This article presents a semester-long, low-stakes, scaffolded assignment I developed for a master’s-level course titled Companion Animals in Society at CUNY Hunter College (Fall 2019). The ultimate goal of the assignment was to provide students with a comprehensive guide to developing skills and understanding in science communication, as well as furthering their professional development online, specifically by using Twitter.
Recently there has been a surge in scientific communication (sci-comm), meaning that researchers and science communicators are actively disseminating peer-reviewed research in a manner accessible to the general public. Perhaps one of the most exciting features of this movement is that many scientists are now online and accessible via appropriate social media platforms at the tips of students’ fingers. In my field, Animal Behavior, there is an active Academic Twitter community that happily shares materials, discusses issues with the general public, and guides students looking for additional information. For this reason, I wanted my students to be comfortable engaging online with Academic Twitter, learning proper sci-comm practices while indirectly boosting their own online professional profile.
This real-world implication not only benefits learning within the classroom in terms of writing and critical thinking skills, but also invokes additional indirect benefits for professional development. With an appropriate profile, students can use their Academic Twitter long after use in the classroom to pursue career opportunities, network, share materials and resources, as well as engage in sci-comm.
Description of the Assignment and Methodology
Throughout each week of the semester, I guided my Companion Animals in Society students in understanding what Twitter is and how it can be used for professional and academic purposes. These low stakes, weekly assignments began simply with the creation of a Twitter account. I explained to my students that my ultimate goal was to set them up with a professional profile which could help them locate fun and beneficial opportunities within academia and professional industries. While some already had Twitter profiles, I encouraged them to think about how they would like to be seen online. While many academics use their Twitter profile simply for science, others incorporate more personal information in their Tweets. Therefore, I allowed them the opportunity to create a new, professional only Twitter account, or to combine their professional identity with their current profile. It is important to note that Twitter can be set to private, and some students may not want to be present online. As this assignment was facilitated via the closed learning management system BlackBoard where I asked students to share screen-shots of their Tweets, however, any students who were uncomfortable with the idea had the chance to simply write out what they would have done and what they found online, without creating an actual account. I will note that all students created and/or utilized their own Twitter accounts, and all were set to public.
Once the accounts were created, I guided the students in creating their profile. I provided them with tips and suggestions on what a professional photo might entail, and given the topic of the course, encouraged them to post a profile picture with their pet. I also provided them with the Twitter accounts of various other science communicators which they could use as an example.
Following up with the creation of the Twitter account, I provided my class with feedback on their bio. I asked them to find various Twitter accounts online and highlight what they liked and disliked about them. From here, I asked them to attempt to create their own bio, using their own suggestions. Before adding the bio to their Twitter pages, I provided them with feedback, making suggestions about how they might want to tag a certain research group they were involved in and/or add relevant links to a personal website.
Every week, I asked the students to become a bit more familiar with Twitter. It’s important to note that I didn’t ask them to post any Tweets until the middle of the semester. Many students are concerned about posting online, and I wanted them to feel confident about this process. Thus, during the first few months, I only wanted them to follow organizations, scholars, other undergraduate/MA/PhD students, journals, and more. I offered suggestions on how to find Twitter accounts to follow, but I did not require them to follow specific accounts. I only required that they share why they selected these specific profiles, and this justification was done privately via Blackboard. The reason for this approach is that students have varying interests, career goals, and opinions. Therefore, I wanted them to be able to create a Twitter account for themselves that would be relevant to their future, not just my classroom.
Midway through the semester, I guided the students through the process of creating a Tweet. Twitter can be a scary place, especially if you’re following all your academic idols. I allowed my students to draft a Tweet and submit it to Blackboard (privately) for feedback before actually posting it to their accounts online. I asked them to think about the point of their message and what they were trying to communicate. For some, this meant retweeting another previously posted tweet with a comment. For others, this involved sharing a link to a sci-comm piece but creating their own Tweet about the piece itself. The content within the tweet was completely up to them, but needed to relate to the subject of the course somehow.
As the final weeks of the course presented themselves, I let my students follow, tweet, and contribute to conversations in the Twittersphere. While I let them have free rein on what they wanted to communicate and engage with, I still had very clear and concise instructions. First, they had to post on Blackboard to let me know what they had done. Generally, this involved having them post a screen-shot of their contribution, while providing two to three sentences about what this particular Tweet meant to them, how they hoped it would help others, and what they changed, content-wise, in order to make it accessible to a general public. This justification was never posted on Twitter. It was privately shared between the student and myself and allowed me to evaluate the comprehension of the material at hand, while also allowing the student to engage in professional development skills and practice science communication in a real-world setting.
Final Results and Impact
At the end of the course, I asked my students to reflect on their experiences using Twitter. Many of them noted that while they were originally not enthused by the idea of engaging in social media for class, they thoroughly enjoyed the scaffolded semester-long assignment for a variety of reasons. Below I present an overview of the three main implications of the assignment.
First and foremost, the assignment was consistent, concise, and feasible. From Week One to Week Fifteen each student was aware that a low-stake, Twitter-based assignment would need to be completed. It was also very easy for them to post online as the assignment took advantage of their pre-existing social media use. They did not need to be at their computer, as they could easily complete this work from their phone while on the subway or waiting for a friend.
Secondly, the assignment allowed students a guided process in which critical evaluation skills of online presented content were put to the test. While I provided guidelines and examples in every set of assignment instructions, students were asked to curate content that they personally found most interesting and trustworthy. This meant that students were generally interested in the subject matter while they learned the foundations of sci-comm best practices. As they followed accounts related to journals, articles, and news and media sources, their Twitter feed quickly turned into a stream of popular information curated to their own liking with up-to-date news on their topic or topics of choice. Additionally, students were not only asked to select posts, blogs and articles, but they were asked to explain why they selected them. This process allowed them to act both as a consumer and a producer in assessing sci-comm materials. They learned how to critically evaluate the findings reported while also emulating the aspects they found most appealing, eye-catching, and attention-grabbing. This approach allowed students the opportunity to reflect on their own personal experiences when finally creating and disseminating scientific information to a general public in their own works.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the assignment offered students a guided approach to establishing a professional presence online. I hoped the assignment would help promote their professional development in a way they might not have considered otherwise. Using Twitter they found opportunities, conferences, internships, and graduate programs that they would not have noticed on other existing platforms. Networking became less intimidating. They developed Twitter friends, finding like-minded peers halfway across the world to interact with. While they have yet to meet in-person, they chat with one another, support one another, and often exchange materials. Moreover, initial engagement with possible collaborators and advisors allowed students to feel as if a connection had been established, which resulted in improved experience when sending cold emails to professionals. Once comfortable, many students utilized the platform to reach out to researchers with questions regarding scientific methods, employment and studentship opportunities. This resulted in e-mail exchanges and Zoom conversations in which possible future opportunities were discussed and/or additional networking contacts were presented.
As their instructor, my primary goal with this assignment was to show my students how to use Twitter as a professional tool and how to use it well. A year later, many of my students are still actively present online. Given the recent dramatic reliance to using online technologies, I have seen many of my students use their Twitter accounts when presenting at virtual conferences, promoting thesis defenses, and sharing tips on how to navigate online learning. I continue to share their Tweets, highlight their work, and support them when they share exciting news. Other students certainly use Twitter less frequently. For those students, I simply hope they come back to the tool when they need it and that they value having an already set-up account that caters to their interests and professional goals.
Coda: Student Feedback
I will be honest and say that when I found out at first that we needed to make a twitter I was dreading it. I have tried to make a twitter multiple times and it just wasn’t for me so I kept deleting it. After using this class as a way to guide my use of twitter as a useful educational tool, rather than a tool to spread useless information and personal beliefs I am much more content with using twitter. By only using it to follow professionals, students, and people interested in the same things I am interested in I was able to relate much more than I remember in the past using twitter. I was able to use twitter as a research method when applying to different graduate programs, and a backup plan I have if I don’t get into any of the schools I applied to and instead, need to find a research job. There are constantly new posts on twitter regarding opening in research positions and people who are looking to interview so that can be extremely useful in finding a future position that interests me.
Sarah-Elizabeth Byosiere is the Director of CUNY Hunter College’s Thinking Dog Center within the Animal Behavior and Conservation Program in the Psychology Department. She studies animal behavior, specializing in canine behavior and cognition. Sarah’s research includes topics such as illusion susceptibility, play behavior, dog training methodologies, and animal sheltering practices. Dr. Byosiere has published her research in peer-revived scientific journals, presented her findings at conferences, and has been featured on NPR’s Science Friday, The New York Daily News, Gizmodo, and CuriosityStream. Twitter: @SEByosiere
Jennifer Jenson, The University of British Columbia
In this paper, we discuss pedagogical strategies for supporting digital game-based learning in K–12 classrooms, based on a study of 34 teachers. We identify nine strategies, digital game-based pedagogies, that represent common characteristics in exemplary teaching with digital games, and discuss how a professional development session may have aided in the teachers’ use of these strategies. To create effective digital game-based learning environments, we argue, teachers need to be provided with professional development sessions that focus on the cultivation of pedagogical skills.
Researchers and enthusiastic practitioners have long been arguing for the effectiveness of digital games as a means for teaching subject-specific skills while also motivating and engaging students (Gee 2008; Annetta 2008; Squire and Jenkins 2003). As games require players solve complex problems, work collaboratively, and communicate with others in both online environments and the physical spaces where gameplay takes place, they are said to support students’ development of twenty-first century competencies (Spires 2015).
Recognizing the teacher’s role in designing and facilitating learning environments that support digital game-based learning (DGBL), including adapting content to suit the needs of diverse learners, is a critical component of effective DGBL. As McCall makes clear, “by itself…a…game is not a sufficient learning tool. Rather, successful game-based lessons are the product of well-designed environments” (2011, 61). Chee, in his book on using digital games in education, argues
It is vital to understand that games do not “work” or “not work” in classrooms in and of themselves. They possess no causal agency. The efficacy of games for learning depends largely upon teachers’ capacity to leverage games effectively as learning tools and on students’ willingness to engage in gameplay and other pedagogical activities—such as dialogic interactions for meaning making—so that game use in the curriculum can be rendered effective for learning. (2016, 4)
On this view, the focus shifts from the games, game systems, and game content to “what teachers need to know” pedagogically (Mishra and Koehler 2006, 1018), including how to create space for digital games in the curriculum, organize classroom activities around the use of games, support students during both gameplay and their engagement with DGBL activities (Sandford et al. 2006; Allsop and Jessel 2015), and, as we have argued elsewhere, assess student learning (Hébert, Jenson, and Fong 2018). Groff, Howells, and Cranmer make clear, “game-based learning approaches need to be well planned and classrooms carefully organized to engage all students in learning and produce appropriate outcomes” (2010, 7).
In this paper we discuss our attempt to articulate a series of digital game-based practices carried out by teachers as they used a digital game in their classrooms. Specifically, we detail nine strategies—what we are calling digital game-based pedagogies—that were common in all classrooms we observed, and utilized to varying degrees of success. As most of the teachers in the study attended a professional development (PD) session, we also draw connections between the content of the PD and these pedagogical strategies. We begin with a literature review of pedagogy and professional development in relation to DGBL, then discuss the structure of the study, and last detail the digital game-based pedagogies identified from that significant qualitative work.
Related Literature: Digital Games, Pedagogy and Professional Development
When learning is reduced to knowledge transmission and a game offered as a medium for merely learning content, the role of the teacher is similarly narrowed to an intermediary, offering the game to students and stepping back in order to let learning through gameplay take place. On this view, the game and its design are a central focus, including “integrating learning objectives with[in] th[is] delivery medium” (Becker 2017, 156). Many studies of game-based learning focus on how a game is designed, with researchers either attempting to streamline best practices for designing games (Aslan and Balci 2015; Arnab et al. 2015; Alaswad and Nadolny 2015; Van Eck and Hung 2010) or discussing the design process of a specific game for use in the classroom (Tsai, Yu, and Hsiao 2012; Barab et al. 2005; Sánchez, Sáenz, and Garrido-Miranda 2010; Lester et al. 2014). We argue that simply focusing on how a game is designed is problematic as it places responsibility for student learning in the hands of designers who “may never have had direct or lived experiences of classroom teaching, [and who] are advocating on behalf of the learning and literacy offered by games without having to take into account the real and varied challenges faced by today’s diverse learners” (Nolan and McBride 2013, 597–98). It also has the potential effect of further exacerbating the divide between games and classrooms, positioning the game as a silo that operates outside of curricular decisions and pedagogical practices.
Absent from these discussions is the pivotal role of the teacher in the classroom. In fact, terms in the literature that might signal a discussion of teaching, such as instructional approaches, instructional methods, pedagogy, pedagogical approach, digital pedagogy, game-based learning techniques, and curriculum development (Charsky and Barbour 2010; Egenfeldt-Nielson, Smith, and Tosca 2016; Becker 2009; Clark 2007; Rodriguez-Hoyos and Gomes 2012; Shabalina et al. 2016) are typically used in DGBL research to refer to the design of the game and accompanying materials that support learning (e.g. quizzes, assessment guides, and other paper and pencil tasks) instead of the actions of a classroom teacher. The assumption here seems to be that games can support student learning despite the role of the teacher, and, importantly, without considerations of the larger classroom environment and curricular structures put into place for digital game-based learning. Baek, for instance, has noted that games must be “mapped into curricula for their maximum effective utilization” (2008, 667). Similarly, Raabe, Santos, Paludo, and Benitti have argued that for DGBL, “the planning of the class is the most important stage and must involve the participation [of] teachers in choosing the content that should be supported by the use of the game…according to the goals [of] learning to be achieved” (2012, 688).
Teaching and pedagogy as they relate to DGBL have been taken up in some of the literature. Nousiainen, Kangas, Rikala, and Vesisenaho discuss teacher-identified competencies around pedagogy essential to game based learning, including “curriculum-based planning”⎯understanding how games can be used within the curriculum, how students can be involved in the curricular design process, and how to “plan game-based activities for supporting students’ academic learning and broader key competencies” (2018, 90). Moving away from pedagogical strategies specifically, Marklund and Taylor outline the roles teachers shift between during DGBL, including: the “gaming tutor,” as teachers aid students with more technologically focused elements of gameplay (e.g. manipulating controls); the “authority and enforcer of educational modes of play,” as teachers monitor student progress toward learning goals and direct play when necessary; and the “subject matter anchor,” as they draw out connections between the game and course content, including calling students’ attention to certain aspects of the game or breaking down complex concepts as they pertain to the game (2015, 363–365). Similarly, Hanghoj offers a series of “next-best practices” for teachers’ use in supporting DGBL, suggesting that teachers might “set the stage” by “providing relevant game information” for students, “recognize and challenge the students’” game experience by articulating different interpretations of a game session,” and “support students in their attempts to construct, deconstruct and reconstruct relevant forms of knowledge—both in relation to the game context, curricular goals and real live phenomena” (2008, 235).
One means of helping teachers consider their role in using games to support learning in the classroom is through professional development that might focus on teaching strategies, alongside creating a classroom ecology for DGBL. And yet, much like the research on DGBL more broadly, professional development for using games in classrooms rarely addresses pedagogy. For example, Ketelhut and Schifter’s research on developing PD for DGBL outlines the types of platforms (e.g. face-to-face, online, blended) used and how they compared to one another rather than discussing the content of the PD and its connection to pedagogy (Ketelhut and Schifter 2011). And while Chee, Mehrotra, and Ong’s PD centered on a particular teaching method⎯dialogic pedagogy⎯the authors examined teacher dilemmas rather than explicit pedagogical strategies reviewed in the PD sessions. At the same time, their findings call attention to the importance of pedagogy as teachers work to shift their teaching for DGBL. They state, teachers were “mostly accustomed to subject matter exposition followed by assigning student[s] worksheets to complete,” but with the digital games, had “to work in real time with the ideas that students were contributing, based on their gameplay experiences” (2014, 429). Consequently, this required shift in pedagogy “unsettled them” (2014, 429).
There are, of course, exceptions. The Software and Information Industry Association’s report on best practices for game use in the K–12 classroom recognizes the significance of pedagogy for DGBL, arguing that teachers should receive at least a half day of PD in order to become familiar with the theoretical underpinnings of DGBL, learn about the specific game they will be using in class, obtain practical information about creating game accounts and manipulating the game mechanics, and gain a better understanding of the “roles and responsibilities of teachers and students” (2009, 25) during gameplay. And Simpson and Stansberry provide an overview of working with teachers on the “G.A.M.E.” lesson planning model, which involves various stages: taking the perspective of the game designer to better understand how and to what extent games are engaging as well as asking students to contemplate their gameplay, “reflect[ing] on the decisions made and evaluat[ing] the consequences” (2009, 182).
As this review demonstrates, there is scant empirical research related to digital game-based pedagogies, and an important and critical need for more discussions of and research on this topic. In the next section, we discuss the study, which examined teachers’ pedagogical practices for DGBL in K–12 classroom spaces and the relationship between these practices and a professional development workshop.
Timeline of the Research
The project took place over an eight-month period, during the 2015–2016 school year, with data analysis completed at the beginning of the 2016–2017 school year. While the project was initially intended to run over a single school year, a work-to-rule ban on extracurricular activities put forth by the Elementary Teachers Federation in the province delayed the start date of the project by four months. The professional development session took place February 10–11, 2016, followed by observations from February 22–May 16. Interviews overlapped with observations, with teachers whose classes were visited in February beginning interviews in early March, and ran until the end of June. Data analysis also took place synchronously, and was completed in October 2016.
Two educational games were used in this study: Sprite’s Quest: The Lost Feathers, and Sprite’s Quest: Seedling Saga, aligned with the grade seven and grade eight Ontario geography curriculum respectively. The game was designed by Le centre d’innovation pédagogique in collaboration with the Ontario Ministry of Education and selected as the focus for this study by our funding partner, the Council of Ontario Directors of Education. Both versions of Sprite’s Quest are 2D, platformer games intended to aid in the development of physical and human geography concepts. The games also have accompanying student activity guides and teacher manuals available through an online platform. While the games can be downloaded by anyone through the Apple App Store or Google Play, access to the web version of the game, along with the student activity guides and teacher manuals, is granted through individual boards of education through the Ministry of Education’s e-learning Ontario site. As this article focuses on the professional development element of the project, we do not provide a detailed overview the game, the activity guide or the teacher manuals here, but have elsewhere (Hébert, Jenson, and Fong 2018). None of the teachers had used Sprite’s Quest prior to this project.
This study sought to identify pedagogical practices that supported DGBL. We asked: What teaching practices were common to teachers observed in the study?
Participants & Professional Development
Participants were recruited by the funding partner in conjunction with participating school boards. Altogether, 34 teachers (17 female, 17 male) from 10 school boards and 25 schools across Ontario, Canada took part in the study. Sixteen of these teachers taught straight grade 7 classes, seven grade 8, and one grade 9, while a number of teachers, especially those in smaller schools, taught split classes, with one grade 6/7/8 teacher participating, one grade 6/7, and eight grade 7/8. Twenty-eight teachers attended a professional development session that occurred at a university over a two-day period; teachers were released for that time from their classrooms. The two full days were organized and run by the authors (see Appendix B for a detailed schedule of the session). The professional development consisted of three main components:
Becoming Familiar with the Games: Walkthroughs and Content
First, as noted, none of the teachers had seen or played Sprite’s Quest before, and were given time to become familiar with the two versions of the game during the PD session. Because the teachers did not have time to play either of the games in their entirety during the PD session, we produced “walkthroughs” that were reviewed during the PD session. Walkthroughs are textual and visual overviews of key elements of a game. They were made available to teachers throughout their play sessions, during lesson planning, and while teachers were using the games in their classrooms. Second, we drew attention to how the games provided geographic content. For example, we looked at how fact bubbles pop up during play, questions are presented at the beginning of each level, and background information is offered about the geographic location (e.g. the Himalayas) through which the sprite moves. Teachers were also instructed to encourage students to make note of the facts and the answers to the questions and to pay attention to the background of the games when using them to support student learning.
Exploring the Teacher Manual and the Activity Guide
Given that teacher manuals and activity guides for these games were available and in fact had been produced to support the implementation of the game in classrooms, we wanted to ensure that teachers had the time to examine them closely and to draw connections between these resources and their curriculum. To this end, we led teachers through a guided examination of the resources, reviewing the overall structure of the games as they aligned with the sections of the student activity guide and the teacher manual. We also summarized the information made available in the teacher manual and student activity guide and provided the summaries as a supplementary electronic handout.
Discussing Curricular Connections and Collaborative Lesson Planning
There were three key concepts in the games related to physical and human geography⎯place, liveability, and sustainability. The teacher manual and the PD session emphasized these, including drawing direct connections to the Ministry of Ontario grade 7 and 8 geography curriculum. Further, the PD supported collaborative lesson planning which focused on creating learning goals, success criteria, and expectations for and evaluation of students. Finally, teachers were provided time to complete a unit plan, begin constructing individual lessons for the unit, and create assessments to use during the digital game-based unit which they then shared with the whole group.
The remaining six teachers participated in the study, but did not attend the PD session. The teachers who did not participate in the PD session were selected at random. In lieu of PD, they were invited to attend a two-hour meeting at their board office. At the meeting, the teachers were introduced to the study and told how to access the teacher and student activity guides. And they were given time to play the games, but only while the researchers were speaking individually with teachers to organize some of the logistics around classroom visits.
Data Collection and Analysis
This qualitative study included observations of all teachers as they taught the DGBL unit, field notes based on observations, videos, and still photos taken during classroom visits, and interviews with teachers after the unit was completed.
Researchers visited each teacher’s classroom two to three times during the delivery of the unit, for 45 minutes to 1.5 hours per visit, documenting how they adopted the three central elements of the PD, demonstrating how familiar teachers were with the game, how the teacher and student activity guides were used, and how lessons and assessments created in the PD were taken up. Researchers also made note of the classroom environment created to support DGBL and practices within it. This included, with respect to teachers’ practices in particular, lesson content and connections to the game, how class periods were structured and facilitated by the teacher, teacher focus on student learning including asking questions of students during play and guiding their play toward learning, connections between the game and the curriculum as well as cross-curricular connections outside of geography, and teacher knowledge and understanding of the game. For student activities in the classroom, our observations centered on time students spent on/off task, if, how, and in what ways students were engaged with the game, and conversations among students about the game and/or geography more broadly. Detailed field notes were taken along with videos, audio recordings, and still photos. Field notes were analyzed thematically using NVivo (Clarke and Braun 2017; Nowell, Norris, White, and Moules 2017).
Teachers were interviewed at the completion of the study. They were asked to provide information about their curriculum, including lesson sequencing, assessments, time required to plan, and decisions they made about whether or not to use any of the game’s resources located in the activity guides; gameplay, including student experiences and learning, such as interactions with one another, individual students who excelled or struggled, whether students were making connections between the game world and the world outside of the game, and how the room was organized for gameplay; and the PD sessions, including whether they would participate in future PD, feedback on the sessions, and how the PD sessions impacted their use of the game and whether or not they would use it in the future. Interviews ranged in length from 25 to 80 minutes. Common themes were identified that would aid the researchers in their understanding of teachers’ experiences. Interviews were analyzed, thematically, using NVivo. (See Appendix A)
The next section extrapolates from the data and analysis described briefly here and offers a framework for digital game-based pedagogies, based on our nearly 100 hours of classroom observations and over 34 hours of interviews with teachers. The intent is to demonstrate, based on evidence gathered, a pedagogical framework that can be taken up and used by others who might expand on and modify it to best suit divergent contexts.
Digital Game-Based Pedagogies
Having analyzed the data, it was possible to identify with some clarity, approaches to teaching with games⎯or digital game-based pedagogies⎯particularly supportive of DGBL. While the content of the PD and the skills teachers developed within it, including familiarity with the game, their use of activities and the teacher guide, and their adoption of the lessons planned during the PD, was an initial point of interest during observations, what became apparent was how teachers used this knowledge to shape their pedagogical practice. A teacher, sitting off to the side during gameplay, might have demonstrated knowledge of Sprite’s Quest by answering a student’s question when approached, but that teaching practice was less meaningful than that of a teacher who illustrated their knowledge by circulating around the classroom during gameplay, asking questions, directing students’ attention to elements of the game, and providing practical tips on how to navigate specific levels. That teachers used activities from the teacher guide was important, but among those who did, what type of learning activity was selected and how the lesson was structured around that activity told us more about impactful DGBL than simply whether or not an activity was used. And the quality of the lesson and assessment content and the pace of the unit created around the game impacted the nature of the DGBL experience. Consequently, through our observations, we began to identify a set of practices⎯pedagogical strategies that best supported DGBL in the classroom.
What follows are details of these nine digital game-based pedagogies, grouped according to three general categories: gameplay, lesson planning and delivery, and framing technology and the game.
Teacher knowledge of and engagement with the game during gameplay
Focused and purposeful gameplay
Lesson Planning and Delivery
Meaningful learning activities
Lesson Planning and Delivery
Cohesive curricular design: Structured lessons
Lesson Planning and Delivery
Appropriate lesson pacing and clear expectations
Framing Technology and the Game
Technological platforms not a point of focus
Framing Technology and the Game
Game positioned as a text to be read
Framing Technology and the Game
Connections to prior learning and to the world beyond the game environment
1. Teacher knowledge of and engagement with the game during gameplay
Teachers demonstrated knowledge of the game in group discussions and one-on-one conversations with students. They regularly spoke of their own experiences during gameplay, including aiding students in challenges with overcoming obstacles in game. Teachers talked with students about how to focus play on the learning task at hand, including what to pay attention to during gameplay. Teachers were also engaged with gameplay. For example, they circulated to ask students questions, direct student attention to various facets of the game, and connect the game to the learning activity.
2. Focused and purposeful gameplay
During gameplay, teachers directed student focus to a specific learning activity. In this respect, gameplay was always purposeful, targeted at the completion of a particular learning activity. For instance, students might play a few levels of the game, directed by the teacher to pay attention to the climate, or to compare regions with respect to vegetation.
3. Collaborative gameplay
Teachers facilitated whole class discussions that focused gameplay, and connected game content to the curriculum more broadly. The teacher encouraged students to play together or to complete learning activities collaboratively. For example, one teacher asked students to work in groups to respond to the question of whether they would like to live in China (one of the locations featured in Sprite’s Quest) based on their experiences playing the game, and another, to respond to discussion questions.
Lesson Planning and Delivery
4. Meaningful learning activities
Teachers assigned learning activities that involved the application of higher-order skills such as analysis or creation. For instance, one teacher asked students to produce a travel video for a specific geographic region in the game, another, to debate the merits of restricting mountain access in a particular region, and a third teacher, to construct an argumentative paragraph about whether hotels should be permitted to privatize beaches. If students were asked to jot down facts or information obtained through gameplay, it was in support of an additional, higher-order learning activity. In some instances, these materials were extracted from the student activity guide, while in others, they were created by teachers.
5. Cohesive curricular design: Structured lessons
Gameplay was integrated into the curriculum by the teacher. An introductory lesson that rooted play to learning preceded gameplay and a learning activity followed play. For example, one teacher facilitated a lesson on garbage disposal practices around the world, before asking students to play a level of the game that focused on garbage disposal in a specific region. The teacher also created a follow up activity wherein students composed a letter about disposal to a government official in the region of the world.
6. Appropriate lesson pacing and clear expectations
Teachers provided students with concrete time frames for the completion of tasks. Often, periods were structured in such a way that multiple activities were to take place. For instance, a 5-minute introductory activity might be followed by 20 minutes of structured and targeted gameplay, with the final 15 minutes of the period allotted to small group discussions around a learning activity. Teachers regularly reminded students of time to complete tasks.
Framing Technology and the Game
7. Technological platforms not a point of focus
Some teachers chose to use the electronic activity guide or board-based platforms for the completion of learning activities. In these cases, the activities, rather than the technology, remained the point of focus. When technology malfunctioned (e.g. students had difficulty logging into the board site or material was not uploading to the activity guide), teachers continued to place emphasis on the significance of the learning taking place, asking students to share resources to complete the activity, or directing them to an alternative materials such as pen, pencil, and paper. In so doing, teachers maintained the pace of the lesson.
8. Game positioned as a text to be read
Teachers framed the game as a text that students could reference in support of their learning in the classroom, extending DGBL beyond learning during play. To do so, they facilitated connections between the game and other material such as videos viewed in class, textbooks, class discussions, so on. For example, to respond to an activity question, one teacher guided students in using material learned both in the game and the textbook to support their answers.
9. Connections to prior learning and to the world beyond the game environment
Teachers connected gameplay to prior learning and to material examined outside of the game context. They reminded students of learning during previous play sessions and of subject-specific and cross-curricular learning during class discussions. For example, one teacher connected a level of the game that explored waste management to a recently completed assignment examining the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Another teacher connected learning around a water-locked region in the game to a historical lesson about expedition. Teachers also drew parallels between game locations and the local community. For instance, a teacher engaged the class in a heated debate, comparing garbage collection and pollution in certain areas of the game to garbage collection in the school and pollution in the local city and surrounding area.
Possible Impact of Professional Development on Teachers’ Digital Game-Based Pedagogies
What we offer in the previous section are descriptions of exemplary pedagogical practices that support DGBL. Not all of the teachers who participated in the study engaged with these practices in the way described above. In fact, 26% of the teachers were what we would label as highly successful in engaging in the digital game-based pedagogies outlined in this article. Another 29% were somewhat successful, at times adopting some of these pedagogical strategies and not others, creating meaningful learning activities and highly structured lessons that were adequately paced, for example, but then failing to connect the game to prior learning and the world beyond the game environment, not requiring students to collaborate with one another, and not positioning the game as text to be read. And the final 45% were labeled as unsuccessful, adopting DGBL in the classroom in a more haphazard manner, offering pedagogical practices that did not reflect the digital game-based pedagogies detailed in this text. (See Figure 1)
Given the significance of the digital game-based pedagogies and the extent to which these practices were common across the classrooms we visited, we wanted to determine if there was any connection between these practices and whether or not teachers had received PD.
In the category of strong alignment, 29% of teachers who received PD employed pedagogical strategies that matched that criterion, compared to 17% of the teachers who did not receive PD. For moderate alignment, 32% of the teachers who received PD were grouped in this category compared to 17% of the teachers who did not receive PD. And finally, 39% of the teachers who received PD were weakly aligned with these practices compared to 66% of the teachers who did not receive PD. (See Figures 2 and 3)
The limitations to this research are: 1) it was not possible to spend more than three to four hours in each classroom given the geographical scope of the project and the number of participants, however, the study could have benefited from observation of the entire unit as it was delivered; and 2) we did not have a powerful enough number of participants to generate meaningful quantitative comparative data, and certainly that could be of interest in future. There is very rich data, of course, that due to word limits we were not able to detail further. However, we hope to have highlighted the importance of pedagogy for creating environments conducive to DGBL, calling attention to best practices around structuring and conceptualizing gameplay, planning, and delivering content, and framing both technology and a game. While these pedagogical strategies were not the focus of our professional development session, it is clear from our observations of participants’ teaching after the PD that the session impacted their teaching as it pertained to these best practices. More broadly and considering gaps in the practices of teachers involved in our study, these digital game-based pedagogies provide a framework for better understanding not only what good teaching with games looks like but also areas where teachers require additional support.
We have argued that very little research on digital game-based learning examines teacher pedagogies and that even fewer studies of professional development for teachers on DGBL either focus on pedagogy or study the impact of professional development on teacher practice. By observing thirty-four teachers in their classrooms after providing a professional development session, we identified a common set of digital game-based pedagogies that supported digital game-based learning. While our professional development session did not explicitly address these pedagogical strategies, either through discussion or modeling, we did recognize areas in which the content of our professional development session overlapped with some of the strategies teachers employed. This research can inform future PD that attempt to better understand the impact of modeling and discussing these digital game-based pedagogies within professional development sessions. This work, importantly, offers a potential framework for providing teachers with the practical skills required to support students in digital game-based learning in classroom spaces. It also signals a need for future studies that focus specifically on pedagogies that best support DGBL.
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Have completed any additional qualification (AQ) courses? If so, which courses?
When did you complete your Bachelor of Education (BEd) degree?
What subject did you major in in university? What are your teachables?
Can you please give us some information about your school? What is the student population? The socioeconomic status of students?
Can you please tell us a bit about your class? How many students do you have on IEPS? With behavioural issues? Do you have any support for these students in the form of EAs or pull out programs?
The students in your class on IEPs and/or those on the autism spectrum? What are they normally doing? Do they often play games in the classroom (when other students are not?)
What types of things did you have to wrangle to do this project? (e.g. booking labs or computer carts, speaking with other teachers, requesting exclusive internet use in the school)
Did you use iPads? Computers? When students completed the activities, did they use iPads and computers? iPads and paper? Just iPads or computers? What was the reasoning behind this choice?
Did you look at any of the teacher resources? The activity guide? What parts did you use? Was anything helpful particularly? Would you like to have seen something that wasn’t included in the guides?
Walk us through your lesson sequencing – what did students do? What was the pace? What was the culminating activity? Did they complete a final project?
How long did you initially plan for? How long did you end up spending? What changed (if anything)?
How did you evaluate the unit?
What was your best and worst day with the game? What would you change about the worst day with the game?
We weren’t there every day. How many times did things not work (internet down, couldn’t access computers, lab not available, etc.)
Can you please talk about a few students who exceled with the game? A few who didn’t do well? A student who you had a set of expectations about (thought they would love or hate the game) and who acted contrary to your expectations?
Did you get the sense that students were making connections between the game and the real world?
What did you notice about student interactions with one another?
How did you organize the room for the game play?
Given everything that happened with this project, would you consider doing something like this again? Why or why not?
Would you have used this game in the classroom if it were not for this workshop/project and why?
Would you use Sprite’s Quest in your class in the future?
Can you talk a bit about your experience with the workshop? What you liked, what you didn’t like, what you would change, what you found helpful…
What kinds of supports would you need in the future to make using games in the classroom possible?
What is your teaching philosophy? What is your responsibility to your students? What is your relationship with the parents of the students in your class like?
Cristyne Hébert is Assistant Professor, Assessment and Evaluation in the Faculty of Education, University of Regina. Her research focuses on assessment and evaluation, new media and technologies, and curriculum in teacher education and K-12 education in Canada and the United States.
Jennifer Jenson is Professor, Digital Languages, Literacies and Cultures in the Languages and Literacy Department, Faculty of Education, The University of British Columbia. She has published on digital games and learning, gender and videogames, and technology policies and practices in K-12 education. She currently is the lead researcher on a large, international research partnership grant, “Re-Figuring Innovation in Games” (www.refig.ca) that is examining inequities in digital game industries and cultures.