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Games that work for teachers don't necessarily do so for students

There is an interesting conversation going on the LinkedIn Group "Game Based Learning", in this thread. The group is private unfortunately, you will have to register to see the discussion in full.  

Katrin Becker wrote:

The mistake many people make is in believing that simply making it a game will somehow (magically) make the learning better or more fun. Something that helps learners build up automaticity in core knowledge IS a good thing, but wrapping a game around drill does NOT automatically achieve this.

Often teachers have a very different view on what is fun from what kids do. For example, I routinely hear from teachers about how wonderful MathBlaster is, and what I routinely hear from the kids is how awful it is. From the kids' point of view it is only marginally better than plain worksheets. This has several repercussions:1. kids learn that educational games suck and become very suspicious of anything a teacher labels 'game' or 'fun' - this further cements the view that learning is a chore (see:
)2. kids learn that teachers are out of touch with their world, which in turn undermines credibility and respect.
It really isn't the format that is at issue - as a game, Super Mario Bros. is exactly the same format as MathBlaster. Both are 2D platformers where the game story has little to do with the game activities. One is really well designed and the other one just isn't.
THAT's the heart of the issue - if you do not know how to design good games your games will not be fun and the learning will come - if it comes at all - in spite of the game wrapper rather than being facilitated by it.
"Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing" is another old favorite that teachers love and students hate. "The Typing of the Dead" on the other hand is truly a blast.
If you want to design educational games, knowing how to design learning is not enough. There is much (MUCH!) more to good game design than many people think.
We went through this whole thing in the 1980's when 'edutainment' was popular for the first time. It failed quite miserably, which resulted in the 'L'-word' (Learning) becoming the kiss of death for most games, causing the game industry to become very leery of getting involved again. We now have a second chance to do this right. If we screw it up again we will not get a third chance.

Now that iPads and iPod touch start to make it into classrooms, learning games start to be more widespread. What are the types of games that you use in your classroom? Do  you take the time to check that your students enjoy it as much as you think they should? Do you run surveys to enquire about what they like and dislike about the games you use in the classroom? If so, what are the games that are best received and why?


  • Florence Lyons

    Marielle, thank you very much for sharing this post which I ave found very interesting.

    While I was reading it, one thought came to my mind : why don;t the teachers just ask the students if they like the games played in class? It would be easy, quick and will provide with helpful feedback.



  • Suzie Vesper

    Interesting! I have played Maths Blaster as a teacher and I have to say it was incredibly repetitive and exceptionally dull! I totally understand the point you are making here.

  • Marielle Lange

    Thanks Florence and Suzie.

    There may also be a bit of a novelty effect as well to accommodate for. I agree with Florence. It is important to ask students if they find it helpful... and ask it in a way where it is made clear that don't have to please the teacher. It may be a good idea to ask again after a few weeks. 

    Games are great to bring diversity, to get kids practice in a different setting. But they cannot necessarily be used successfully over extended periods of time. For more extended use, the challenge is to find game mechanics that click with the right age group and mix them up with teaching work. Not an easy feat!

Learning through games

Learning through games

Learning games or serious games are about taking the problem-solving and critical-thinking skills kids often develop playing other forms of video games but in an education context.