Education Talks: When teachers create games, everyone’s a winner

Game-based learning is all about engagement, and that doesn’t stop with the students! With the Beaconing authoring pathway, it is easier than ever for educators to design games based on their own interests and expertise, and to really see what makes them tick. Sylvester Arnab, Professor of Game Science at Coventry University, showed us the ropes in this interview.

What would you advise teachers who are interested in designing their own games?

My advice to the teachers who are interested in creating their own games is, firstly, you need to play games. So you need to understand the different games that you have played in the past, because we don't have to start from scratch. Try and understand what made you engage with those games, and try and understand what are the rules and the mechanics of those games that make them so interesting, and think about how you can actually use them in your teaching. By understanding the different types of games which are out there, you can actually create your own design, meaning that you will be able to design a game around certain needs or gaps that you have identified in your teaching. For example, oh, I want to teach statistics, and I find that this unit is quite difficult to teach: how can I create something more interesting? Can I create some quests and missions that will allow them to level up in the different units? Can I use digital games or can I use physical games, board games, card games, or even role play? Or can I create something which is more hybrid, for example something which is more location-based, perhaps?

We have seen teachers who are in a very remote part of Borneo in Malaysia who are creating their own games, because we are using the same approach and the same advice that I gave them: play games, can you reuse that and then turn it into a learning game? That is very empowering when they suddenly realise, “Oh, I can create something interesting! I can create something that I can use in my teaching!”

What are the most important outcomes of the Beaconing project?

One of the main insights that we get from the experience is that we need to put teachers at the centre of what we do, in terms of the adoption of game-based learning in schools and the creation of games. Because when teachers are involved in the process, they will be able to understand how we can actually embed playfulness and gamefulness in their teaching. They will be able to be part of the design process, where they can include their subject experience and expertise, which is very important. And through this experience and these insights, the project has produced an authoring pathway, meaning that the teachers will have a dashboard that will allow them to be able to access existing gamified lesson plans, that will allow them to reuse them or create new ones to address the different topics that they want to teach in the classroom.

That pathway continues with the students now – they have got their own dashboard, meaning that they will be able to access any gamified lesson plans which have been developed by the teachers and assigned to them. And they can just click “Play”. They can use their desktop or they can use a laptop, they can use their mobile devices, depending on the types of games.

So, I can say that in short, it’s all about the ecosystem of authoring and the using of games, which is one of our greatest assets.

What is the future of game-based learning?

I believe that we are now in what we call the post-digital age, in terms of, in the next five to ten years everyone will live a lifestyle where the digital is very much embedded in what we do. So we need to make sure that we understand how to exploit the digital technologies and how we can actually use them in a more holistic way to address the needs in that particular learning or teaching.

There are a lot of different new technologies, for example the use of AR and VR in games, as well as serious games, and the use of artificial intelligence in creating something which is more automatically generated in terms of the different types of resources, depending on the needs of the teachers. The Internet of Things is going to supersize the experience in terms of game-based learning in the real world, because we have seen the potential and the benefit of using location-based learning.

And I believe in the interconnection of different technologies that we can use to create these experiences. So we would not talk about “a” game, “a” serious game – we are talking about different types of connected, gamified experiences.