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Playing Games in Teacher Education: How Do Preservice Teachers Respond to Game-Based Learning.

This guest post comes from Denise Lindstrom, a teacher education professor at West Virginia University and an editor of the Journal of Digital Learning and Teacher Education. This is her first entry in a series of posts about incorporating games in teacher education. 

Committee of N was interesting to me because it gave me hope that someone is out there thinking of ways to make school a better experience for children.
-Preservice teacher Fall 2017

Smartphones, laptops, tablets, and wearable technologies allow us to be continually immersed in an information-rich world. Each new connection to information brings new opportunities to learn. Our children learn science from YouTube, share stories with SnapChat, and play Fortnite with people from around the world. These experiences are generative, interactive, and engaging, mirroring the dynamics of play, games, and imagination (Ito, 2010. Thomas & Brown, 2011). Although the modes for learning have dramatically changed, pedagogical practices in school remain focused on traditional linear, passive, and static such as textbooks and videos. This inertia is not surprising, as teachers tend to teach the way they were taught.  What would it take to mobilize the learning properties of these online spaces to make the learning in school become more interest-driven, inquiry-based, and reliant on peer-to-peer learning?

One way to breathe innovation into classrooms is to model alternative modes of learning in teacher education courses through game-based learning. Well designed games share many of the attributes of innovative learning environments. Games are generative in that they can unfold in many different ways. They also provide an interactive context for players to explore their beliefs and confront misconception as players work to meet the objective of the game (Gee, 2004). With this in mind, I decided to experiment with game-based learning in my own teacher education courses. Approaching this from a research perspective, I had two main research questions:

  1. How do preservice teachers respond to a game based learning approach? Specifically, how do they respond to learning from game play?

  2. How effective is an educational game in helping students learn?

I found out about a game that has been developed at the MIT Teaching Systems Lab called Committee of N. Committee of N was designed as a way for education students to learn about education theories, the history of American schooling and instructional approaches. Here are the four domains covered by the game.  

  • Theories of Intelligence (i.e., Theory of Multiple Intelligences)

  • Purposes of Schooling (i.e.,Elite College Prep, Student Achievement)

  • Theories of Learning (i.e., Behaviorism, Constructionism)

  • Instructional Approaches (i.e.Flipped Classroom, Design-Based Learning)

Normally students learn about these topics by reading about them. In Committee of N, preservice teachers learn about these topics as they work in teams to design a school using randomly chosen cards from categories that represent a different aspect of schooling. Each card has quotes that represents the concept, and it is up to the teams to research and learn about the ideas in order to design their school.

In planning for the course, I was concerned that the pre-service teachers in my introductory education course would feel uncomfortable if I only gave them the cards and the instruction to "find out more about these ideas and design a school".  I wondered how much knowledge of educational theories, history of American schooling and instructional approaches pre-service teachers needed prior to playing the game. Should I assign readings or let them find answers to their questions on their own as they played the game? Essentially, should pre-service teachers learn these ideas THROUGH playing the game instead of FOR the game.

My primary motivation for using Committee of N was to help preservice teachers to develop an appreciation for game-based learning and experience the positive effects of playfulness while learning, I wanted to avoid assigning typical tasks associated with traditional learning like lengthy reading and lectures. On the other hand, I worried that not arming preservice teachers with a basic understanding of educational theories and instructional strategies prior to playing they might become overly frustrated, undermining the motivating potential of game. Additionally, I worried that incomplete knowledge of educational theories prior to playing might reinforce misconceptions.

Despite my concerns, I decide to experiment with learning THROUGH the game. For the first round of the game I put students into pairs, provided a brief explanation of the game and told them to use the internet to clarify terminology and develop an understanding of  educational theories and purposes of schooling presented on the cards.

Initially, I was pleased with the levels of engagement I observed during game play. Teacher candidates were engaged in intense discussions throughout the class session.These conversations primarily revolved around their own schooling experiences and personal theories about how people learn best. I also circled the room providing reassurance when they were on the right track, redirecting and providing additional resources to students developing what I preservatives to be a misconception. As I circled the room, I noticed that the game was helping pre-service teachers to make connections between educational theories and their own schooling experiences. I was thrilled. As I teacher educator I often modeled collaborative learning experiences in my teacher education, but this level of engagement during committee was higher and more student driven.

At the end of the class session I had each pair share their favorite design solution with the class and then reflect what they learned during game play using the following prompt

  • Name your favorite Theory of Intelligence, Purpose of Schooling, Theory of Learning and Instructional Approach. Explain your choices.
  • Did you get cards that seemed to mesh well together? Explain.
  • Did you get a set of cards that seemed too contradictory to design a school with? Explain.

Overall, student reflections demonstrated these preservice teachers were developing a working knowledge of educational theories and while there was evidence of misconceptions and incomplete understandings, it was clear the game had captured their interest and seemed that I had achieved my primary goal for playing the game; developing a interest to learn more about educational theories and instructional approaches. Example Student Reflection

For homework I asked my preservice teachers to choose their favorite value from each of the categories and bring a design solution based on those choices to the next class session. During the next class meeting, I put preservice teachers into groups of four to shared their designed solutions and work together to design a school. Again, I was impressed with the levels of engagement as students argued for particular approaches and comprised until agreement was reached on a single design solution. Each group created a promotional video for their school design solution and presented them to the class.

In the next post, Denise will describe three themes that emerge from student feedback about the gameplay experience. 

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