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July 2020: Teaching with videogames

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From newbie to whizz kid

Hear from ACMI's Kate Ficai, the Education team's self-professed videogame newbie

If you’ve been following our discussions around screen, media and digital education in this blog, you will know we are passionate about the power of learning through videogames. Used effectively, videogames build literacy and provide a gateway to learning across the curriculum.

ACMI’s Game Lessons project, funded by the Department of Education and Training Victoria, showcases the role that videogames can play in the classroom and provides curriculum-focused, accessible lesson plans to support teachers.

In this month’s Perspectives, Game Lessons co-ordinator Kate Ficai offers her own experience as evidence that “you don't need to be 'a gamer' to engage with the opportunities Game Lessons offers”.

"As well as coordinating Game Lessons, I am a teacher and a parent, roles that each bring a particular perspective to the culture and educational value of videogames.  When I began in this role, I was a complete videogames newbie so I had to push myself beyond my comfort zone. (Spoiler - it was super easy and no pain required, just moments of getting stuck and a vague sense of ‘how do I?’). 

As well as kickstarting my own videogames learning journey, Game Lessons gave me an insight into the common obstacles and barriers faced by teachers wanting to use videogames in the classroom. These include lack of technical confidence, parental or peer disapproval, feeling out of depth or being unfamiliar with videogames.

I initially related to many of these hurdles, but as I learned more about game-based learning, I became passionate about the advantages of effectively using games in the classroom, not the least of which being fun and engagement (the state of flow).

Let me share how I broke down my own anxieties about and resistance to videogames.

Breaking down barriers

First I had to get over my feeling that time spent playing videogames was unproductive and that too much gameplay in my home would have a negative impact on my young daughter. It was a bit of a lightbulb moment when I realised I was already playing board games and app-based word games on my phone. But I thought they were different -- more wholesome and enriching.

We were already doing it!

Another lightbulb moment was realising I was already using videogames to extend my daughter’s learning through educational apps (games) such as KodableFlow Free, Hexagon Fit, Endless Alphabet. I had sorted these into two folders, Brain Food versus Junk Food, and she would get a set amount of time for each. To play Subway Surfers she had to learn something first. (Though, I now realise Subway Surfers can also be used for learning – think about gameplay, timing, visual and sound design.)

Getting my teeth into some ‘real’ games

I was getting deep into game-based learning, and it was time to move on from the iPhone and get into some ‘real’ games. Now we are talking consoles and my gateway to this new world of gameplay was the Nintendo Switch. And in fact this led me back to the kind of games I grew up with  -- Just Dance and Mario Kart – games that are accessible and great for beginners. It was as if this broke the seal to a treasure chamber and, as someone who loves a great story, I began exploring beautiful and evocative games such as The Gardens Between and Gone Home.

 Understanding the craft

As someone who likes to 'look under the bonnet' to better understand the 'how to' of videogames, I am enjoying watching game review and gamemaker videos. If you are wanting to access reviews from informative and trustworthy websites, try IGN Entertainment, Common Sense Media and GottaBeMobile. Opportunities for learning more about game creation include ACMI’s Game Builder, the Minecraft Education Edition lesson plan library, Gamefroot  and Code Camp World. And I have been introduced to the value of eSports as a way of bringing students together and building a range of future-focused skills. Learn with the League is an outstanding initiative related to skills and industry.

Creating conversations

My little bit of experience makes me feel connected to young peoples’ interests and has given me enough knowledge to begin a conversation. With a little bit of knowledge and some respect for young people’s opinions and cultural experience, you can dig deep and be witness to some perceptive analysis.

Tips for starting to play games:

So if you want to get started, here are my tips:

  • Put some time in if you want to learn and get better. (Isn’t this what we are always telling our students?)

  • Have a go. There is a huge range of game styles, you can sample without having to become a master. 

  • Invite young people to lead and teach you. They don't read instructions but just dive in and aren't afraid to fail. 

  • Just do it! You don't need to outlay a lot of money or acquire a lot of tech. Begin with free and browser-based games.

  • Use ‘Cheats’. This is not a dirty word in the gaming world but rather an important ‘how-to’ manual. And they can save you a lot of time.

  • If you are planning a lesson, use YouTube clips to familiarise yourself with the gameplay.

Whether you are wanting to begin using videogames in your classroom or are an old hand and have great ideas and lessons to share, we would love to hear from you. You can contact me at  education@acmi.net.au and I can fill you in on our project and the resources we are publishing at the end of the year."