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Shafaque Riaz: Moving learning games forward


by Shafaque Riaz
Expert Educator Columnist, UAE

Due to the stretched gap between my posts, I missed the connectivity with my readers, but I am happy to be back and sharing some of my experiences. As I mentioned in my earlier post, this time my focus is to talk over hurdles we as educators face by introducing games in mainstream lessons as a medium of instruction and how can we overcome them to use games effectively for learning.

Primarily we should have clarity that it is neither the computer game nor the technology that promotes learning, but the play surrounding it. The learning occurs in a non-linear unstructured way when technology or video games/ simulated environment are used as teaching tools, and it is often the environment that fosters knowledge building and understanding.

“The creative play is the foundation of early abstract thinking” (Vygotsky, 1986)

The changing role of the teacher in this new setting

I witnessed that when students gets the feeling of being in-charge of themselves, over their feeling, thinking, and learning behaviours, it is more probable that they take responsibility of their own learning.

With the inherent independence for students in game based learning environment there is common argument that the role of the teacher is becoming invisible. The teachers should not consider the student-centered pedagogies a challenge to their role and agency that evolve as a result of current digital technology practices. By acknowledging the importance of the teacher in creating the environments in which students learn, teacher’s agency and central role can be re-affirmed. Games should only be viewed as tools to mediate discussion, reflection, and analysis. Thus the new evolving pedagogies around games support situated, exploratory, and experiential learning rather than linear learning and teaching experiences.

Game based activities should be accompanied with prior and post instructional event in order to ensure that children make the connection between gaming and learning.

Digital game learning activity planned around roles and different players’ identities used in my lesson gives the opportunity of situated cognition development. The player takes the identity of family characters, soldier, and archaeologist and so on. Games involve the player in a gripping world of action and interaction. This allows them to be flexible and adaptable according to the immediate context.


Brain Pop is an example of game based learning environment that allow players to take action within the game and then reflect on this action, both during and after play.

Game design specific to students’ abilities

The best instruction hovers at the boundary of a student’s competence. The secret of good digital game is its structure where each level dances around the outer edge of learner’s abilities and making sure every level is hard enough to be just doable. Attractive and user friendly interface with clear learning objectives add value to the effectiveness of lesson. The games levels are set within the leaners’ zone of proximal development. It is important that games are challenging enough to keep the children engaged but not too difficult to frustrate them with tasks that surpassed their abilities.

There is also a need to reconsider the nature as well as redefinition of scaffolding which should then realign the theory in practice particularly in the context of digital game based learning.

Motivation with rewards

Learning environment design should intrinsically motivate students to learn efficiently and enjoyably as possible. There may be external reward contingent in non-obvious way in the environment. This might develop motivation for learner but repetition of the same may not encourage sound learning in the long term. According to popular model of instruction by Bruner, there is an emphasis on careful pacing of rewards and penalties. This pacing is mirrored in good game design where there is structure of rewards while achieving different level of challenges and penalty is the failure of player to reach higher game level.

This will keep the player focused and player can realise what effect his actions have caused. Learning from games gives chance to learn from mistakes, where failure is considered the point where the user gets needed feedback. Game feedback suggested a high level of immersion and repeated engagement with the scenario, resulting in a high level of learned competencies.

I will finish on this note that engagement and motivation are the major benefit of using games but the role of teacher is vital in planning that how a game becomes a learning process.

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