A survey of COTS games used in education

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Information about A survey of COTS games used in education

Published on October 13, 2007

Author: silversprite



An analysis of the different ways in which COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) video games are used in education, teaching and learning.

A survey of COTS games used in education John Kirriemuir Presented at: Serious Games Summit, Game Developers Conference San Francisco, March 2005 Text, images © contributing teachers / John Kirriemuir as applicable

Brief bio • Researcher within UK universities (1992-2001), mainly on digital library projects. • Independent (self-employed) researcher and consultant since 2001, initially under name of Ceangal. • Varying amounts of my work have involved exploring how computer and video games can be, or have been, used for teaching or learning. • Member of the board of the Computer games, motivation and gender in educational contexts project: Web site: Email: john at

Things I won’t be covering This presentation, and the underlying survey and research deals with “pure” computer and video games. Pure games (definition): games designed, built, produced and marketed solely for fun, and not for educational needs or markets. • Ergo, I won’t be covering “edutainment” or explicitly educational software or games in detail. Violence and games. Plenty (probably too much) written elsewhere on this subject. • Best to read the meta-reviews of studies, paying careful attention to credibility and rigorousness of methodology in each study. Gender studies. Quite a lot of often very good research on this topic coming out of • UK, US and Canadian academia. Checkout the work of Diane Carr, Aleks Krotoski and Helen Kennedy in the UK in particular. Heavy teaching and learning theory. This presentation is concerned with practical • applications of games. Checkout NESTA FutureLab and Ultralab literature reviews, and the thesis of Kurt Squire.

Previous surveys in this series Have informally undertaken three previous surveys of the use of “pure” computer and video games in teaching and learning. Three of them; 2001, 2002 and 2003 • • Not rigorous, and quite small-scale. • All three concentrated entirely on finding, and talking to, teachers who used games. Several UK teachers who suspected, or anecdotally heard, of using games unwilling • to discuss it further (negative reactions from other teachers).

Summary of the previous surveys • A very small number of simulation Many teachers were interested in using games predominated, especially Sim games, but were put off by: City and Rollercoaster Tycoon. 3. Potential reaction from fellow teachers • Most examples were in the US. Very and governors. few were in Europe or elsewhere. 4. Potentially adverse reaction from parents. • Most uses of games in schools were 5. Lack of examples of real classroom not curriculum-based. Lunchtime or situations where games had been used after-school computer clubs, rewards successfully. for good behaviour, pacifier to keep 6. Possibly losing lesson control, and unruly children quiet.  focus, to children who are far more familiar with the game. • UK examples tended to be academic 7. Commercial games not being validated trials (and therefore not under by teacher-oriented standards bodies. typically chaotic classroom conditions). 8. School computers being insufficiently powerful to run contemporary computer games. • Very nearly all examples were PC based. A small number of schools had 9. Having to learn about games, and Playstations, solely for recreation. learn a game very well, in their own time. 10. The time consideration, with Widespread negative response to the • classroom timetables being “salami- woolly concept of “games in school”. sliced”.

Survey 4: January to June 2005 • Focus primarily on the UK, though looking at examples from overseas where directly relevant. More rigorous; working up to an academic paper or two on the survey. • • More interested in evidence that the use of the game has affected (hopefully increased) the learning abilities / scores of the class. • Looking for current or very recent examples only – plenty of examples of e.g. use of Sim City in US schools in the 90’s. • This time, have the additional step of taking teacher requirements to game producers and developers, to see what they think. Response rate so far from developers has been very good, from publishers poor. • Searches for classroom examples this time was less through flat web searches, and more through targeted education networks and teacher mailing lists. • Bootstrapping: teachers who used games often knew of other teachers who used games. A community within a community.

The role of the teacher: misassumptions In the wider education sector, there are various misassumptions and apprehensions about the role of the teacher in the classroom when a computer or video game is used. Most of these misassumptions fall into four categories: 5. The teacher will be marginalised, and become partially or fully redundant, by the game. The role of the teacher is reduced to an assistant who turns the computers on and off. 6. The pupils will know more about how the game operates than the teacher, making the teacher more redundant. 7. The pupils work individually, boothed, one to a game, in monastic silence. Learning is an isolated and unsocial experience, with communication cut-off from peers. 8. The drive towards ICT, and the cheapness of a computer game compared to the cost of training and hiring a teacher, may make the game more cost-effective over the teacher. The basic apprehension is that the game partially or fully removes the need for a teacher. As we will see, the opposite is true.

Teacher requirement 1: examples from other teacher Teachers often want to see examples of the use of games in the classroom, before they use them themselves. They also want: • Most crucially (remember previous slide) details of the relationship between the game and the teacher. Details of how the game was used from the teacher (horses mouth) rather than from • a consultant or researcher (avoids academic gobbledygook). Details of how the game was funded i.e. who paid for the software and the hardware. • • Any evidence of improvement in class scores. • Details of how the game was made relevant to the curriculum. Some other requirements we’ll look at in detail later… •

Example 1: Zoo Tycoon Joy Thompson, St Nicholas school, Yorkshire East Riding, UK. “I've been using Zoo Tycoon with a year 5 and 6 (KS2 9-11 year olds) group of about a dozen who score less than level 2 in maths. These are a group of special needs children (two of whom have significant behavioral difficulties), who have trouble co- operating and concentrating for any length of time. Lots of maths language / strategy / co-operation / peer modelling / extending concentration span / motivation. I use it a few times a week with a data projector and PC for maybe 15 minutes of a lesson. It also helps motivate as it is a prized carrot!! I hold the (radio) mouse and pass it round as required. I use the game as a discussion 'tool', a sort of playing by committee. We discuss what we can afford to put in the zoo, how much fencing, terrain etc. We've been playing a couple of weeks; so far a giraffe escaped because we didn't get the right sort of fencing (false economy) and we've had two baby penguins because we've lavished loads of money on them. Fun aside, playing the game together calls for lots of co-operation, taking turns, strategic planning and talking. I believe in maths terms it comes under the national numeracy unit 'money and real life problems'.”

Example 2: Myst Tim Rylands, Chew Magna, Primary School, Bristol, UK. (Movie authorised by same). More details on his website: “I have used this for classes of around 30 children. Typically, they are year 5 or 6 (10-11 year olds), though I’ve used the games with classes of year 2 upwards. I uses versions of Myst to inspire speaking, listening, observation, and creative writing.”

Example 2: Time for a movie… The following movie shows Tim leading a class in English language, using the game Myst as a facilitator. Things to observe: • the attention and focus of the schoolchildren. how the game is being controlled… • …and how the lesson is being controlled. • • the vocabulary and sentence structures spoken by the children. the synchronicity of action (swaying) in the class when the game is in motion. • the reaction of the class when time is up! • [nb if you are downloading this presentation, then there is no movie here; you will need to ask Tim for permission for this]

Example 2: Does it work? “Before the game-centred class was introduced, English SATS results were 66% at level four. Following the introduction of the game-centric method, SATS results had risen to 100%. In fact, SATS results at level five for the same class were 57%.”

Example 3: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Used by James Durran, advanced skills teacher, at Parkside Community College, Cambridge. “Used for teaching about videogames, in the context of media education. Used by all of year 8, in classes of 30. I have used the game (a) as a chance to play a game in a lesson, with one pupils playing on an interactive whiteboard, and others ‘directing’, (b) for subsequent discussion of what game-play is about, and (c) for comparison of the ‘grammar;’ of gameplay and film, as two different moving image forms. (c) involved looking at parallel clips, from the film and from gameplay, of the same narrative moment (the fight with the big snake thing, the name of which escapes me!) We have also used the game cover in a comparative exercise with the book cover and the DVD cover. We then analyse the visual and verbal language of the game cover, in terms of how it ‘promises’ specific pleasures. This, in turn, leads to general discussion of what pleasures gameplay offers.”

Example 4: Who wants to be a millionaire? Tricia Lockhart, Holmer Green Senior School, Buckinghamshire, UK. (Author of pictures). Downloaded a free version of a WWTBAM clone, and entered in her own question set. “The game was used to cover a variety of topics in ICT subjects, such as global communication, the Internet, good presentations, spreadsheets. The age range was years 7 to 11. The game downloaded and installed quickly, then seeing how to do my own question set was quick and straightforward. I then had to try and grade the answers, as I wanted them to get harder as the kids went through. I did this more or less as I went along. You also need to think about how the questions are worded as the size of answer is limited. Thus I wanted the answer to be 'Blind Carbon Copy' to the question 'To what does BCC refer in an email'. I had to change the question to BCC in an email stands for ----------- carbon copy so the shorter answer blind was used. However, again, I learnt as I went along, and my first attempt at making a question set worked fine. It was very easy and intuitive [to use]. However, if there was a place to host sets of questions, then we could share more. Something I could not do was to change the $ sign to £. Maybe that is not possible - maybe a good manual would have made this possible. Also, the program does not expand to full screen, so can be a little difficult to read for some kids.

Example 4 (continued) All students seem to love the game. I would say girls as well as boys. I would also say it is amazing how quickly you could see by their body language they were anticipating, eager etc. A big part of that is the music which is very distinctive and draws their attention immediately. Indeed, I used the game more widely quickly because a group might come in after I had used it with the previous group and they were desperate to use it. Even quite difficult groups (I have a lot of low ability groups). The first topic had links with what others were doing so it did not entirely matter that some questions were not relevant - they used one of their lifelines. I would use the program as a starter, and when they lost all lives, they would do the main focus of their lesson, then at the end we would return to it and they would try to get further - having learned from the first run through! One of the toughie boys in year 9 had seen it about three times before he said 'It is strange that all the questions are ICT ones, isn't it, Miss?!!! Another, again awkward and year 9, thought the 'phone a friend etc' would not work and by demanding a phone a friend he thought he might be able to be disruptive. By great fortune, firstly the phone a friend does seem to work; secondly, it claimed it had phoned someone with the same forename as someone in the group, and the kids thought that somehow I had influenced the name that came up!! Luck is sometimes on the side of the teacher!”

Example 5: School Tycoon Stephen Fessey, Park View City Learning Centre, Birmingham, UK. (A City Learning Centre is a government funded scheme which serves the local primary and secondary schools, providing ICT access to all children.) “ The game was used in December 2004. Two teachers at the centre coordinated it and it was played by 90 Year 6 pupils (10-11 years old) in 3 groups of 30. We were originally were going to use Sim City 4 but thought it too detailed for the 1.5 hours we had the children. School Tycoon allowed us to get the children to develop their spacial thinking skills, fiscal skills, numeracy and even social awareness. Many did not realise the jobs that are entailed in running a school and how essential they are. The pupils were given cards to make their own quot;physicalquot; school within a budget and were then shown the software. They were allowed to play in the quot;sandboxquot; mode for an hour and then we print-screened the final school with financial and academic results to determine who had been successful. During the plenary we discussed why some schools had worked and some hadn't.”

Example 6: Using dance mat games in PE Martyn Thompson, head of P.E. at Groby Community College (14 to 19 year olds), Leicestershire, UK (pictures authorised by same). Uses dance mats in lessons particularly to motivate 'less engaged' teenage girls. Uses Dancing stage Party edition, Euromix by Konami and Dance UK by Euromix Big Ben interactive. “It all kicked off as a girls activity ......a consequence of our sports hall being used for examinations in January and our 15/16 year old girls not wanting to go outside! We used classrooms and corridors! The activity became popular and spread into lunchtimes and sixth form recreation sessions and as a consequence a number of boys wanted to have a go too. Needless to say they weren't as good as the girls. This improved girls' confidence in a subject area where usually boys outperform girls. It started on an individual basis but we have extended this to the two player situation when space, TV's, mats, time allow it. The students do respond positively to the link up. We have begged and borrowed Playstations and dance mats to enable this to happen. Pupils often want to stay on after school to practise on the dance mats - for some the only time they have ever done this!

Example 6 (continued) The work is extended by planning their own routines which are then carried out away from the dance mats. One thing they particularly enjoy is the instant feedback on how well they have done which motivates them to improve scores. It is also liked because it is something they may have done successfully at home and gives them the opportunity to show their prowess - something they may not have been able to do in other activities particularly games. One problem we have encountered is how quickly the mats wear out as a result of constant use. One girl was motivated enough to go and find the cost of arcade 'industrial strength' versions. Too much for us!

Example 6 (continued) We have incorporated use of dance mats into our health and fitness schemes of work, the outcomes of which are: • increased participation/attendance by less motivated students, particularly girls, in PE lessons. • improved social skills / students working together/ encouraging/ sharing/ • acquiring physical skills • an interest and desire in developing personal fitness levels • opportunity for independent learning • self motivation to improve within lesson due to immediate feedback of scores. • increased attendance in after school activity • an opportunity for students to show that they are better than their PE teachers at something!!”

Example 7a: Using Lego software to make games (Doesn’t use commercial off the shelf games, but worth a mention) Steve Robson, KS3 ICT Consultant, Education Development Centre, Northumberland County Council, UK. “We use Logo based software to make fully functioning video games that run stand alone as part of our control work, and also as assessments. The kids make the game, and also look at marketing, packaging and advertising. It happens in years 6-9, and will develop further up as schools become more aware of the potential. One high school is talking about Sixth Form! We are also looking at full blown games authoring systems, and I'm planning a full 8.5 module to test the notion 'Children learn better when they make computer games'.”

Example 7a: Screenshots of games kids have made

Example 7b: Computer club (making games) Tony Forster, Haileybury College, Berwick, Australia. “Computer Club was started as a parent initiative in term 2, 2003. Computer Club is a weekly after school elective. It was run for years 4 to 8 in 2003. Though Gamemaker is suitable for children down to year 3, it was restricted to years 5 to 8 from 2004 to align with our Middle School years. After experimentation, 90 minutes was adopted as the optimum session time Computer Club commenced with one constraint on the children: they can do whatever they want provided that the games they are playing have editable source code. This has proved a very suitable model for an after school Computer Club and no modifications have been necessary. The students have been highly motivated and very productive as this website attests. Teachers using game programming during class time may need a more structured approach. Students spend approximately half of their time just playing games: other students’ creations or examples from The other half is spent creating their own games or modifying, (hacking) other games. They also occasionally create Powerpoint animations and use educational software such as Maths Circus or Microworlds.

Example 7b (continued) We became aware of other educators using Gamemaker in 2004 and have since established links with other schools. It turns out that Computer Club was well founded in Constructionist learning theory. The after school computer club element is similar to one in the UK:” (Picture of Tony’s son, Reuben, programming a game)

Example 8: Battle of Austerlitz Coordinated by Professor Ron Smith at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, as part of the Western Civilization II Course. Information provided by Lindsay Riehl, Director of Marketing at Breakaway Games (developers of Battle of Austerlitz). “The game users were students ranging from age 18 – 20. The rationale for use was to “hook” and engage students in Napoleonic Battle Tactics and to provide them with a better understanding of the tactics, decisions and strategies employed in the battle of Austerlitz. Historical scenarios were used and students were divided into teams each with varying areas of responsibility (i.e. ranging from commander, to individuals in charge of moving infantry, cavalry and artillery).”

The teacher / game relationship: successful models 1. The “teacher as guide” model. The teacher has control of the game, and leads the class through appropriate scenarios. The class have to tackle the appropriate scenario before moving on. Game control is passed around, or the teacher retains it for the duration of the exercise. Usually uses one computer and a projector. 5. The “teacher as referee” model. The class is split into different teams. The teams collaborate internally, and use the game to “compete” against each other e.g. which team can develop the most economically stable city using an urban planning simulator. The teacher sets the task, answers queries, helps the teams to an appropriate extent, adjudicates, and leads the class debriefing. Both models require: • communication-based participation by all participants. • the teacher and game being the axis on which the lesson runs.

Teacher requirement 2: ‘lite’ games Teachers would like to see versions of some games with non-learning elements removed or turned off. • Do not make the viewing of long FMV mandatory or repetitive. • Remove advertising. Even though it is insidious in many school products, games can still do without it. Remove or reduce gaming elements which will never be used in the classroom. • • Make it quick for both the student and the teacher to learn how to use the game. The focus needs to be on doing meaningful things – not finding the correct button to press. Ideally, the learner should be actively using the game – and not covering old ground or doing irrelevant tasks – within a minute of the game starting.

Developers comments General reaction: Good, but either teachers are given the ability to do it themselves “in game”, or publishers have to pay to have this included. “We feel there are significant opportunities in developing games with robust modular capabilities. This would allow the developer to focus on creating immersive interactive worlds that could be modified to depict specific historical scenarios, time periods or decision-making applications. This type of solution would be much more cost effective and can often be created by the teacher or a third party (experienced fan/game community member).” - Lindsay Riehl, Breakaway games (Battle of Austerlitz) “Great, but it will need financing by someone so the publishers would need to be persuaded.” - Paul Howarth, Deep Red games (Vega$ Tycoon, Virtual Resort)

Teacher requirement 3: maintain accuracy The content of games needs to be accurate, so that the game is of an acceptable learning standard. This is often difficult (not just for computer and video games): 5. The use of magic in medieval games. But, our 21st century perspective is different from that of a 13th century serf, who might view many mundane things as “magic”. 7. History is subjective - what is accurate and what is not? Example: Evolution theory verses creation theory. Build a game around either, and many people will decry it as inaccurate. 10. To make many simulations playable, many simplifications have to be made. Could a wanabee mayor really read a Sim City like manual, then successfully develop a profitable city? 12. Most history, and people’s lives, consist of long periods where nothing interesting happens, interspersed with short periods of activity or chaos. Difficult to make into a game suitable for class time. Example: in Shenmue (a life simulation and adventure cross), you spend a lot of time waiting at bus stops.

Teacher requirement 4: positions and tasks The use of goals and tasks (often formed as questions) can help to guide a passage of learning. Examples: • If Napoleon had taken a more defensive approach at Waterloo, would the outcome been different? • When building a rollercoaster, what is the relationship between speed and direction change to ensure a safe ride? • What is the best way of maintaining stability in the core of a nuclear reactor? • How do you alleviate a blocked blood vessel or artery in a specific part of the body? Carefully developed saved/loadable positions (a starting point) supplied with a well- defined and documented goal can provide this. For the future: two other potential, though both controversial, uses of saved positions: • As homework tasks (only possible if all pupils have access to a computer at home) • As an examination “paper” e.g. “Load up the provided city into Sim City, and use it to answer the questions on the paper; you have one hour.”

Developers comments General reaction: Many games offer this possibility already. It is usually up to the teacher to get the game to a specific point where a “snapshot” for future use can be taken. “This is appealing. In the case of Zoo 2 this would translate into creating a specific scenario(s) tailored for a certain education use. To-date, however, we have not had requests for this and the in-game scenarios seem to satisfy educational needs.” Scott M Triola, Bluefang games (Zoo Tycoon series) “All our games can be saved at any point already, so it is possible for the teacher or pupil to set up a situation. It would also be possible for more detailed & specially crafted scenarios to be designed by us but obviously this is more work. In principle this is not a problem.” Iain McNeill, Slitherine games (Spartan)

Use of COTS games: controversial to some • Edutainment software industry: much to lose (including, in some cases, very large profit margins if much cheaper COTS games get a foothold in schools). ‘Bad’ press: “Video games and the decline of education”. • Educationalists who resist change (irrelevant of result). • • Education funding bodies (though in the UK, this is getting better). People who view schools and education as a method / place of social control. • (Simpsons example. Principal Skinner: “Oh no; a child is using her imagination!”) Some publishers??: • “Our games are edgy, radical, out there, man. School stuff is not”.

Interim conclusions (UK) 1. The use of computer and video games in the classroom is increasing. 3. Teachers who use games are quite willing to talk about it, especially when results have been good. Fellow teachers not so negative; more curious instead to observe games being successfully used. 5. Not all teachers who use games are game players. 7. The teachers using games usually aren’t interested in the fact that it’s a game. Just another tool, like a whiteboard. They are interested in whether it makes teaching and learning more effective. 9. The range of games is quite diverse. “Tycoon” games still the most popular, but dance games and more esoteric titles are in use. 11. Many more forward-thinking teachers curious and considering using games. One main inhibitor is the difficulty in getting funding for such games. Most teachers who had used games struggled on this, or brought in their own.

UK case study directory: logical development Need critical mass of examples in order to form a directory of case studies to help • teachers in the UK. Also need a critical mass in order to draw more substantive and grounded conclusions and trends. Working on this… • Though games used in non-UK schools are interesting, and often relevant/comparable, a whole series of factor mean they could only be copied with extreme caution (Language, curriculum, localised culture, ICT classroom use, teacher support etc.). Hence focusing on a UK, not a world, directory i.e. specialised, not generic, examples. • Criteria defined by teachers requirements (otherwise it’s pointless). • Would be used by teachers for: – Finding examples that they can copy / mimic. – Identifying the various ways in which games can be, and are, used in the classroom. – Using examples as justification for introducing games to their classroom. – (Contributing teachers) promoting their work and their school. – (Contributing teachers) attracting producers who may want to donate hardware / software to successful examples! There is an issue regarding the different curricula. Examples will differentiate • between Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland.

That’s it for now… Still collecting data; today was some interim findings. Looking to get 100 good examples of the use of commercial off-the-shelf games in UK schools and colleges to provide an adequate data set. A big thank-you to teachers who have contributed case examples and materials to date. Keep an eye on my website for further details. web site: email: john at …or visit me (Berneray, Outer Hebrides, between Scotland and Iceland. Third house on the right past the fishing harbour).

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