Student Publications

Author: Myriam Abu-Khallaf
Title: Method of Teaching. Teaching with games

Country: United States
Avialable for Download: Yes

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Much has been written about the potential of commercial computer games (COTS games) as digital learning tools, and many commentators have drawn attention to aspects of these games that might be useful in learning. These discussions tend to concentrate on the use of games outside formal learning environments and yet, today, there are increasing numbers of educators who are already using these games in their teaching practice. We have to know the factors which influence the use of such games in formal educational settings, the attitudes towards this use held by teachers and students, or the extent to which such games may or may not support the curriculum goals of formal education .

We aimed to extend our understanding of the ways in which commercial computer games might be implemented in a formal educational setting, drawing on empirical evidence and examining the real-world use of selected commercial titles in schools.

Within the last few years, we have witnessed growing interest in the potential use of COTS games for learning. In the UK, educational policy makers have recently funded the development of commercial games for use in educational settings, and a publication from ELSPA3, supported by the DfES, on games and education is due in autumn 2006. A key driver for this interest is the often cited view that young people are both increasingly disengaged with education and increasingly motivated and engaged by the digital games culture outside school. Incorporating computer games into learning environments, it is hoped by many will enhance student engagement with learning.

At the same time, the academic education research community has begun to pay significant attention to the ways in which computer games might support learning. As commentators such as Gee, McFarlane and others have argued computer games themselves might be seen as powerful educational tools.

These researchers argue that as computer games are designed to be learned they can provide models of good learning practices. It is also argued that by playing games young people are developing competencies that are equipping them to work and communicate effectively in the 21st century. Increasingly today we witness the emergence of new conferences and communities dedicated to the study of ‘serious games’ and bringing together representatives from research practice, policy and industry sectors.

In comparison with studies of young people’s games-based learning outside school, however, there have been only a limited number of studies of the use of COTS games in school. Those studies which do exist have identified this as an area both of potentially significant interest to educators, and of significant challenges. The majority of these studies point to games playing a major role in increasing motivation and engagement with learning, and in supporting the development of collaboration, communication, thinking and ICT skills. These studies also identify a number of challenges in incorporating games into school settings, identifying timetabling and curricular difficulties as specifically constraining in the use of games, and a number of technical issues requiring resolution (such as appropriate mechanisms for saving and restarting games.

The goals

The aim of the Teaching with Games project was not to replicate this research but to build upon and complement these earlier findings. The objectives of this report are to highlight findings from the study in the following areas

 To offer a broad overview of teachers’ and students’ use of computer games and attitudes towards computer games in schools .
 To identify key factors which impact upon the incorporation of computer games into existing school practices, including institutional, curricular technical and cultural issues .
  To describe the processes by which teachers plan and implement games based learning in existing curricular contexts.
The project did not aim to evaluate the learning impact of the use of COTS games. Given that it was the first time the participating teachers and institutions had used games in this way, it would be misleading to assess the effects of a first implementation. The potential of these games to impact learning in formal education should be considered after the factors identified by the project have been more thoroughly assessed and resolved.

As discussed above, the Teaching with Games study also aims to produce detailed case studies of teachers’ implementation of games for learning in schools. In order to keep this report within readable limits, this information is presented separately on the Future lab website for those teachers and others who would be interested in learning from the activities of the teachers involved in this project .


The Teaching with Games project consisted of two main strands of activity: first, two surveys of representative samples of students and teachers aimed at eliciting a broad overview of attitudes to and use of computer games for learning; second, case studies of 12 teachers8 in four secondary schools (supported by Future lab researchers ) who prepared and implemented schemes of work in diverse subject areas using three commercial computer games in formal classroom time.

Future lab collaborated with Ipsos MORI to undertake two surveys of teachers and students’ attitudes to and use of games.

The Ipsos MORI Teachers’ Omnibus questioned a representative sample of 924 primary and secondary school teachers in England. The questions focused on ascertaining teachers’ existing use of commercial computer games, any use of such games in the classroom, and their opinions about the impact of using games for learning in school

The Ipsos MORI Schools Omnibus consisted of 2,334 completed questionnaires
in England and Wales10. Again the questions focused on students’ existing use of
commercial computer games outside of school and their attitude towards using them in schools

Selected games
The three games used by the teachers were selected by Future lab researchers.
The games selected for use were The Sims 2, Knights of Honor and Roller Coaster Tycoon 3. These games are often referred to as ‘god games’, as the player has control over the entire environment. They were selected against the following criteria:

 the broad appropriateness of the titles for a school
 the learning curve of a title
 the opportunities for players to engage with authentic content and challenges
 • the degree of autonomy exercised by the player
 the presence of clear causal relationships between game variables
 the critical reception given to the game on release
 previous academic research on learning with games
 non-duplication of existing school resources (eg spreadsheets)

Discussion, Analysis, Actualization

Participating schools
Four schools participated in the project. They represented a variety of student intakes and curricula, and represented a diversity of both rural and urban settings, and private and state sectors. The Senior Management Team (SMT ( in each school took on the responsibility for identifying teachers and students to participate in the project .

Competency curricula
Some schools are followed Alternative Curriculum or  the Cabot Competency Curriculum’ (CCC). Both these curricula are adaptations of the RSA’s New Curriculum, developed through their Opening Minds initiative.
This suggests that a curriculum explicitly designed to develop the skills students need to become independent learners would better meet the needs of young people in the current century than a traditional information-driven curriculum such as the National Curriculum. These skills and competencies broadly address learning, citizenship, relating to people, managing situations and managing information .

Participating teachers
In each school, the SMT was asked to recommend three teachers to participate in the project. This resulted in a wide variety of teachers in terms of games expertise and subject area; from avid gamers to games novices, from English teachers to D&T teachers. Nine of the participating teachers were males.

Teachers’ games selection
Teachers were presented with the three selected games during a workshop at the start of the project. Researchers asked teachers to choose games so that each school had one teacher using each selected title. This resulted in three games groups’, each with four members all using the same title. Teachers were free at any time to change or stop the use of games during the course of the project if they felt the game was inappropriate for their teaching. In the majority of cases, teachers stayed with their selected game through the course of the project. The following diagram provides an overview of the planned and actual games use in each school. The difference between selected games and actual use of games is due either to teachers who couldn’t see an appropriate use for the selected game in their teaching and subsequently changed titles, or who ceased participation in the project due to external factors.

Study design
The design of the project was intended to provide an understanding of the ways in which teachers went about exploring the potential (or otherwise) of the selected games for learning in their subject areas, the factors which informed their use of the games, and the ways in which the games were actually used in the classroom context.

Future lab and the teachers in the schools collaborated over the course of the project. Future lab was responsible for selecting the games, for establishing the overarching goals of the research and for collecting research data on teachers’ activities. The teachers were responsible for determining exactly how, when and in what context they wished to use the games in their teaching. The researchers, teachers, technical staff and SMT worked together to overcome technical issues, but issues of curriculum focus, pedagogy and use of the games were decided by the teachers both individually and in discussion in their games groups.

The following summarizes the data collected by Future lab researchers during
the project

All teachers were interviewed at the start and completion of the project, and interviews were transcribed for analysis .
All e-mails between teachers and with researchers and all contributions to the wiki were collated for analysis .
All lesson plans, schemes of work and supporting material generated by teachers, and final reports on activity, were collated for analysis .
An average of two lessons per teacher were observed and videoed by researchers. These observations focused on examining the lesson objectives , interactions between students and between students and teachers .
Student Research Groups (SRGs) in two schools produced reports on the use of COTS games in formal classroom settings based on observations, interviews and questionnaires of teachers and children being taught with games in the project .

The majority (72%) of teachers questioned never play computer games in their leisure time. Despite this lack of gaming experience 36% of primary teachers and 27% of secondary teachers stated they have used games in the classroom.

59% of all teachers would be willing to consider using such games in the future .
67% of teachers aged 25-34 with less than five years’ teaching experience would
like to use them. “Motivating students” was the most commonly cited reason for introducing games for learning (53% of this group, or approximately 31% of total sample). The next most commonly cited reasons were: the perception that games would offer an inclusive, interactive way of engaging pupils on their own level (18% of this group, or approximately 11% of total sample), and relevance to a lesson/subject area (10% of this group, or approximately 6% total sample). Of those who play computer games, 48% (or approximately 13% of total sample) say that they have already spoken to their pupils about games, and a further 16% (or approximately 4% of total sample) expect to in the future .

The teachers who would not consider using these games in the classroom express concern that they would have little or no educational value (33% of group or approximately 12% overall) or believe that better resources are available (17% of group or approximately 6% overall). Some also believe that children play  enough games in their free time and that the curriculum does not allow time for such activities (for both statements, 10% of group, or approximately 4% overall).

The poll findings highlighted some barriers to the use of games in schools .   49% believed that there would be a lack of access to equipment capable of running the games, and 14% thought there was a lack of strong evidence of the educational value of games (6% thought that games did not have subject and curriculum relevance). Issues such as coping with different abilities, assessment and lesson length were less frequently mentioned; 3%, 2% and 2% respectively . 13% of teachers saw no barriers to using games in the classroom .

The most common reasons for using COTS games is the perception that they improve pupils’ motor/cognitive skills (91%), ICT skills (77%), higher order thinking skills (63%), or knowledge in a particular area (62%). Social skills are seen to be a benefit by 17% of teachers. However, 71% believe that playing such games could lead to anti-social behaviour while 62% think it leads to stereotypical views of other people or groups. A significant minority of teachers,  especially those in primary schools, give this as a reason for not using games .

The poll found that 85% of children say they play computer games outside of lessons (at home or at school) at least once every couple of weeks. 22% said they have used such games in class. Boys tend to be the most regular players , with 50% of male students saying that they play every day, compared to only 21% of female students. Younger students also tend to be more regular players of computer games than their older counterparts. For instance, pupils aged 11 and 12 are significantly more likely to play computer games every day (46% and 41% respectively), than 15-16 year-olds (25% .(

An average of 62% of students say that they would like to use computer games in the classroom; 89% of these (approximately 55% overall) think it would make lessons more interesting. Younger students were most likely to want to use computer games in school: 66% of 11 year-olds compared to 49% of 15-16 year-olds. However, 22% of students think such games should not be used in lessons. Half of these students (11% of the sample) say that they would prefer to do other activities in the classroom, while more than a third of this group (8% of the sample) would rather use computer games at home .

Amongst all students, there are a number of perceived benefits of playing computer games outside lesson time. More than two-thirds (69%) say that it improves computer skills, while roughly half (53%) think that it would help improve their reactions or problem solving skills. 24% think that it improves subject knowledge, and the same percentage thinks game playing improves skills such as working in teams. Although the perceived consequences of playing computer games are largely positive, students also identified a number of negative potential effects. For instance, 30% of students overall believe that playing computer games could lead to increased violence and aggression .

First, it is clear that there is still a generational divide between teachers and students in respect of computer games play, with 72% of teachers never playing games outside school in comparison with 82% of children reporting games play at least once a fortnight .

Overall, the surveys suggest that the majority of teachers and students are open to the idea of using games in formal curricular contexts. Both Ipsos MORI polls suggest that computer games are viewed as motivating to students. However , it should be noted that 37% of teachers and 22% of students think that computer games should not be used in the classroo

Teachers and students have similar perceptions about the advantages and disadvantages of using games. Both groups believe that games play improves computer skills and general problem solving abilities. However, teachers are more likely to believe that students can gain subject knowledge from computer games than children - 62% compared to 24% - while more children believe it improves social skills – 24% compared to 17% of teachers .

Finally, the survey suggests that the main barriers perceived by teachers to the use of games are not those of the curriculum or of assessment, but the technical issues that may need to be overcome .

Technical factors
We begin with the inevitable technical issues which were raised and (at least partially) resolved in the early stages of the project, as teachers, technical advisors and Future lab researchers grappled with the basic question of how to enable games to run easily and effectively in the specific technical context of schools .

Broadly, games were either run on offline laptops or networked PCs. Two of the schools had a network with machines procured from a major national ICT provider. These machines, designed to meet schools’ existing requirements , were configured differently to those normally found in homes or offices and consequently presented specific difficulties when using commercial games software, as detailed below. Where teachers used laptops, these were either recently purchased by the school, or were teachers’ and their colleagues personal machines: in all cases, the laptops were of a sufficiently high technical specification that installing and running the games presented no problems .

As might be expected, those teachers who displayed greater confidence using ICT in an educational setting found dealing with some of the issues described  less problematic than other teachers. However, the majority of these technical issues were unrelated to individual teachers’ level of ICT expertise, instead they arose from specific qualities of the games or the infrastructure in which they were being used .

Institutional and professional factors
The wider culture of the schools in which the teachers were working also provided an important context in impacting on how teachers both prepared for and implemented their plans for using games in schools. Many of these issues raise wider questions about the organization of schooling which cannot be fully addressed in this report, but it is worth highlighting these here as they were identified by teachers as significant in shaping their thinking and practice .

Sharing ideas and professional cultures
Few of the teachers reported talking with other participating teachers or their colleagues about their approaches to lesson plans or to the difficulties they faced, or made use of the opportunities provided by Future lab to communicate with researchers and other teachers through personal journals, e-mail, or the message board set up for the project (although Teachers had their  lesson plans reviewed by their respective heads of department). Although no teachers reported this to be problematic, it was observed that many faced similar challenges and difficulties in designing and implementing their lessons , and a more open and collaborative approach might have saved time spent developing ideas or overcoming shared difficulties. It may well be the case that in their wider practice teachers are used to working individually, with little peer contact or input, in which case Future lab might have needed to articulate the value of working collaboratively with greater clarity. Equally, it may simply be that the means provided by Future lab for sharing ideas and thoughts were inappropriate for teachers without an office or desk and limited access to e -mail and the internet. Either way, support from peers could well have helped participating teachers resolve some of the issues they faced more effectively .

The schools offered three different approaches to curriculum organization . These contexts served to inform how teachers appropriated the games for teaching and learning in sometimes unexpected ways. In general, those teachers following a content -based curriculum felt they would struggle to find a meaningful role for the game within their teaching, while those following competency or skill-based curricula felt that the skills demanded by the game were already recognized in the curriculum, and so were more confident that integrating their game would be straightforward .

For example, teachers involved in the competency curriculum decided to use the games in this context rather than in more formal subject contexts as they felt that the games mapped more easily onto a skills rather than content-based curriculum .

However, this dichotomy between a ‘flexible curriculum’ approach that lent itself to using games on the one hand and a ‘rigid curriculum’, subject-based approach that worked against their implementation on the other proved to be misleading. Some teachers who had initially expressed doubts about the possibility of integrating a game into their content-based curriculum were able to produce successful activities that worked within the perceived constraints of their curriculum, while others who had initially been confident that playing the game would map directly onto the competencies that were the focus of their curriculum, found that in practice students needed more support and structure than had been envisaged. This may be due in part to the personal approaches encouraged by these initial impressions. Those teachers who felt that integrating a game into their teaching would be particularly challenging may have consequently been more detailed about their planning than teachers who  perceived an easy fit between the game and their curricular aims .

Curriculum and game narrative
The previous discussions have related to factors which form the context institutional, professional and technical within which teachers were working and which informed their design of lesson plans, and their implementation of games in the classroom. This section focuses instead specifically upon the ways in which the games themselves (their narratives and architecture) interacted with the curriculum contexts in which the teachers were working to inform the design of lesson activities .

All of the games used were designed primarily for entertainment .
In these games, the game designer has a narrative in mind for players to follow , explicitly or implicitly expressed through :

 the game mechanics the affordances enjoyed by the player’s avatar and the interaction of the different in-game variables
 • the interface through which relevant game metrics are revealed, such as the  amount of money available to a ruler in Knights of Honor, or the particular aspirations and needs of a character in The Sims 2
 • on-screen instruction .

Players are not forced to follow this narrative, of course, and in all games there is room for players to explore and to follow their own interests in the game .
In order to win a game, however, players have to follow the designer’s narrative
and pay attention to the routes and elements that the designer has implicitly said
should matter .

When considering how best to use a game in their classroom lessons, teacher, of course, have to consider the curriculum requirements of their particular domain. There arises from this imperative a possible tension between following the game designer’s narrative and taking part in activities that address the curriculum needs of a lesson; the two are not necessarily in alignment. From our observations of teachers’ strategies for managing this potential tension we have produced a hypothetical framework which identifies four approaches that might be adopted in balancing games narratives and curricular objectives.

The approaches of the teachers can be mapped onto this framework. In their different lessons, we witnessed :

 Those teachers who felt that asking students to follow the game designers narrative would also allow them to address their curriculum goals (for example, playing Knights of Honor with a focus on strategic thinking and working in groups seen mainly in the top right-hand quadrant
 Those teachers who felt that the game designer’s narrative was inappropriate for their needs, but who were able to borrow certain game elements to support their teaching (for example, building roller coasters to certain specifications detailed by the teacher, using the sandbox feature in Categorization of case study lessons balancing curriculum objectives against games narrative

Teaching styles
So far, we have discussed the various external factors which contribute to how teachers decided to use games for learning. We now turn to the more personal question of teachers’ personal and professional approaches to teaching and their own games literacy.

It might be expected that teachers’ level of familiarity with the game itself would act as a defining factor in determining the enthusiasm and success of teachers in incorporating games in the classroom. From our observations and analyses,  however, while a certain level of familiarity with the game was necessary for its incorporation into the classroom, achieving particular educational objectives through the use of the game was more dependent upon the individual teacher’s grasp of the curriculum/subject area in which they were working .

Where teachers were experienced in the subject/curriculum area they were addressing, they were able either to appropriate only those game elements that would support their teaching (and so, in some cases, make their lack of game literacy less of an issue) or to scaffold students’ use of the game appropriately

Conversely, there were a minority of teachers who were perhaps more fluent with the game than in the relevant curriculum, whose lessons didn’t go as far in addressing their stated learning aims as some of their colleagues .

In observing lessons, it was clear that teachers adopted a number of roles when using the game in their lessons, often acting in multiple roles over the course of a lesson, in addition to those roles they might expect to occupy in the course of their normal teaching (organising students into groups, managing class behaviour, setting goals for the lesson and so on). All teachers had to provide some degree of technical support, or mediate between students and technical staff if they were unable to answer a query .

The role of the teacher, in encouraging students’ reflection and ability to make links between their game activities and the wider learning aims of the class , was acknowledged by the majority of teachers through explicitly allowing time for plenary sessions within their lesson plans. The constraints of the timetable and the longer time taken by students to complete game tasks meant that in practice, however, many teachers spent less time than planned supporting students’ reflection on their learning. On completion of the trial schemes of work, the majority of teachers suggested that this was something that would need to be taken into account in running these activities again .

Teaching with Games trial

The survey of teachers’ attitudes to using games in school reports that 53% of teachers see children’s motivation as the primary reason for using games for learning. Similarly, the teachers involved in the project viewed enhancing student motivation and engagement as an important reason for exploring the potential of games for learning .

From observations and interviews with students (carried out by researchers from Future lab and the two Student Research Groups) the motivational ‘impact’ of having used games in class was borne out by many students. Remarks such as these are representative of feedback received from students :

It’s not like a boring lesson, you actually have fun and at the same time learn  something.” (Year 7 boy, John Cabot, KoH)

It was better than a normal text book lesson because that’s really boring , so it made it more interesting.” (SRG report, St Johns)

It is worth, however, probing in more detail the features of games which support motivation, as the expectation amongst many teachers (and amongst Ipsos MORI poll respondents) is that the simple use of games in school is sufficient to generate engagement amongst students .

This motivational effect of games, for example, is often ascribed to ‘higher production values’, and while it is undoubtedly true that the commercial games used in the four schools have more detailed graphics and glossier interaction elements, there may be other reasons for these games engaging students .


The Teaching with Games project was a one-year study designed to offer a broad overview of teachers’ and students’ use of and attitudes towards commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computer games in schools . It aimed to identify the factors that would impact the use of these entertainment games in school and describe the processes by which teachers plan and implement games-based learning in existing curricular contexts . Finally, it aimed to provide recommendations for future games-based learning approaches in schools for teachers, developers and policy makers .

The study had two main activities :

  1. National surveys conducted by Ipsos MORI of primary and secondary teachers and school children aged 11-16 .
  2. Detailed case studies of 10 teachers’ approaches to developing their use of games for learning. Ten case studies were completed in four schools .

The schools represented a range of urban, rural, state and private settings . Two schools offered lessons based on a competency-based curriculum derived from the RSA’s Opening Minds project, in addition to lessons based on a traditional curriculum. The games used in the schools were: The Sims 2 , Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 and Knights of Honor .

The key findings from the project were :

A generational divide in games play is still evident, with a signifi cant majority of teachers (72%) not playing games for leisure, compared with 82% of students playing games outside lessons at least once a fortnight. Boys were also more likely to play games for leisure than girls. The majority of teachers and students surveyed reported that they thought games would motivate students to engage with learning .

The teachers and students in the case studies generally reported that using games in lessons was motivating. However, the study suggests that student motivation might be more likely to arise 1) when students were using games familiar from their home environment, and 2) when students were able to have some degree of autonomy in playing the game .

There were a variety of technical obstacles to be overcome when using the games in a school context. These were largely due to the copy-protection features of the games. Technical support staff play a significant role in supporting teachers to overcome these difficulties .

Concerns over curriculum and assessment appeared to be more influential in selecting the age of students to use games in lessons than the age rating for the games. No teacher expressed concern about using ‘teen games’, ie those suitable for 13 and over, with 11 year-olds .

Many teachers found the fixed length of lessons to be constraining in both the planning and implementation of games-based learning in schools .

 There was a range of gaming ability amongst students which had an impact on teachers’ lesson plans. In general, there seemed to be an expectation that students would be more competent using the game in class than they were seen to be .

 While teachers needed a certain level of familiarity with a game to be able to use it in their teaching, achieving particular educational objectives through the use of the game was more dependent upon a teacher’s knowledge of the curriculum with which they were working than it was on their ability with the game .

 • Teachers followed either competence or content-based curricula. Despite initial assumptions, the particular curriculum followed by teachers did not appear to be the primary factor determining success in integrating a game into classroom teaching. Rather, the particular context in which a teacher worked – their experience, their teaching style, their familiarity with the curriculum followed and the wider culture of the institution – appeared to have more impact .

* Using games in a meaningful way within lessons depended far more on the effective use of existing teaching skills than it did on the development of any new, game-related skills. Far from being sidelined, teachers were required to take a central role in scaffolding and supporting students learning through games .

Where previous studies have suggested that games need to offer a fully accurate underlying model to be of benefit for formal education, this study suggests that for the game to be of benefit to teachers, it need only be accurate to a certain degree: there may be wider inaccuracies within the game model, but these do not necessarily preclude the game from being used meaningfully in a lesson . What was clear from the study was that a number of factors were signifi cant in influencing the process by which games can be appropriated for use in schools .

These included :

the technical infrastructure of the school (including personnel and facilities)
institutional and professional factors (including the organization of time and space in the school, cultures of collaboration/knowledge sharing, traditions of ‘best practice’ in lesson planning, and classroom rituals)
the extent to which games can be ‘disaggregated’ and appropriated to meet specific needs
the individual teachers’ personal experience of games play, and their personal and professional identities as teachers
the pervading cultural expectations of children’s attitudes to and expertise in playing computer games .

While games may have potential to support learning and while many teachers and pupils expressed enthusiasm in using games in lessons (for example, one teacher said “Oh I’d love to use it again. I think there’s so much potential in it “), it is clear that these factors need to be taken into account by teachers, and ideally by school leaders and games developers, before potential can be fully realized .

Personnel experiences and suggestions

Today we are all teaching under big challenges. The internet, the progress of the world, the knowledge of the students ….

Of course, today every student like to play a computer game, it's interesting, and the computer with its games starts to replace the teacher in the student mind, so it was necessary to find a way to use this progress, these games for the services of the teaching and learning.

In my class, the students play games in every little moment in their life, when I told them that we have a lesson in the computer lab , it’s the most nice day in their life, of course I prepare something for them but sometimes when I turn my face they start doing other things" playing games" so I tried to use some games in my class like " Junggle and learning ladders" these are educative games for children from 3-12 years old.

So in my own opinion , it is very important to use games in teaching, but teacher have to make attention about the type of games and the progress of the child in using this game.
But still with all this progress the presence of the teacher is very importan


Becker, K and Jacobsen, DM (2005). Games for learning: are schools ready for what’s to come? Proceedings of DiGRA 2005: Changing Views: Worlds in Play

Shaffer, DW (2005). Epistemic games. Innovate, 1(6) (available at www .

Gee, JP (2003). What Video Games have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy. London: Palgrave Macmillan



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