Digital games are most definitely still being overlooked in ‘digital education’ reform

I’ve been working in higher education for many years and I can honestly say that I don’t recall ever having encountered any form of game-based learning. Several years ago, as a challenge to myself, I created a guided, digital crossword puzzle but that was predicated on the students already knowing the answers. In other words, it didn’t involve the students learning by doing or learning from doing. In order to complete the puzzle, the students simply needed to know the answer to the question or the missing word.

As a professional educator, I’ve been hearing about game-based learning for some years. The 2011 Higher Ed Edition of the annual NMC Horizon Report predicted that game-based learning would gain widespread usage within two to three years, however that hasn’t really eventuated. I suspect there has been piecemeal takeup in secondary education but I’m struggling to think of a credible example of game-based learning in higher education that I’ve heard about through my Personal Learning Network (PLN).

In 2013 I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Jeffrey Brand from Bond University. Professor Brand has developed a career exploring the cognitive and behavioural effects of electronic media on young audiences and has been known to hold classes in Minecraft.

As highlighted by Josh Jennings in his excellent article titled Teachers re-evaluate value of video games, in Australia at least, there are distinct barriers to the widespread adoption of game-based learning. In particular, there’s a definite cultural barrier in the sense that many educators still think of playing games as time-wasting. In their view, students don’t play games to learn. They play games to avoid doing what they should be doing which is their homework.

Having read Jane McGonigal’s provocative book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, I’m convinced there’s a place for game-based learning in higher education. I’m just not sure what that place will look like. Plus I think the jury is still out on the effectiveness (or otherwise) of game-based learning as an instructional strategy to engage students in higher education. As per the article, I think we need more longitudinal studies on the subject.

In fact, apart from the fact that I’m keen to learn more about game-based learning, my main reason for doing this particular subject is that I hope to be able to influence my peers both now and in the future to seriously consider game-based learning as a legitimate, sustainable instructional strategy.

For game-based learning to have any chance of succeeding we need to encourage innovative teaching practice. We need educators who are prepared to take risks both face-to-face and online in the hope that by doing so they will be able to engage their students and improve student outcomes.

I Can Remember

I can remember discovering social media in 2003 when I was introduced to Delicious (formerly del.icio.us) a social bookmarking service that had launched that year. I was entranced by del.icio.us because using it enabled me to save my bookmarks into an account rather than a browser. In the past, my bookmarks had been scattered across my various devices including my home computer, my work computer and my laptop.

With the advent of del.icio.us suddenly I could take my bookmarks with me wherever I went as long as I had an internet connection. del.icio.us made it possible for me to quickly and easily look for people and tags. Because of del.icio.us I became a social media addict almost overnight. I would spend hours looking through del.icio.us as well as adding stuff to my del.icio.us account. del.icio.us was the first in a long line of web services that I have experimented with over the years including Dropbox, iGoogle and Twitter.

I can remember discovering Mashable not long after it launched in 2005. I fell in love with Mashable because it provided me with social media news and lots of it. Not long after that I discovered Tony Karrer and his eLearning Technology blog followed by Jane Hart and her Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies (or C4LPT). I am particularly fond of Jane’s C4LPT website as each year she brings out her “Top 100 Tools for Learning” which is a great way for me to look at what’s up and coming in terms of learning technologies.

I can remember getting into QR codes in 2007 and putting in a grant application with the Telematics Trust in 2008 and the National VET E-learning Strategy (formerly the Australian Flexible Learning Framework) in 2009. I’m happy to report that both applications were successful and enabled me to do research into QR codes and their potential use in an educational setting. It was exciting because I was doing something that had never been done before.

Like many educators I have a fairly extensive Personal Learning Network (or PLN) plus I’m a kinesthetic learner with an enquiring mind. If I hear about a new web service or product that sounds interesting I normally do two things: I do a quick Google search to see if anyone’s reviewed this new service or product and I reach out to the people in my network to see if they can provide me with some insights about this new web service or product.

If I read a bunch of reviews and they’re all good then I’ll try the service myself. If I enjoy using the service and it meets a need then there’s a good chance I’ll start using it on a regular basis. Otherwise, I don’t bother. I also follow various thought leaders on Twitter and elsewhere since they are often discussing subjects that interest me.

As you can see from the tag cloud at the top of this post, my learning has been influenced by (e)books, people and technology. Brown and Duguid (2000) asserted that a person’s access to technology doesn’t necessarily mean that learning will occur. Learning is much more likely to occur when the technology is combined with some kind of social context.

For myself, I’m hoping that this subject in combination with the technology being used here plus the forums and blogs will see learning occur. In particular, I’m hoping that this subject will provide me with a better understanding of the theory behind concepts such as digital literacy and connected learning so that I can become a better digital citizen.

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