How can we use games and play to encourage students to become active participants in creative learning?

Thursday 25th October 2018, 12.30pm to 2.00pm

Speakers: Pen Holland and Katie Smith, Department of Biology, University of York
Location: Room P/T/111, Physics library reading room, Campus West

Workshop Summary

While the great debate about learning styles rumbles on, the most important thing in developing life-long learners is not how they learn, but that they learn because they want to. From early babyhood to adulthood, people engage in learning through games and play. Small children begin to understand their world by pushing boundaries and building blocks. Tools such as Lego teach concepts from colour and shape through to sophisticated engineering techniques. Video and table top (board/card) games can establish deep knowledge of subjects such as history (Civilisation, Twilight Struggle) and science (Pandemic). Harnessing this desire to play in the classroom via games and gamification – the embedding of game mechanics or motivational techniques in a non-game environment – and using games as a platform on which to practice research skills, offers an opportunity for students to learn in an uninhibited, independent and personalised way, often helping students with anxiety to engage with course material without fear of failure, and thus enhancing the quality of student learning.

In this workshop, we highlight the key aspects of gamification that interact to engage and motivate the player/student in educational tasks. After a short introductory presentation, delegates will have the opportunity to become active participants in game-based learning using a number of case study games and activities, primarily in the Biosciences but with general applications. The workshop will finish with audience discussion around the pros, cons and potential applications of this approach for students and educators in HE education.

Workshop Report

by session chair, Carmen Álvarez-Mayo

How can we use games and play to encourage students to become active participants in creative learning? Dr Pen Holland & Dr Katie Smith
Learning and Teaching Forum Workshop, 25th October 2018, University of York

This has been the third time that Pen Holland and Katie Smith have delivered the workshop and it only gets more exciting and interesting — like the brand new the Catastrophic game we have played.

Pen starts the session pointing out that we — the attendees — are all interested in learning and teaching: in the acquisition, sharing and dissemination of knowledge and skills. Games and gamification are strong pedagogic tools as they assist and encourage learning, developing favorable behaviours and attitudes.

The workshop will consist of three games/case studies: the Last Straw game by Steven Oliver, the Lego Ecology by Rachel Hope and Kim Simpson, and the Catastrophic game by Pen Holland and Katie Smith. The room is organised in three tables: Steven’s, Rachel’s and Kim’s and Pen’s and Katie’s. We are grouped in three teams, one per table to give us the opportunity to play/experience all the games, finding out more about them and their use/purpose.

Pen continues pointing out that everybody plays and through play we develop different skills — both mental and physical — and new ways to access content, encouraging collaboration and promoting curiosity — and tenacity. Games have rules which can also be negotiated and agreed, thus giving structure around free-form play. Games allow us to focus energy on something that we are already quite good at it and/or may like to improve or discover.

The four quadrants that we are shown in one of the PowerPoint slides represent different types of games and learning associated with them. For example, there is evidence to suggest that playing with Lego as a child increases your mathematical ability.

Games provide a safe environment/context where it is okay to fail, it is not demotivating but the opposite since playing games one develops resilience and perseverance to play the game again and again in order to achieve the goal and beat the game or other players/teams. During play, rapid feedback is shared, there is clear progression and some rewards are available — while meaningful experiences and stories are formed.

Failure is a key aspect in both learning and playing. Those who are not afraid of failure are not afraid of learning, they are not afraid of new and more exciting challenges, which they view in a positive light: challenges are exciting and possible to conquer, instead of scary and difficult to attain.

There are many games — and quizzes — developed around learning, for example, Monopoly originated in 1906 and used to be known as The Landlord’s Game, a realty and taxation game intended to educate users about Georgism.

When designing a successful game — like a successful exercise or assessment — it is fundamental to ensure that it is targeted to our audience, setting clear learning objectives and goals — having a definite purpose. Ideally, rules should easy to understand and learn, and it should be clear what needs to be done in order to win. In addition to that, challenges should be coherent with the players’ skills level and should be increased in parallel with them, at the same pace.

Well-known games can be adapted and students can also develop their own games and quizzes. While doing that students will be practising meaningful learning and gaining a deeper understanding on the topics at hand. Teaching Spanish I have played many games with my students: hangman, spot the difference, crosswords, guess who, describing people, places and things; Simon Says, to learn the parts of the body; I have also adapted Pictionary to help beginner students understand basic grammar concepts, like verbs (actions), nouns (names of things), adjectives (qualities about people or things) — playing the game only using the three aforementioned categories. Furthermore, to develop creativity and different ways to perceive and understand language and culture we have designed quizzes using Kahoot.

The best games are the most intuitive — logical and coherent — with simple rules and a clear purpose.

The latest edition of Forum magazine, the Summer 2018 issue, features an article by Pen Holland and Katie Smith where you can read more about this exciting and engaging topic.

Further Reading

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