Friday, 24 June 2011

Best of Both Worlds

I recently wrote an article on games based learning for Headteacher Update.

The article looks at the debate around games based learning and considers what educators and developers need to think about to when using / creating games based learning products.

Anyways, before I blog a spoiler, why don't you have gander a page 36 of the digital edition of Headteacher Update.


Edit: Headteacher Update have published a web page version of my games based learning article.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Thoughts on the Horizon Report 2011

The NMC Horizon Report series identifies and describes emerging technologies likely to have a large impact on teaching, learning, research, or creative expression within education around the globe. The following blog post is a summary of the 2011 report (black text) along with some of my own thoughts (in blue italics). Oh, and given this a games based learning blog, pride of place is given to this technology.

Games Based Learning (two to three years away)
Early studies of consumer games helped to identify the aspects of games that make them especially engaging and appealing to players of various ages and of both genders: the feeling of working toward a goal; the possibility of attaining spectacular successes; the ability to problem-solve, collaborate with others, and socialize; an interesting story line; and other characteristics. These qualities are replicable for educational content, though they can be difficult to design well.

The production requirements seen in popular consumer games thus far have exceeded education providers’ abilities to build them. In The NMC Horizon Report: 2010 K-12 Edition game-based learning was also positioned on the mid-term horizon, and that remains the case today, although it does seem to be gaining acceptance.

One of the problems with the interest commercial games and education is that they seem to have overly influenced game based learning design. I agree that designing good games based learning might be a challenge, but central to the design should be that the learning experience is paramount. Throwing in all the bells and whistles like the latest blockbuster Xbox / PS3 game isn’t necessary. And in reality, in the commercial gaming world there is a growing segment of simpler game designs – Angry Birds, anyone?

What determines the design of games like Angry Birds or Wii Sport (two of the most successful games of recent times)? Well, they have to run on low spec devices; they have to be understood quickly; they don’t have to be complex; and (in the case of Wii Sports) they need to get individuals playing together. Sounds like The 6 Key Principles of Collaborative Games Based Learning, funny that ;)

This year, there has also been a great deal of traction surrounding online games and game apps for mobile devices.

See comments on mobiles in UK classrooms, below.

Designing and developing games is another way to bring games into the curriculum. Good game design involves research, creative thinking, the ability to envision both problems and solutions, and many other learning skills.

Have a gander at a couple of game design development projects that I have been involved:

  • Developing Games with Young People: LAP Recycling Game.
  • Climate Crew: creative media skills and games development.

Another area of gaming that is increasingly interesting to schools is simulation-based games. When game design is of sufficiently high quality, it is increasingly clear that these approaches can deeply engage students in learning.

As gaming and the science of engagement become better understood, we are likely to see significant investment in large-scale educational games. The compelling nature of Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games in particular is attracting researchers and educators who appreciate the revolutionary power of including games in the curriculum.

I agree with the simulation-based games point - I would, wouldn’t I, given that is what we do at games-ED. I  do worry about MMO games, though. As stated above, the learning should come first and the technology second, but MMO do offer a forum to get schools across the world working with each other and that could be very exciting. 

Other Education Technologies
Near-term Horizon (within the next 12 months)
Cloud computing has already transformed the way users of the Internet think about computing and communication, data storage and access, and collaborative work. Cloud-based applications and services are available to many school students today, and more schools are employing cloud-based tools all the time.

It will be interesting to see how the drive for academy status frees up schools to choose IT more flexibly and move away from Local Authority provided solutions.

Mobiles, especially smartphones and tablets, enable ubiquitous access to information, social networks, tools for learning and productivity, and hundreds of thousands of custom applications.

The power of mobiles is without question. But there are a number of issues worth noting in UK schools. Firstly, some teachers are starting to ban them from the classroom. Secondly, at present in the UK smart phones have not become the ubiquitous tool they might have in the US due to their cost, particularly if the user is on a pay as you go contract. In the UK, therefore, the adoption horizon might be two to three years. 

The second adoption horizon (two to three years out).
Open content is the current form of a movement that began a decade ago, when universities such as MIT began to make their course content freely available. Ten years later, schools have also begun to share a significant amount of curricula, resources, and learning materials.

TES teaching resources is starting to do this in the UK. So, it could be argued that, open content is on the Near-term Horizon (one year) rather than two to three years out.

Far-term Horizon (four to five years away)
Learning analytics loosely joins a variety of data gathering tools and analytic techniques to study student engagement, performance, and progress in practice, with the goal of using what is learned to revise curricula, teaching, and assessment in real time.

Being an avid user of Google Analytics, I think this concept could revolutionise how we understand learners’ use of digital resources.

Personal learning environments (PLEs) refer to student-designed learning approaches that encompass different types of content — videos, apps, games, social media tools, and more — chosen by a student to match his or her personal learning style and pace. Despite the use of the word “environment” in the name, the notion of a collection or a physical or online space is somewhat irrelevant to a PLE. The goal is for students to have more control over how they learn, and for teachers to set expectations that their students will be more engaged in understanding and applying their learning strategies.

Further Reading
The full Horizon Report can be found at

Monday, 13 June 2011

Proof of the Pudding Part 2

Building on a previous blog post (proof of the pudding), this post looks at the practical use of games based learning in the classroom. I didn't deliver the lessons, instead it was delivered by teachers at Kings's School Winchester.

What was particularly interesting for me, is that it wasn't delivered as a facilitated game - this is the way I normally deliver our Sustainaville product. Kings' School still used it as a collaborative game, but the students inputted their own decisions into the game and the teachers supported the game sessions more lightly. The students quickly picked up the game rules (due in part to worksheets produced by Kings' School Teachers) and made group decisions in what is a reasonably complex simulation game.

Report on Sustainaville by Jane Berridge, Enterprise Co-ordinator, Kings' School Winchester
For our year 9 Enterprise Day, we took the 330 students in the year group off time table and set them a business challenge based around a theme.  The theme was sustainability and the students were asked to investigate how they could improve their community in a sustainable way.

We wanted to provide the students with information and learning that related to a sustainable community project whilst being motivational and fun.  So, we chose to start the day with Sustainaville.

Sustainaville Dynamic Main Screen
The whole year group was split into teams of three.  Each team worked at a computer and took on the role of town planners.  Their brief was to look at different sectors of Sustainaville and decide where they needed to invest to improve the town and make it a better place to live.

To make the activity even more challenging, there were tutor group competitions with spot prizes and a prize was awarded to the team with the highest score in the year group.

The game was very successful and the feedback from students and adults was excellent.  The students said ‘we really enjoyed the game, especially when we won the tutor group challenge. We have learned what sustainability is and how to help the environment. Also, we learned how to work with others and to be confident when making business decisions.’  

The teachers said they thought it was a very useful and the students gained a lot from it.

Background on Sustainaville by Paul Ladley (games-ED)
Sustainaville is a games based learning product produced games-ED. The key to success of Sustainaville is that it incorporates the 6 Key Principles of Collaborative Games Based Learning. In particular: it supports group game play; it uses technology appropriately (in Kings's case 1 computer per group not 330 computers) and it supports multiple conversations. The last principle is expanded in an earlier blog post - The Art of Conversation.

Feedback provided via report screens
In terms of Enterprise Education, Sustainaville helps learners to understand the importance of businesses in providing employment and prosperity. Learners understand how investment and specific sector skills underpin sustainable growth plus how generic skills and business improvements impact on competitiveness. They also discover that businesses do not operate in a vacuum and that social and environmental factors can both impact on the success of businesses and can be made worse by business activities.

The game allows the learners to practice skills that they and businesses need. They develop strategies, plan actions and manage budgets. They make choices and work within constraints. They use decision-making skills, practice problem-solving skills and work in teams.

Teaching Methods Deployed:
• Debates
• Discussions (experience transfer)
• Educational games
• Role-playing
• Simulations
• Pupil/student-led activities or exercises.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

They Are OK, Are You?

I'm Okay, You're Okay
This post isn't strictly about games based learning; instead it describes a games based workshop delivered by my colleague Mary Dees to an adult audience. The workshop has some very interesting implications for education, hence the reason it is worthy of a blog post.

Before I describe the workshop, it is worth noting at games-ED / pixelfountain we think of games based learning as an education tool and when we deliver to adults we use the term learning simulations. This is pretty much a (marketing) terminology issue, as there is a huge amount of overlap between the two audiences in terms of the actual games and their delivery. So when I refer to game or simulation in this post, then I am essentially describing the same thing.  Anyway, before I get muddled in mire of the learning lexicon, let me tell you about the workshop and its application in education.

The Workshop
The workshop was run at ITA National Conference 2011. It examined the Transactional Analysis theory of life positions. It explored conflict and collaboration including existential and behavioural life positions in both 2 and 3 dimensions - 2D OKness and 3D OKness. 2D OKness is concerned with I and You; it is most commonly known in the expression "I'm okay, you're okay". 3D OKness adds another dimension - Them.  The theories were practically explored and demonstrated using the Sustainaville games based learning product developed by pixelfountain (games-ED).

In the simulation game, the delegates had three years to make the community sustainable in terms of social, environmental and economic issues.  The delegates were divided up into eight teams and had limited resources and both common and conflicting priorities. As the learning-simulation progresses, the learners must explore the interrelationships between the different stakeholders in the community. They have the means of making improvements but the timing of some improvements can cause other areas of the community to suffer.

The simulation is a situated learning approach and provides the delegates with an opportunity to explore their interrelations with each other: one to one, inside their teams, between teams and as a whole community. What life positions do they adopt? Do they avoid conflict? Do they manage to stay ok / keep others ok whilst resolving conflict? How do they respond to stress? How well do they collaborate and work together for the good of the whole community?

Application in Education Settings
Sustainaville has been successfully used in education (see older post on Proof of the Pudding), but this workshop opens up more possibilities. We have understood and shown how collaborative games can develop team working /creative / critical thinking skills, but combining the approach with concepts from Transactional Analysis delivers additional outcomes.

2D OKness and 3D OKness help individuals and groups firstly understand how and why they interact in certain ways and also to help them to move into more constructive ways of behaving. By delivering these concepts within a collaborative games based lesson, the learners are able to move from theory into practice. The Sustainaville situated learning simulation will give learners the opportunity to explore how they think, feel and behave under certain circumstances. It will enable them to experience conflict and practice collaboration. The simulation also includes the context of protecting the planet enabling the learners to look at life positions in relationship to future generations and species.

Specifically (in terms of the UK) the approach could support: Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL); Personal, learning and thinking skills (PLTS); and Personal Social Health Economic education (PSHE).

SEAL: Improving behaviour, improving learning. SEAL seeks to develop skills such as understanding another’s point of view, working in a group, sticking at things when they get difficult, resolving conflict and managing worries.

PLTS provides a framework for describing the qualities and skills needed for success in learning and life. The framework comprises six groups of skills: independent enquirers, creative thinkers, reflective learners, team workers, self-managers and effective participants.

PSHE is a planned, developmental programme of learning designed to help learners develop the knowledge, understanding and skills they need to manage their lives, now and in the future. It deals with real life issues which affect children and young people, their families and their communities, and engages with the social and economic realities of their lives, experiences and attitudes.

Further Reading:
The full paper “They Are OK – Are You? ITA Conference Delegates run a Simulated World” can be found at
Blog post: The Art of Conversation.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Education and Technology Conference 2011

I  will be delivering demonstration and discussion of Sustainaville games based learning at Education and Technology Conference 2011 on June 28th in Leeds. games-ED are also exhibiting at the show. I hope to give the attendees a taste of playing the game (time permitting), some case studies on Sustainaville usage and some practical advice on implementing games based learning. This latter bit will be focussed around the Games Based Learning Analysis and Planning Tool (see the slideshare widget on the side of this blog or you can find it on Click here for more on my Sustainaville games based learning workshop and for that matter other workshops at the conference

The conference is being organised by webanywhere and includes keynote speakers, hands-on workshops, a range of exhibitors and an awards ceremony.

The Speakers:

  • Professor Sugata Mitra's "Hole in the Wall" experiments have shown that, in the absence of supervision or formal teaching, children can teach themselves and each other, if they're motivated by curiosity and peer interest. Sugata addresses one of the biggest issues in modern day education, the fact that often the best teachers and schools simply don't exist in the places where they are needed the most. His experiments have looked at what happens when kids are given self supervised access to technology. Starting in the slums of New Dehli he provided 'Hole in the wall' access to the internet and observed children teaching themselves not only how to use computers and the Internet but also new languages in order for them to understand and access online resources effectively.
  • Matt Lingard has worked in the field of educational technology since 2001, at London Business School, London Metropolitan University, and since 2005 at the LSE. He has an MA ICT in Education from the Institute of Education, University of London, where his dissertation focused on lecturers' attitudes to using VLEs for teaching. 
  • Chris Lackey is a filmmaker and animator from Los Angeles, California. Chris has been working in Hollywood for the last 16 years, creating television and movies for a variety of companies. Now living in Yorkshire, Chris is working in schools to work with pupils on animation, film making and photography workshops.

. Have a gander at

I will report back on how the workshop and indeed the conference went.