What is Game Based Learning?
Most teachers and pedagogues use play and games in their teaching practice without necessarily calling it play based learning (PBL) or game based learning (GBL). Everything from low-stakes activities that use engaging material that students can explore in self-directed ways to complex games with rules and characters, can fall under the umbrella of PBL. Though PBL is often associated with early childhood education, instructors teaching in higher education settings are becoming increasingly interested in applying many PBL and GBL principles in their classrooms as well. Game based learning can be thought of as a subcategory of PBL, where learning happens in what is known as the ‘magic circle’ – a (sometimes non-physical) space where students have to suspend normal reality and abide by an artificial set of norms and rules. GBL comes in many forms: pre-packaged educational games sold by third-party vendors, free and/or open-source projects and assignments, and even traditional entertainment-only games (like Monopoly, or musical chairs) remixed and re-constructed to achieve particular learning goals. Check out the examples and resources below if you’d like to get ideas about how to implement GBL in your classroom.
Is GBL effective?
Much of the research and scholarship on the efficacy of games in the classroom, and many scholars and game designers, have touted the positive effects of games on learning (see, for example, What Video Games Have To Teach Us About Learning And Literacy by James Paul Gee, and Cathy Davidson’s Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century). The prevailing theory is that games enhance and mobilize internal desires and motivations for learning. In other words, when the rules of a game are tailored around learning outcomes, students are self-motivated to learn in order to ‘win’. Role playing games in particular have been shown to increase student engagement and motivation to read, enhance persuasive writing and speaking, and increase critical and analytical thinking.
GBL at Baruch
Digital Pedagogy Specialists at the Center for Teaching and Learning Lindsey Albracht and Hamad Sindhi, with Digital Initiatives librarian Jessica Wagner Webster, are currently developing an openly-licensed educational role-playing game. The game, based on the 1968 fight for free tuition at CUNY schools for all NYC public school graduates, tasks players with undertaking historical and archival research to develop arguments for and against the adoption of an Open Admissions policy. This resource is free and open-source.
Baruch’s resident makerspace for technology, design and entrepreneurship. A hub for learning, playing and making using robotics, circuit technology, 3D printers, as well as low-tech creative things like Legos, Play Doh, origami, and more.
Professor Liz Minei’s PBL classroom activity
GBL Resources & Readings
CUNY Games Network: CUNY-based organization “dedicated to encouraging research, scholarship and teaching in the developing field of games-based learning.” They also organize the annual CUNY Games Conference. This resource is free.
Institute of Play: Targeted more toward secondary school teachers, the IoP nonetheless has very useful guides and how-tos for instructors thinking about creating games for their classes at any level. Many resources here are free.
Reacting To The Past (RTTP): A library of “elaborate games, set in the past, in which students are assigned roles informed by classic texts in the history of ideas. Class sessions are run entirely by students; instructors advise and guide students and grade their oral and written work”. This resource is not free.
The Atlanta Compromise, a RTTP game: Created by Hunter professor Iris Finkle, in this role-playing game students participate in the historic conference that pitted Booker T. Washington’s and W.E.B Dubois’ supporters against each other as Jim Crow laws were being debated in the post-Civil War South. This resource is free and open-source.