Game Based Learning: Get Ready!

As part of my PGCAP course in 2013 I did a module on Technology Enhanced Learning. I took this as an opportunity to do some investigation into Digital Game Based Learning (DGBL) for a forthcoming ‘Game Based Learning’ Special Interest Group (SIG), which has now been put in place and of which I am a member. I’ve been looking back over my conclusions from that piece of coursework, which I have edited down for this blog post.

I felt confident by the time I’d finished the coursework that Game Based Learning was worthy of further investigation for PSMD. DGBL presents many interesting opportunities for educators interested in developing engaging learning experiences, particularly involving self-directed learning and problem solving. This greatly interests me as a learning technologist working for a medical and dental school that utilises PBL.

It has to be noted that DGBL can be extremely time consuming to implement, with numerous barriers to overcome, including teachers’ technical expertise, access to software and hardware, and proficiency with authoring tools. Another obstacle may include student attitudes amongst high-level students who may not necessarily identify a strong benefit of DGBL, compared to more traditional educational techniques; this remains to be seen (although medical student reactions to a game idea we prototyped in 2013 were overwhelmingly positive – I’ll blog about this in another post probably).

Over the next few years more platforms look likely to become available which will open up DGBL opportunities to more educators. The costs of game authoring tools are decreasing and powerful free authoring tools already exist (e.g. HTML5 and Unity3D) which, while in their own right too complex for most non-developers to exploit to their full educational potential, do offer cost effective platforms for learning technologists to exploit on their behalf. The key challenge is therefore for LTs to develop systems that can be used by non-technical staff, helping them to build engaging, meaningful and versatile learning experiences that can be implemented easily with minimal direct support. (This is also relevant to other e-learning initiatives such as Virtual Patient systems, an area which the TELMeD team are currently developing further in another SIG).

Key to DGBL design is the ability to map specific pedagogical theory and concepts to gaming interactions, which can help educators to easily implement informed strategies rather than adopting a trial-and-error approach. Herein lies a challenge and this is an area I’m interested in exploring to benefit our students, having received positive feedback from experimental DGBL approaches investigated so far. I intend to take these investigations forward by sharing my findings with TELMeD colleagues and PUPSMD academics via the GBL Special Interest Group, and identifying opportunities for short-term experimental projects. These projects will be evaluated by staff and students, to assess the viability and long-term sustainability of DGBL approaches. I also intend to identify suitable authoring software, devices, existing game design frameworks and pedagogical theories. Unless we can provide cost effective and pedagogically sound solutions, then ultimately DGBL will not be feasible.

Staff development time for myself and my team members is key to supporting such initiatives, and is likely to involve researching further literature and undertaking online software tutorials. Last year a number of the team attended Unity 3D training courses on top of and project-based learning, so we have accrued a strong understanding of software which opens up a lot of opportunities within the field of DGBL. Adobe Flash, once a go-to solution within our team, is now used rarely (largely due to its limitations on mobile devices) although may still be viable for some DGBL work – particularly when targeting desktops or for the rapid prototyping of ideas. In the past couple of weeks I’ve started to ensure each team member gets dedicated time each week to work on self-development activities and to do research for their Special Interest Groups.The plan is that over time, we will be able to secure research funding, sharing any findings and tools we develop within the Learning Technology community. In the case of DGBL there is quite a lot of investigation required up front, given the considerable barriers that could be encountered in terms of attitudes and implementation. I’m confident we should be able to make good progress over the next 12 months though and look forward to learning where our investigations could lead us.

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