So what is GBL?

Yesterday I attended #tmplay at Beaumanor Hall in Leicestershire which was organised by Mike McSharry and Emma Dawson.  I am a great fan of teachmeets and, as usual, it was a treat to meet old friends and make new ones.

You can see all of the presentati0ns here which were filmed by Sarah McSharry.

As ever the sessions gave me different things to consider and a chance to look at how the Kinect is being used. In the afternoon I also had the opportunity to look at an interactive projector which was interesting but in one conversation was portrayed as being a good purchase as it is cheaper than an IWB and most teachers don’t exploit the potential. Whilst I don’t disagree with this it was seem to be a real indictment of the leadership of schools.

During Marc Faulder’s presentation he posed the question ‘What is Games Based Learning?’ and has blogged about it here. Marc talked about it from the point of view of being a Foundation Stage teacher – he showed images of his children working using the Kinect and I was pleased to see how he links the practical with the screen based.
It would be very interesting to see how the Kinect or games consoles can be used to support the progression in early maths from the enactive (internalised action with objects for example  moving 3 cars and 2 cars beside each other), the Iconic (sensory imagery or pictures) to the Symbolic (arbitrary symbols  e.g. ‘three plus two’ or ‘3 + 2’)

In my session I tried to take on Marc’s challenge to define GBL and in Maths and stated that often it is best to limit the use of the gaming to less than five minutes as a stimulus to move the children onto the mathematical learning. I talked about this in a blog post last year – TMBMoble and of course the danger of setting rules like that is that there are always exceptions. I do think that there are times when the games can be used in longer periods of time and during guided sessions but there always needs to be consideration of how long the game as a resource is needed.
I do agree with Mark that use of games in Early Years and in cross curricular topics will need more focused game play – and have done this using Arctic Tale, African Safari and Viking Quest where pupils have worked two or three to a device or have been timetabled to use the Wii throughout the week recording what they have discovered.

Returning to Marc’s question I think that the simplest definition to use is

”Digital games-based learning experiences will be defined as based on activities that:
  • have a digital game […] at their core, either as the main activity or as a stimulus for other related activities.
  • can take place in a formal (eg school) or informal (eg home) learning environment
  • have learning as a desired or incidental outcome.”
    Bober (2010)

For me the vital element is having learning as a desired outcome and ensuring that GBL is used as a driver to not only engage and motivate children but also to ensure that quality learning takes place. The premise, for me, is that a good or better teacher should be engaging and motivating children as a regular occurrence and so the use of GBL would be aimed at unlocking an aspect of learning and as a result I am interested in how it can be used for the “hard to teach, hard to learn” aspects of the Primary curriculum.

Whilst trying to make sense of everything from yesterday I mused on descriptors which could be used to evaluate one’s intended use of devices or games for GBL. These are very first thoughts and so are not developed in any way but centre arnd providing:

Value for money – does what you are purchasing add sufficiently to the learning and to the pupils’ success to justify the purchase. I refer you to Pete Yeoman’s excellent blog post – ‘Pedagogy: use technology for impactm not shininess. iPads are not good by default.’ which does seem to argue much of the same. I see schools buying large numbers of iPads, DSs etc without a clear vision of who will use them, how they will use them and how much training will be needed. If a school buys 10 iPads they should be clear that it would have more impact than other approaches which could cost the same.

Value for time – will the device or game provide value for time and allow pupils sufficient time to work and present their learning. In 2006 Higgins et al produced research entitled ‘The impact of interactive whiteboards on teacher-pupil interaction in the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies’ which showed that one of impacts of providing a dynamic visual image was that teacher talk time had risen significantly and children were spending more time sat on the carpet. My concern is that we could end up with pupils watching other pupils play as part of the engagement process.

Value for equality – whilst I have always argued that IT access is not by default equitable within a class and some pupils will get more time some weeks than others I am intrigued by who gets to use the console driven games unless we are going to return to the 80s with the queue to go on the computer.

Value for learning – my concern is that we use GBL to hit the hard to reach parts of the curriculum as well as providing an engaging and different way to bring a topic to life. I think that there is much work to be done, certainly in Primary, looking at the cinematography of games which can link to film literacy. I have seen (and been involved in) some exciting work supporting teachers using film to teach grammar and to raise standards and do see potential to extend this to the use of games. In mathematics I am keen to use games to create data sets to support data handling and other areas which are often overlooked.

Value for pedagogy – I do stress to teachers they should be brave in their use of GBL and look how it can develop pupil voice in shared and plenary sessions and to drive guided sessions. If it is simply creating a more colourful version of what has gone before then it is questionable whether it is the right path to go down.

So all of this appears to be negative about Games Based Learning, however I would argue that I am being realistic having work for the National Whiteboard Network and seeing school leaders kitting out all classrooms without planning in depth for the integration. I do believe that GBL has a huge role in Primary education and can be used to have a serious impact on learning and standards but I also suspect that there are many suppliers regarding it as the latest cash cow.

3 Responses to “So what is GBL?”

  1. janetteww
    February 16, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    I really enjoyed your presentations yesterday and am in total agreement with your comments about pedagogy being needed. My limited experience of using games is that their sheer power to motivate is valuable. It’s an area that I do want to explore further.

  2. Peter yeomans
    February 16, 2012 at 7:46 pm #

    The I pads must have more impact than other approaches of the same cost…..

    Let’s flip that around – other resourcing choices…..teaching assistants, deputy heAd release time….MUST give better value than other approaches? No? He said mischievously


    • Bill Lord
      February 16, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

      I don’t it is mischievous at all – these are all discussions which schools should be having. If you consider the impact (or lack of impact) of IT in some schools over the years it could be argued that they would have been better spending the money on human resources or books.

Leave a Reply