRESST presented a talk called Instructional Interventions to Make Computer Games a Learning Environment. His background is with adults in a training environment and was interested in whether games increase players’ problem solving and whether there are instructional strategies that can be added to commercial off-the-shelf games to make them more effective.

He first presented a model of learning with five outcomes: 1) content understanding; 2) problem-solving; 3) self regulation (metacognition and motivation); 4) communication; and 5) collaboration, and argued that whether a game is to be used in-class or out-of-class is critical to the choice of game, as the two learning environments are so fundamentally different. He presented empirical work on the effectiveness of different supplementary activities  to increase problem-solving knowledge from off-the-shelf games, concluding that worked examples offer the best opportunity.

While this was an interesting talk, I fundamentally disagree with Harry on two points, first, his assertion that you have to use off-the-shelf games for the game to have appropriate production values, and secondly, that games that use “inductive instructional strategies” (discovery learning) are not appropriate for learning.

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