How video games help teachers teach. But wait, there’s more.

Author: Felix Gyllenstig Serrao
Game-based learning expert, Project Manager on Education Teaching Materials, Region of Göteborg, Sweden

We live in an age where teachers are competing for their students’ attention more than ever before. Information is everywhere, and the struggle to keep students’ interest in learning is real. Some blame technological advances or go even further and forbid the use of technology in the school environment. However, a growing number of teachers are embracing this reality and incorporating a “Let’s join them where they are” attitude into their teaching. And many teachers are seeing the difference. I am one of them.

Through video games, it is now lot easier to teach students 21st-century skills, such as creativity, collaboration, initiative, technology literacy, and more. Students are also much more engaged and focused on the subject I am teaching. For example, when I am teaching students about building sustainable cities of the future or historic societies in a video game, they are more cooperative, attentive and even communicative. Students who usually get bored in school are now suddenly showing interest, showing a side of themselves that I didn’t even know existed.

Teaching through video games, has also made learning fun. It’s a medium they have mastered, one they fear less and regard highly. Through the game, I am also able to delve into school literature that is now easier to grasp. Recently, when we were building a historic society, they were able to grasp the difference of lifestyles between rich noblemen, farmers and city citizens. I could see the information seep in.

We are also seeing that students enjoy themselves, as they think, play, and do school work through a medium they love so much. It is also making teaching easier because we can now explain difficult-to-understand topics while playing or doing. However, I understand hesitations some have in taking this leap in their classrooms, because like anything new, it is first, unknown.

Kids know the tech. Teachers know what they want to teach.

I recently realised that this phenomenon of using video games to teach is not new. More than 4000 teachers across Europe have already taken the MOOC*, where they learned how to use video games to teach. There is also a handbook for teachers+, which walks teachers through where to start, what they need, learn from teachers who have done this before, and more. But this is not all. In practice, we also have our students, who today are technology experts. And if they aren’t, they are eager to help and even more eager to figure out with you. So there is a resource or even expertise we, teachers, can make part of our teaching experience. This way, our focus is on what we want to teach.

Introducing video games is not meant to replace teachers; on the contrary…

While the focus is on learning, video games usually give players creative freedom. Attention can go anywhere. That’s why the involvement of the teacher is crucial. Serious video games require this even more. Video games are just enablers or a formative assessment teaching method because the game in itself isn’t the teacher or can grade the student. On the contrary, we, the teachers help the student learn a historical context, or understand an entirely different perspective.

For example, we were learning about getting goods like silk and spices from the far east. So I asked the class, “How could we get these goods to Sweden?” Their answer after some pondering was, “using a boat.” This was only possible because we were still building the historic city. They then built a harbour for the boat. Immediately, I was able to take them on a journey to learn about the East India trading company. They were able to experience for themselves, what it was to live and find solutions for those times. And not solely through my commentary but through doing.

Teachers who believe in the power of video games to help them teach are everywhere. But I have seen that they lack support. Teachers need a space where best practices are shared, lessons learned are further discussed, or even where their achievements are recognised are desperately needed. I think this is where the European institutions can make a big difference. A forum/space/hub could help teachers learn great examples and practices, and a community of sorts could be built. This way, more teachers can take this in stride, knowing a community of supporters is behind them. In turn, they will genuinely be part of taking education to the next level!

 

Resources:

*MOOC, also known as Massive Online Open Course, is designed for primary and secondary school teachers interested in game-based learning. The course presenter, Ollie Bray, has over 20 years of experience in all areas of education. Ollie has been coordinating the Games in Schools course since 2012. In addition, he is also the Global Director: Connecting Play and Education at the LEGO Foundation. More information about the course can be found here.

+Hanbook for Teachers, released in September 2020, is intended for teachers interested in using
video games in their lessons. Check out the handbook here.

Both of these resources above are made possible by the Games in Schools project - a collaboration between ISFE and European Schoolnet.