Using games

The BBC Skillswise materials include a set of online games. This article discusses how learning through online games can be very effective. There are also suggestions for how to use the games appropriately to support learning.

The games cover a range of English and maths topics from the different Skillswise categories. They are available at two or three different levels and there are further choices, such as playing against the clock or not. The games include instructions for learners on how to play them and guidance for the tutor in the form of tutor notes. The games are accessible to most learners as they only require fairly basic IT skills and the language used is reasonably plain and simple.

How do online games promote learning?
Don’t consider the games to be there just as a convenient gap fill or end of term activity. Learning can be more effective when it is fun. The games provide learners with an opportunity to practise the maths and/or English skills and knowledge they have been acquiring on the course, in an enjoyable way. They also allow for repetition of skills practice without the boredom factor that may be associated with repetition.

In a review of UK research for BERA , Steve Higgins reported that identified three reasons why computers can have a positive effect on learning:
•    the increased time spent on practising the skills being worked on
•    many pupils enjoy using computers which helps with motivation and engagement
•    practice is provided at an appropriate level

They give learners an element of control that may appeal. According to Malcolm Knowles’ concept of andragogy  as people mature they move towards being more self-directed in their learning. With the Skillswise games you can allow learners to select their own level and set their own pace by deciding whether they want to have a time limit for the game. You can also allow them to self assess their own progress through the games, as they will be given a score and instant feedback on how they have done. In addition, they can decide if they would like to have another go to try to improve their score or if they would like to try the next level of game.

The games also work because they appeal to a variety of different learning styles:
•    online games are, by their very nature, highly visual  - this is enhanced by the inclusion of images, lots of colour and visual demonstrations
•    they suit kinaesthetic learners because of the movement involved onscreen and through activities such as click and drag
•    many of the games include sound, in the form of instructions or information, therefore suiting auditory learners

How to use the Skillswise games
You can include some time for the learners to try out games that match their learning objectives during the course sessions. The tutor notes tell you how many levels of game there are and what is involved at each level.  Alternatively, you can recommend particular games for the learners to try out at home between sessions. If learners don’t possess a computer at home they should be able to access one in their local library.

If there are enough computers you can ask learners to try out the games individually. However, you could ask learners to work in pairs on the games if there are more learners than computers. You could try this approach anyway as it will encourage discussion and collaboration. However, you may need to ensure that the learners are working together and discussing how to solve the problems involved in the games rather than one person playing and the other just observing.
 
Assessing learning and encouraging reflection
Although the self assessment element of the games is beneficial in encouraging learner independence and can boost self confidence, you will probably want to formatively assess the learners yourself when they are playing the games. You can do this by asking learners to print out their scores and feedback sheets. Copies of these sheets can be kept as a record of learner achievement and progress. Learners may also want to keep a copy, particularly if they have achieved a good score, or as a target to beat if they repeat the game.

You can also use these sheets as the basis for group discussions after learners have completed a game.  It is useful to discuss any issues learners may have had when playing the game and to share different strategies for solving any particular problems. Discussion further increases the effectiveness of the games as a learning tool as it helps to highlight any conceptual misunderstandings and provides you with another assessment opportunity. It can also encourage reflection, which is essential for learning.
 
The stages of using the games can be broadly linked to the Kolb Cycle.  The concrete experience is where the learner tries out the game and gets to know the rules. This should be followed by reflective observation where the learner thinks about the experience of playing the game. Then the learner tries to assess what they have learned from playing the game (abstract conceptualisation). Then, with active experimentation, the learner tries out what they have learned – perhaps by repeating the same level or by trying another level of the game.

RELATED LINKS
Does ICT improve learning and teaching in schools?  Steve Higgins, Newcastle University.  A professional user review of UK research undertaken for the British Educational Research Association
http://www.bera.ac.uk/files/reviews/ict-pur-mb-r-f-p-1aug03.pdf

'Malcolm Knowles, informal adult education, self-direction and andragogy', the encyclopedia of informal education  - article by Smith, M. K. (2002) on Malcolm Knowles and andragogy
http://www.infed.org/thinkers/et-knowl.htm

Kolb Cycle – diagram with descriptive labels:
http://www.brainboxx.co.uk/a3_aspects/pages/kolbcycle.htm

Opening PDF files
For more information on how to open PDF files, read the BBC Webwise guide to Adobe Reader.