The Educational Value of Children designing their own games

The Educational Value of Children designing their own games

by Yasemin Allsop

I remember the dissatisfaction of some people, when a colleague shared the video clip that was created by her Year 5 class (9/10 years old) during my studies.  ‘Is that it?’ asked one of them to my surprise. I thought maybe that because he is a secondary class teacher, he wasn’t sure what to expect from primary school children. Maybe he had higher expectations than we did. But then, what are the criteria for evaluating children’s work when they learn with technology? How advanced is the technology that’s used, or how good the finished work looked.  If we can define ‘good’.  Impatiently as usual, I quickly jumped in and shouted out ‘What about other skills that they learned and developed?’ His reply was ‘What other skills?’ My reply was ‘Like team working, communication, problem solving, critical thinking’.  Not much of a response.

Maybe we need to rethink what learning is, especially when learning with technology. Is learning limited to grasping the knowledge of how to use a video camera, or to edit a clip using a software, or the skill of being able talk about it?  If we say ‘All of them’, then how can we evaluate children’s learning for each single activity, as learning is a continual and overlapping process. We will be writing pages of learning objectives and success criteria.

So, What do children learn by game making? Lets think about the word ‘learning’. I am not going to try to define learning as I think it is more complex than just gaining knowledge, however, I will try to look at what constitutes learning?

According to Jessel (2012) learning is about developing our ability to think critically and to be analytical, to use information effectively, to make decisions, to think imaginatively, creatively and critically and to be sensitive to situations when these qualities are applicable. So learning, beyond the physical activity is very much related to the mental activities in a child’s mind. We can see this as learning behind the scenes. I’d also like to direct your attention to phrases ‘use information effectively, to make decisions’. For one to use information appropriately and decide upon it involves reflective thinking, in other words metacognition. So we need to stop focusing on the impacts of game making on specific curriculum objectives, and start seeing the bigger picture of learning in mind.

With this inspiration I looked into the transferrable skills that children developed when they design their own games such as; communication, critical thinking, creativity and problem solving that are fundamental to learning both in school and the outside world.

Back in 2011, I ran a game design club for children where I had 11 pupils from a Year 5 class; 9 male and 2 female. The children used the Missionmakers software developed by Immersive Education to design their own games. The reason for selecting this program is it enables children to design 3D games very much like the ones that they play using their game console, in their words ‘real games’. This may give us a clue about the issues with educational games, where the ‘fun’ element is not always being captured to motivate learners to play. But this is a different discussion for another time. Lets have a look at the research summary.

Reseach Summary:

In this study the educational value of children authoring games was explored and the skills students developed during the game design process investigated. The result of this study shows that the children had opportunities to develop some invaluable skills which are transferable to any area of learning such as; communication, critical thinking, advanced technology skills and working collaboratively. The game design process itself represented the aspects of creativity where children used their ideas and imagination to make games. However this study did not aim to reflect on  the impact of transferable skills on actual learning.  Furthermore, there were elements of a child’s world, morals and culture reflected in their design process. This is very important where understanding and meeting the needs of the learner is seen as the key to education in schools. The children were engaged with the activity throughout the project and were surprised that they were allowed in their words to make ‘real games, normal games’. Nevertheless it is hard to say if this had any impact on their attitude to learning and schools.

So why should schools implement digital game making activities into their curricula. what are the benefits?

As discussed before, firstly by providing a learning environment, where children can develop and apply transferable skills that will have an impact on other areas of learning.  Critical thinking, problem solving communication skills are not just required for learning in any curriculum subjects, but, also dealing with real life situations outside of school.

Secondly, in order to communicate and understand today’s digitally immersed learners, game design practices, can be used as a channel, to build a relationship between schools and learners, which may change the student’s view towards school and learning itself.  When children design games they reflect their culture, moral and values through narratives, characters and even the rules they make. Basically this can be seen as a window to the children’s understanding of the world around them.

Thirdly, teaching children about games will enable them to understand and be critical of the media that they interact with in their daily lives.  This is very valuable when the form of media changes constantly and impacts on children’s culture, how they communicate and how they understand the world.

This study was presented at 6th Eurepean Game Based Conference in 2012. To read the full research please visit www.academic-bookshop.com

The 7th Eurepan Game Based learning Conference will take place  on 3-4 October 2013 in Porto, Portugal. Please visit http://academic-conferences.org/ecgbl/ecgbl2013/ecgbl13-home.htm to find out more about the conference.

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