Media and Learning 2010

Meeting the costs of multimedia-rich educational games

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What do you think – can we afford the costs of media rich education games in the current climate? And if so – who should pay?

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Moderator: Steven Malliet, University of Antwerp, Belgium


Conference Team

Are the costs of creating media rich education games too high for most educational providers? Can we afford the costs of media rich education games in the current climate? And if so – who should pay? join our discussion and have your say!

Steven Malliet

I'd like to raise the issue of effectiveness here. Given the current state of affairs in the market of educational games: can we already make the claim that DGBL applications are able to instigate a learning experience that is as effective as a 'traditional' learning experience?

Do we know of any (possibly costly) examples of game that are ready to use in the classroom?

Andrew Watt

I know 'Guitar Hero' has been used a bit in some schools in Scotland but I'll need to go and hunt around to get more details. Also Nintendo DS's were used in a Primary School in Dundee to develop mental arithmetic. The project was undertaken in conjunction with the University who followed it through and presented the findings afterwards. It was hugely successful.

Andrew Watt

OK, I just did a hunt and found what I was looking for. The person who has done a lot of work with Gutar hero is Ollie Bray, a Scottish teacher, and he has a great blog (though spelling is not always his strongest point!!). Here is a link to one bit of it which has a report of just one of many Guitar hero projects thart have occurred since Ollie first devised the concept.
But if you go down further you will find a whole lot more about how various games could be used.

Mathy Vanbuel

There are some success stories that accompany young people at various stages in their "learning" career: the various Lego games for example, Bob the Builder, Freddy Fish and at an older age again Sim City for example (btw. this is not a quality assessment, it’s just an observation of what can be found in classrooms beside many games that are not considered educational). Common denominator seems to be that games are used by teachers that 1. have some form of affinity for games and 2. by consequence have acquired the necessary expertise in their own time to transfer their affinity for games and 3. are sufficiently comfortable with games to apply them in a way that is relevant to the learning activities (for example to connect them with the curriculum). At that stage teachers are using not only commercial (entertainment or edutainment) games or commercial educational games but they will also re-use game or play formats in other ways, for example Crosswords, Hangman, Fortune Wheels or Jeopardy as engaging learning activities, etc.

Steven Malliet

A second point that may be relevant in this context: to what degree can commercial titles -games of which the cost can be recouped through market channels- also be used in the classroom? I'm thinking of a quote of a colleague saying 'there is no such thing a serious game, because in fact all games are serious'.

Mathy Vanbuel

Interesting document from FutureLab in collaboration with ao Electronic Arts on this subject: one of the interesting conclusions say: "successful use of such games is, unsurprisingly, a reflection of the quality of teaching. Namely, the extent to which the teachers were:
able to accurately judge their students’ abilities
clear about the educational objectives they were hoping to achieve
effective in deploying the games resources in meeting these objectives." (source Teaching with Games
Using commercial off-the-shelf computer games in formal education by Richard Sandford, Mary Ulicsak, Keri Facer and Tim Rudd, Futurelab 2006.)

A second thought, can one replace the word game or gaming in this statement by "learning and teaching resources" or closer to the name of this conference by "multimedia"?

Andrew Watt

I think Mathy is so absolutely right to stress the pivotal role of the teacher in all of this and their ability to assess their students' capabilities, not to mention the things they like and dislike - the student's preferred learning style if you lke. But equally they must be able to assess their own capabilities, likes and dislikes, and structure the learning that goes on in their classroom (if it still is a classroom in the traditional sense) to something that they find is effective for them. Just because something worked well for Andrew Watt doesn't necessarily mean it will work similarly for Mathy Vanbuel. And the other important thing which that Futurelab report brings out is to remember what the purpose of the educational activity is - it is to achieve whatever the learning objectiove was and not to use a particular piece of software. I remember, sadly all too vividly, a meeting where the 'Educational manager' for a company involved in a Scottish national project stood up and effectively was saying 'Now the thing we must focus on is getting the kids to use **** [the name of the product]" and he got quite fervent about it, completely missing the point that any piece of IT wizardry is only a tool that might, or might not, be helpful in achieving an outcome. I ran a project in a school once where one teacher was resistant to using any of the latest IT tools she was being offered, and in one sense I could see why. She might be considered extremely 'old fashioned' in her pedagogical approach but her results were always superb and she instilled a genuine love for her subject and learning in her students. I think had she been forced into using more modern tools, she would not have done so well - for her, with her personality, character, charisma etc., what she had evolved over many years worked really well. And equally I know that what worked for her would never have worked for me because I am a completely different person.

Andrew Watt

Where a game that is commercially available finds a place in education, then the manufacturers should be encouraged to develop an educational price list, as many of the main software suppliers now do eg Adobe, Microsoft, Apple.

Steven Malliet

I like the idea of considering games educational resources just like any other. Gaming never takes place in a vacuum, and I think many serious games have been criticized wrongly because they don't live up to the (graphical) standards of commercial titles. While I think the game should always be considered in combination with the (educational) context in which it is used - like Kurt Squire or Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen have for example frequently argued...

Jude Ower

I would like to add to the 3 sub-questions in this discussion and point in the direction of a report we created last year with Futurelab -
This report looks at how off the shelf games can and are being used in the classroom. I completely agree that choosing the tools and styles to suit the context work, and over the past few years there has been a lot of progress experimenting and testing new ideas in the classroom. Some of the main trends within games for learning in the past few years has been the infrastructure available in the classroom i.e. allowing teachers to use DS's, Wii, PS3 and it goes to show if you provide the tools then teachers can provide the creativity to suit the context of the class and the pupils.

At Digital 2.0 we believe that when creating a Serious Game, or Meaningful Game as we call them, the audience is at the core of the development. Of course you will create something which will not suit 100% of users but if you can really understand the audience and create something which aligns to their interests, game play, online activity coupled with the objective of the game to ensure the product reflects the topic in the right way, you will have a successful product being used and increasing learning. If the game play is fun and interesting, graphics can be secondary - if we look at the range of games available on the market, from the Wii mini games which look good but are very simple, and games such as Farmville on Facebook, right through to Little Big Planet and higher end graphics, then we can see that there is more to a game than how it looks (kind of like a book and it's cover :) ) - it has to be interesting enough to grab the attention but also it has to be accessible, and if children see their friends playing something, they are likely to want to do the same. Poptropica is a great example - they have spent no money on marketing, as the children did this themselves in a viral way, good graphics but not high end and the game play is fun and you can work with your friends. Another good example is which has some really fun educational games within the world. I really like this approach of creating a cult following, these sites both have over 30 million children playing, and they can add levels and games which have educational focuses. Again this won't work for all children or for all topics but it is another tool among many which can be used to make learning fun.

Jørund Høie Skaug

I think Judes example of is very interesting, since free games - educational or not - on the web is always of interest to teachers due to econonomy. As she points out, as long as the gameplay is exciting, it may not matter how the game looks. But the question most teachers still will raise before considering a computer game in the classroom will be, as pointed out by Mathy above, "how can this game fit into the curriculum?".
I have led the norwegian adaptation of the experimental alternate reality webgame "The Climate Mystery" (TCM)last year, which was free of charge. The term used to describe TCM is "learning universe", which involves mystery solving, videoclips, mini-games, social networking and different assignments online and in the classroom. We gave teachers information about links between the learning goals of TCM the national curriculums in natural and social sciences. And though teachers and pupils gave the learning universe mixed reviews, we found it exciting to investigate the potential of free educational games.
The memorandum about TCM in Norway is available in English on my profile:
So who paid for The Climate Mystery? Microsoft, Discovery Channel and local sponsors througout Europe. Discuss!;)

Philip Penny

I agree with Jorund in the current enconomic climate 'Free is Good' ... suggestion, within this topic area we should compile a list of free online games / tools that people have found useful. Just reply to this comment and drop the link in. I will start with Jude's Moshimonsters and add Scriblink a free online whiteboard I came across.

Jørund Høie Skaug

I have only read about Moonbase Alpha, but a game which is described as a "futuristic simulation of life on the moon" sounds exciting. There is an article about the game here -
It is obviously a bit heavy for the hard drive + graphics card, so I am not sure if it is suited for use in schools.

Philip Penny

I had a look at Moonbase Jorund and it is heavy on the hardware ... on the same site I came across the following tool, although slightly off topic (not a game) I followed a link that took me to a free secure social networking site for the classroom, teachers and students. I signed up and it is excellent, very useful, similar interface to facebook.

Jørund Høie Skaug

Breaking news! A story about tweaking a commercial game into a "serious" game: The Norwegian teacher Magnus Sandberg won a prize today for innovative use of ICT in an upper secondary school. My employer, Norwegian Centre for ICT in Education was part of the jury. Magnus has used Assasins Creed in history lessons: for fun, learning about renessaince Florence and making the pupils reflect about the learning process. His video presentation can be seen here:
- some of the text is in English.

The wiki about the project (in Norwegian...)

The pupils brought a few consoles to the classroom, and games was provided for free by Ubisoft (Obviously Magnus knew how to sweet-talk them..). The pupils was organised into groups of three, and took turns playing and writing.

Caroline Kearney

I've enjoyed reading this thread of comments on the cost of educational games, and am pleased that the discussion has moved in the direction of asking is there really a need to create expensive educational digital games in the current economic climate? I think the answer so far is no not really, as we know of a variety of existing commercial games being used in the classroom for learning purposes (particularly in the UK and Denmark, but also appearing in classrooms elsewhere across Europe) and there are also free online games which teachers can make use of. I think maybe the key question here is not about the cost of getting games into schools, but the conducive conditions available for this to realistically happen. Is formal education at the systemic level and teachers trained in a traditional way ready to integrate games based learning? I think we have a long way to go in order to make this a reality.

I look forward to this session in which I will be a panelist, and to sharing some insights we at European Schoolnet gained through the study ''How are games used in schools?'' ( as well as through the teachers guide I produced for the game PING (Poverty is not a Game), also free of charge and available to play online or download together with the teachers' handbook here:

25 - 26 November 2010 Flemish Ministry of Education Headquarters, Brussels
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