Wed 25th January 2017 - 15:31

Case study for Making Games in Collaboration for Learning

Jeffrey Earp was involved in the project Making Games in Collaboration for Learning (MAGICAL). The project’s aim was to see how digital game making can be used to foster collaborative learning-by-doing in primary schools. OEE interviewed him to find out more about the project and his experiences. 

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I was born in Australia and currently work as a research assistant at the Institute for Educational Technology, CNR, Italy. My background is in language teaching and I’ve been active in the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) field for the past 20 years, mainly in European projects. My areas of interest include learning design and game-based learning.

What do you love about your job?

My job gives me the opportunity to explore innovative approaches to teaching and learning that draw on digital technologies. It’s a multifaceted, multidisciplinary field so I often have the chance to learn about new things. Collaborating on projects with partners from different parts of Europe and from different backgrounds is a very enriching experience. I welcome the chance to do practical fieldwork with teachers and learners in real settings.

Why is it important to support project-based learning?

For me, project-based learning is an excellent way to promote an active, learner-centred approach to learning. It offers rich opportunities for sustaining the development of soft skills in tandem with mastery of subject content. Currently a lot of emphasis is being placed on promoting learners’ intrinsic motivation. Project-based learning lends itself well to this objective because it can foster learners’ sense of agency and of ownership over the process and the output produced. This is a significant opportunity – one that project-based learning shares with digital game making.

Can you tell us more about your project and the issues you wanted to address with it?

MAGICAL investigated the feasibility of digital game making as an approach for fostering collaborative learning-by-doing in primary schools. We were particularly interested in how game making might trigger and sustain 21st century skills such as collaboration, creativity and problem solving.

Our project consisted of teams of learners, aged mostly 8-12 years, who worked together to design and create their own digital games which they shared with their classmates for testing and feedback as part of intergroup collaboration. No computer coding skills were required either of the learners or of the teachers. MAGICAL also addressed teachers’ initial education and professional development, as well as support for their preparation of game-making activities in the classroom.

Our project partners were the Institute for Educational Technology, CNR (Italy), Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium), Manchester Metropolitan University (UK) and Tampere University of Technology (Finland). We ran field activities in each partner country as well as in Greece. We employed specific project methodologies, resources and tools including a bespoke game-making platform developed for use within and beyond the project.

What were some of the bigger challenges you faced during your project?

The main difficulties we encountered in MAGICAL were technical. Once we’d decided to create and use our own game-making platform, we set out to develop a multi-user editor so that individual learners could collaborate online in real time, simultaneously editing the same game either as conventional or virtual teams.

Achieving the stability required to take the tool into classrooms proved to be technologically challenging. In the end we developed a second more robust single user version; this was the one used by learners, and the one they continue to use. This simpler version is called Magos Light; it supports real-time collaboration for groups working face to face, as well as asynchronous online editing, a combination that has proved particularly suitable for primary school settings.

Can you tell us more about the stages of implementation of the project?

The main implementation stages were:

  • Design and development of the digital platform and game editor, based on a review of existing game-making tools suitable for educational use.
  • Initial teacher education & teachers’ professional development activities.
  • Classroom pilots in Belgium, Finland, Greece, Italy, and the UK.
  • Analysis of data from pilot experiences.

In addition to the Magos digital game-making platform, we also tested and used a tool developed by ITD-CNR called Pedagogical Planner. This supports teachers in designing units of learning of all kinds, and for MAGICAL we produced a redesigned version specifically devoted to game making for learning.

What were the measurable results of the project?

The results confirmed the viability of game making as an approach to learning in primary schools. We observed that learners were strongly motivated and engaged. In terms of soft skills, the most significant results were in collaboration, an outcome that clearly emerged from classroom observation and was confirmed by participating teachers and students. Levels of acceptance expressed by learners, student-teachers and practising teachers were high. All the resources we created as part of this project have been published online. They could potentially be used by other researchers, teachers, educational designers, policy-makers or anyone interested in designing games for learning.

How did you personally benefit from this project?

Working on MAGICAL introduced me to the ‘maker’ culture and showed me the considerable potential it can have for learning, whether formal, non-formal or informal. The follow-up work from the project brought me into contact with researchers and practitioners worldwide who are investigating game making for learning. This includes Yasmin Kafai, a leading US researcher who pioneered this line of research at MIT during the 1990s.

What is your best memory from this project?

For me the most lasting memories are of the classroom activities. In particular how primary school children took so readily to collaborative digital game making. It was encouraging to see how enthusiastically and fruitfully they worked together on their games. Especially in cases when they’d overcome initial reluctance to accept each other as working partners.

Another ‘MAGICAL’ moment was witnessing the levelheadedness with which young children handled peer reviews of each other’s game making efforts and results.

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