Using 3DHive in a primary school classroom: early findings from our research (part 3 of 3)

In my previous two posts here, I described some of the research work that we’ve been carrying out with a local primary school using 3DHive, and discussed what we’ve learned about the importance of preparing well – thinking about the technology and the lesson plan ahead of time. In this final post I just want to share some of the early outcomes that are apparent from initial analysis of the data collected, and suggest some questions for researchers and educators that emerge from these early observations.

Outcomes

In interviews prior to using 3DHive, teachers had suggested that the primary value they saw in the game was its capacity to engage students. Our observations suggested the game did indeed possess this quality, with high levels of engagement across all classes. Student feedback described the virtual environment as appealing, and teachers described students as picking the game up even more quickly than they’d expected. High engagement is most likely to be due to the fact that digital games are rarely used in these students’ lessons – it’s hard to say from this data that it was due to this specific platform. But it suggests that the platform succeeded in meeting the expectations of game-playing students, which isn’t true of every educational game.

The learning outcomes that teachers sought were also reached. The game had been designed to offer a challenge to students’ expectations, with in-game tasks balanced to favour collaborative, fair-minded play over selfish or destructive play. Students participated in class and team discussions on the best strategy to employ for success in the game, contributed to a team document capturing their reflections on what they learned, and completed a self-reflection checklist evaluating their behaviour and learning. From these materials, and their own observations, teachers were satisfied that the majority of students had engaged with the topics they were intended to, and had exhibited the kinds of behaviour teachers hoped they would. Our own observations captured students evolving strategy together and working productively as teams – even if the aims we saw them work towards weren’t always what teachers intended.

So, in general, it seems that teachers’ effort and commitment to using the game was rewarded. They set time aside to think hard about the best way to use the game, they developed a way of using the game that was consistent with existing assessment practice, they made room for reflection and discussion outside the game, and they set learning goals that showed them how well their students had engaged with the principles they were trying to communicate. It’s great to be able, through our research programme, to share the positive results of their hard work. And of course it’s really motivating for the development team to know that their work can support classroom learning in the way that we saw.

New questions

What does this mean for our research? We’re still analysing the data we gathered in detail, and that process will show us other ways schools can make good use of 3DHive. And it will throw up new questions and areas to think about, which, as a researcher, is one of the core reasons to engage in research. Here are three questions that have already surfaced from our time in school:

  1. How can teachers understand what’s going on in the game better?

For teachers to be able to support students who are learning through playing a game, they need to be able to recognise different sorts of behaviour and understand what that implies about a student’s learning. For example, someone might be repeatedly jumping up and down – are they messing around or are they finding the controls difficult to master? If someone else is ‘doing it wrong’, have they misunderstand the task or are they just experimenting with a new strategy? What’s the difference between healthy banter and distressing bullying? To be able to do this, teachers need to engage with the game themselves and know it inside out. How can developers and researchers help busy teachers find the time and motivation to do this?

  1. How can we develop new ways of teaching and learning with games?

For many primary teachers, using ICT in lessons isn’t something they do regularly. It can present real, practical issues of classroom management, with the possibility of technical failure adding to the pressure they might feel. Given this, it’s understandable that some teachers might just focus on getting through the lesson successfully, and work to bring things in line as much as possible with what they know. And it’s certainly true that games can play a part in supporting traditional classroom teaching. But often the motivation for using games is to try and explore new forms of learning, ones that make more use of the distinctive qualities of games, and they perhaps don’t look like the approaches teachers are used to. So what kinds of processes might help teachers to examine the way they work and explore new approaches that complement games better?

  1. Can teachers start to think of themselves as designers?

The game our teachers used was designed and built by the development team behind 3DHive, working closely with teachers to gather their feedback. This shows the commitment the team have to the school and the sort of positive relationship that exists between the two organisations. But it’s a slow process, and one that risks diminishing the sense of ownership that teachers feel towards the game. For the game to work well, teachers need to understand the internal structure of the game and understand why each element is present, and that’s difficult to do for people who weren’t fully involved with the design process. Teachers know that it’s easier to teach with materials they’ve developed themselves rather than with a colleagues – you know why each part is there and what role it plays in the lesson. Games are just the same.

These three questions are being asked by researchers and educators around the world – they aren’t only issues for game-based learning in Singapore. So there’s reason to hope that our work will contribute in some way to that wider debate about using games meaningfully in schools. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to working more with teachers and students to understand what sort of practical support we can give them when using games. Thanks for reading – and if you have any feedback or ideas, please leave a comment below.

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