The following is excerpted from Gerhard Molin’s The Role of the Teacher in Game-Based Learning: A Review and Outlook in the book Serious Games and Edutainment Applications Volume II.
After the student, the teacher is the greatest (school) influence on student learning performance. We know this from John Hattie’s work on Visible Learning reviewing thousands of studies.
Even as long ago as 1938, we knew that a key role of the teacher is to “provoke the mind of children by asking questions” (John Dewey). And today, we know that effective teachers are able to challenge their students’ knowledge and show them a way to find pleasure in learning (Ken Bain).
However, in much game-based learning, teachers are held back because they have:
- Limited time to prepare, play, and connect knowledge acquired in the game to academic and real world knowledge
- High costs of some games
- Limited knowledge of digital games, and lack of confidence in using the game
- Difficulties in identifying appropriate games and assessments that fit the curriculum
- Poor technical infrastructure and insufficient resources
Games run somewhat counter to a traditional classroom scenario. Schools traditionally mold teachers to the tasks of instructing, assessing, critiquing, assigning, controlling, and assigning; and students to be the receivers of these actions. Games invoke a sense of play and adventure. In game-based learning, the teacher must fit the game into the curriculum, classroom environment, and school technology while also connect to the playful world promoted by the game.
This results in common disruptions of games which affect both student engagement and learning.
- When the teacher brings the students out of their “game role” into a “pupil role” in order to instruct, it disrupts the game and can also lead to confusion.
- Students are often demotivated when they are assigned to participate in games that their teachers don’t do themselves; it indirectly signals disinterest on the part of the teacher which can result in disengagement by the students.
- Teachers may not have the time to become proficient in taking on the roles of technical administrator and game administrator, nor on designing pre- and post- activities to transfer knowledge from the game to topics the students need to learn.
- When things don’t go according to plan (well this never happens, right?), the teachers often do not have the time, game skills, or coaching skills to keep students playing and learning.
Most teachers’ job satisfaction derives from their interaction with students and the feeling that they are having a positive influence on their students’ development. These disruptions can not only affect student engagement and learning, they can demotivate the teachers.
Thus, if we ever expect game-based learning to thrive, we have to find a way to support teachers’ professional identity, sense of purpose, and agency by providing the tools and skills so that they can be active and self-creating subjects even within novel contexts.
And like any person, facing uncertainty and possible multiple potential points of failure, teachers will often revert to the familiar: lecture, readings, and questions.
How do we do this?
- Part of it is cultural. When the school culture is one of participation, obstacles are just additional learning opportunities.
- Just as we scaffold learning in students, we can scaffold game use in classes. Organizations such as TeacherGaming and Filament Games have game-based learning templates that ease teachers into learning situations.
- We can provide teachers with coaching and support, such as the ISTE Games and Simulations Network and the edWEb Game-Based Learning community.
- And we can provide guides such as Ryan Schaaf’s Game On: Using Digital Games to Transform Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, and Matt Farber’s Gamify Your Classroom: A Field Guide to Game-Based Learning.
We know that teaching capacity develops with practice over time. So ultimately, it's going to take time, and we have to provide teachers with the time to play and learn.