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Futurelab: Challenges In Embedding Serious Games Into Formal Education

Via: Futurelab Blog – Serious Games In Education Research Project

The latest literature review from Futurelab – Games In Education: Serious Games - considers the potential of "Serious Games" as an important teaching tool, addressing the various types of digital games and the underlying pedagogy in education games.

It also looks at the challenges of embedding Serious Games in formal education and three current methods for assessing appropriateness and effectiveness of games for teaching.

From this it argues that what is required is a toolkit for educators, game designers and policy makers that allows the design and assessment of games to be used with an educational goal.

Here are the highlights.

Executive Summary
This report is a review of research around gaming environments for education. Games are used widely outside of formal education systems, for example by the military and within the health and commerce sectors. Yet their use within schools is less common. The Executive Summary section summarizes their current use and how teachers could be supported to use them appropriately.
 Identifying games that can be used for education is complex. "Serious Games" need to be engaging, although not necessarily fun, while the learning can be implicit or explicit. There is no uniform pedagogy within Serious or Educational games; earlier games tended to be based on a behaviorist model. Later games try to incorporate experiential, situated and sociocultural pedagogical models. The learning outcome is dependent upon an appropriate pedagogy and the underlying game mechanics and how the content is integrated into the game so the learning is intrinsic to play.
Multiple Domains
A comparison of the use of "Serious Games" in multiple domains was made. The aim was to determine if the practice could be transferred to the formal educational domain.
 "Serious Games", particularly training simulations, are integral to the Military. They provide a safe cost effective mechanism for training tasks to be performed in hazardous circumstances or which would be time and labor intensive to set up in the real world to modify the scenario to ensure fidelity is key.

 "Serious Games" in the Health Sector are also a growing domain. Like the military, training simulations are becoming more common for medical practitioners. Realistic role-play is time and labor intensive and traditional methods of teaching, such as card sorting, lack the psychological fidelity – that is, they do not mimic the responses that the real situation would cause.

 The use of "Serious Games" in Commerce is also increasing. Commerce is aware that games develop skills needed in everyday life, like confidence in taking risks and improving communication across the organization. They also take advantage of the fact many new employees understand the concept of games and appreciate the flexibility when carrying out learning exercises.

 Games also have a Vocational potential. Simulations are used for continuing professional development and training. They may also be useful for young people not in education, employment or training (NEETS). They can act as a safe introduction to various vocational careers – failure is not an issue, in fact it is expected, when learning a game.

 "Serious Games" for Informal Learning are also proliferating due to increased commissioning. Channel 4, the Parliamentary Education Group, DEFRA and the US government (who held a competition around games for health) are commissioning games to engage and educate young people. They are used because of the high level of gaming that occurs within these age groups, the cost effectiveness and reach that games have. Unlike vocational training or formal education there is less direct assessment of the learning that occurs in these games.

 In Formal Education there are examples where games used with sufficient support are shown to be motivational and an aid to learning high level or complex skills. Some researchers, notably Gee and Shaffer, argue that games, particularly epistemic games that model professional practice, are good for teaching and assessing because the best commercial games provide appropriate challenges, they build on previous information; they require problem solving and critical thinking. This practice has not yet transferred to the classroom. This, they argue, is because games teach and assess 21st century skills, such as problem solving, collaboration, negotiation etc that are not the foundation of the current education system. Currently games are more likely to be used if they can be seen to inspire, or there is a direct link to the curriculum. The latter is more likely if the game can provide appropriate assessment and fits into existing lesson structures. The criterion for using a game is often whether it will make the teacher’s life easier.
The Challenges
This chapter looks at how these challenges can be approached through the use of three frameworks, which may help educators identify the issues, most appropriate games and benefits of their use.
 The Relevance, Embedding, Transfer, Adaption, Immersion and Naturalization (RETAIN) Model was developed to support game development, and in the rubric developed, assess how well educational games contain and incorporate academic content.

 The Four-dimensional framework aims to assist evaluating the potential of games- and simulation-based learning.

Balancing pedagogy, game and reality components tries to identify a fine balance when designing or using games with an educational focus.
Discussion and Conclusion
The report wraps up with the consideration that if "Serious Games", which are currently on the fringe of classroom use, are to become mainstream, .evidence of their effectiveness and how they will achieve the teachers’ goals is required.