The relative advantages of Digital Game-based Learning

As I read and researched this week, I learned that there are not as many history based games for a 5th grade curriculum as there are for a subject such as Mathematics.  I wrote this blog from a wider standpoint rather than just focusing on one subject area. The benefits I learned about apply to all subjects that I teach in elementary and so it seemed natural to write a post which reflected on my thoughts in a wider sense.

6 Years ago, I wanted to try and get a group of 5th grade boys in my class more involved in their creative writing. They all loved video games and so I set about creating a way to weave a game into our curriculum. I had a smart board in the class and that was about it. I read some ideas on message boards (this was well before I discovered Twitter) and decided to use an older game to engage them  – The classic game MYST.

Often the group struggled for ideas, or wrote simple variations on the same thing, over and over. I decided to hook the game up to the smart board and use it as a story opener. The class watched as different pupils took turns to interact with the game and used the graphics and scenarios to prompt short writing pieces. It was deeply flawed in many ways as a series of lessons but what was clear was the engagement of the large majority of not just the reluctant writers but all of the class. The children got excited about using the game, they were drawn in and I remember comments about how it was, ‘fun not school’ and ‘awesome to play’. The reality was that most children were not playing games at all but simply watching and using the constructed digital world to help jump start their own imaginations. However, the result was higher engagement and some wonderful pieces of writing.

Since then I have loosely followed the game-based learning movement out of interest and have experimented with using Rezzly (formerly 3D Gamelab) and regularly use MangaHigh in my maths lessons. It is clear that game-based learning has been around for a lot longer than many of us think but is now  really starting to take off. As with any ‘new’ idea in education there are instant detractors and champions of which I lie somewhere closer to champion that detractor.

There is not wealth of academic research into the subject at the moment but it is growing steadily. Using the word ‘digital game’ in schools seems to send some people to a dark place. Comments about the negative impact of Video Games are often made in the media. I would argue that from the earliest age, we learn through play. Early years programs for students are play based – that is how children learn to construct and make sense of the world around them. The fun factor seems to also scare some detractors away. Fun. . . in school? Game-based learning is “effective and engaging” (Van Eck p.18) so why would we ignore it.

So what are the advantages of game based learning? Well there seem to be a few key benefits which I have summarized below. As always it should not be taken that games are a ‘solution’ to all educational issues but that using them with pupils can help in the following areas.

  1. Problem solving skills and strategic thinking develop as a result of many games being structured about solving problems often under a time constraint
  2. Memorization skills develop as a result of many games requiring the pupil memorize facts and information to proceed or be successful
  3. Games can contribute towards Neural plasticity development as a result of complex multi-step processing that occurs during games.
  4. Attention, focus and motivation increase as rewards for pupils in games are often based on their step by step achievements. Feedback on performance is immediate which keeps the student engaged. No waiting for teacher.
  5. Computer literacy skills are developed. Playing and using games makes pupils more fluent and confident with technologies that they will use in later life.

As a teacher I have always tried to tune into what children that I teach are interested in. Gaming is something which most of my pupils now do at some point in the week. Embracing that is something I should do. In their article, “The benefits of playing Video Games” authors Isabela Granic, Adam Lobel, and Rutger C. M. E. Engels present a clear study into the topic arguing that there are social, emotional, cognitive and motivational benefits to the use of games. They do acknowledge that more needs to be studied but argue that games, “likely provide benefits similar to those provided by play more generally” (p. 76)

I have always believed that as educators we have to embrace new things and approaches Not blindly as ‘cure-alls’ but in the same way a company would product test and launch a new line. Try it small, evaluate the results, try again with more people, evaluate again. If it seems to work add it to the product line. Don’t get rid of all the other products. Game based learning is the same. Add it to the toolkit, don’t expect it to replace it.


Granic, I., Lobel, A., & Engels, R. C. (2014). The benefits of playing video games. American Psychologist, 69(1), 66-78.
Van Eck, R, (2006). Digital game based learning: It’s not just the Digital Natives who are restless. EDUCAUSE Review,  41(2), 16–30.




Relative Advantages of Instructional Software in the Classroom

Prior to the reading for this week (Roblyer, 2016) , I was aware that there were different types of software which I used in the classroom. I was vaguely aware that they could be used in different ways for different things, but I had not really thought about categorization. I hadn’t thought about the type of software and how it would impact my pupils. I tend to stumble across things and then think about how I can add them to my classroom environment.

From my reading, I have learned about the following 5 different categories of software. Drill and practice, Tutorials, Simulations, Instructional Games and Problem-Solving Software. In this post I will discuss a little about each one and include some examples for each that could be used with 5th grade pupils. The final part of the blog discusses the relative advantages of using instructional software.

Drill and Practice

Drill and Practice software provides students with opportunities to learn by working through examples, usually one after the other and then receiving some form of feedback on their performance. There are different types of activities such as Branching drills, Flash cards, Chart completion and more Extensive feedback activities.  Given that this type of software was some of the earliest to be used, there is extensive research that shows that these types of activity can facilitate the successful transfer of knowledge to long term memory for users. Criticism often comes from constructivists who argue that drill and practice is synonymous with ‘old fashioned’ and out of date teaching methods. The following pieces of software are examples that I could use and adapt for teaching Social Sciences to my 5th grade pupils.

Sheppard Software: This webpage has a range of different geography and history based drill and practice activities. is a flashcard based piece of online software.


Tutorial software is similar to how a teacher might teach, but virtually. It is usually designed to be completed alone rather than as a complement to other teaching. This type of software is either, branching or linear. A linear tutorial is as it sounds – a straight through piece of software which gives explanation, practice and feedback to the participant no matter the performance of the learner. A branching tutorial is more complex and will offer different ‘paths’ for different learners dependent on their performance. The software often includes drill and practice activities within the tutorial and so as long as the activities are well thought through so the same advantages apply. Difficulties lie in the effort and research required to produce an effective piece of tutorial software. Constructivists also argue that this type of software is simply an extension of direct instruction. This type of software is often limited at 5th grade level – often being designed for older students. I struggled to find an appropriate piece of software for use in Social Science with my class, so included a link to Khan Academy, a resource many of my pupils use for maths but which covers social sciences as well – albeit at a higher level that 5th grade.


Simulation software varies widely but essentially is a piece of software which is a computer model which mimics in some way a situation with the intention of teaching the user how the system actually functions. Rather than teach the user what to do, a range of choices are usually presented to the learner. Simulations which teach a learner, ‘about something’ are categorized as Physical or Iterative and those which teach, ‘how to’ are categorized as Procedural or Situational. This categorization is attributed to Alessi and Trollop (2001). There are a number of advantages to using simulations, but the most apparent to me is the ability to let children participate in learning situation which would otherwise be impossible. Criticisms of the models tend to focus on the danger of eliminating, ‘hands-on’ experience for students especially in science lab software which tends to be the most common. The Icivics resource is free and can be used for history or geography. This is a simulation I have used in the past which teaches pupils about flood defenses in the UK. Note it appears to no longer be supported but worked in Chrome.

Instructional Games

Instructional games are designed to add fun to educational experiences. They can focus of the learner having to acquire and apply knowledge but usually with some kind of rules and gameplay which might include competition. The engagement is one of the strong points as pupils seem to be engaged and drawn into the competition. I have created my own ‘game structure’ to use in maths lessons rewarding pupils with points, levels and awards and they love it. Simple tasks become much more motivated. While not a social science resource, I can not go past this site which we use in school a lot. The maths games are FUN and the pupils love the ability to compete amongst each other as well as against other schools.

Problem-Solving Software

This category of software is very popular and might be mistaken with simulation and instructional games. The difference is that this type of software is created to help students foster specific problem-solving skills rather than focus on one specific curriculum area – although many of the elementary specific titles do focus on math or literacy. Supporters claim that visualization is encouraged, that students are more motivated and that some software helps students to understand how their knowledge can be applied. Critics have claimed that there can be a lack of skills transfer and that there can be a lot of confusion of the actual skills being developed. The following link came from a suggestion in the reading this week and I am going to try it with my maths class this week. Again not for social studies but valuable for 5th grade.

The Relative Advantage

I have learned a lot this week, and have found a plethora of new resources which I will be using in class. More importantly, I have a better understanding of the types of software which I can use. The relative advantages of using such software are clear to me – with one caveat. The software has to be evaluated carefully by the teacher to make sure that it serves a purpose and is appropriate for purpose. If it does, then the advantages are very apparent. Students might well be more engaged and motivated, there exists the opportunity to have more pupils learning independently and in an individual manner. For large classes pupils can all be engaged and often work at a pace that suits them more appropriately. There exists evidence that drill and practice software can help learners commit to long term memory more easily. Often the impossible becomes possible with different simulations. There are balances to be aware of but it is obvious that the advantages that well designed and thoughtfully implemented software afford outweigh the disadvantages.


Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching. 7th Edition. Massachusetts: Pearson.

Alessi, S., & Trollip S. (2001) Multimedia for learning: Methods and development. Needham Heights, M.A. Allen and Bacon







EdTech 501: My final thoughts. . .

It is strange thinking about being done with this course, especially as I am just at the beginning of my journey at BSU. Like most people have already articulated, it seems to have come around quickly. I have always found it hard to leave things. I’m the guy that doesn’t like ‘goodbye’ just a ‘see you later,’ and so finishing something that has actually been incredibly important in my life has been strange and disconcerting.

I have not been at Grad school in a long time so studying again was daunting. I studied in Europe at the University of Edinburgh and so I worried about the differences and cultural challenges I might face. I have a full time job and a two and a half year old and wasn’t sure I would make it 2 weeks let alone a whole semester. I did know that I needed the challenge. When decided to do this course in March, I stepped down from my Leadership role in school. I went from Head of our Upper Elementary school to 5th grade teacher. I decided that teacher, administrator, father, husband and student were too much for me. Although it was incredibly difficult to walk away and perhaps even make a big career error, I can say that I am glad that I did and it was one of the best decisions of my life. Overly dramatic? Maybe, but life has a way of just helping you do the right thing.

The week before the courses started (I took 543 social media learning which I highly recommend as well) my wife and mother were both diagnosed with cancer. Devastating. I wasn’t sure that I should continue but I figured that I had to try. Maybe it was selfish – I’m not sure.

Studying has been my refuge. I have worked harder in the last 4 months than at any time since my first year as a teacher. It hasn’t been easy to juggle and fill all the roles I need to. I am constantly dissatisfied with my own performance but don’t beat myself up about it, just learn and move on. Education is important. Thats it, it’s important. It should be the most important thing. Always. Our house is quiet at nights everyone is in bed early and so I have studied and learned and found that I enjoy it more than I did when I was young. I am seeing life through the eyes of my students again and it has given me the energy to make sure that every day in my class I walk in with a big smile and remember how important my job is.

The challenges I faced were just getting things done. I managed. Often at the last minute and sometimes with some stress but that was really it. The learning activities and tasks were interesting, fair and thought provoking, so I was never bored.

I found that I just needed to adopt a routine and stick to it. I would study 2 days for each course at a time, in the evening when everyone was in bed . . . and drink espresso at midnight and get it done. On the weekend, Saturday was 543 and Sunday was 501. I told my wife to take no pity on me and that seemed to work too! She supported me 100% and has been my inspiration. What are a few late nights compared to what she is going through? Not a lot really.

The artifact which I am most happy with is my School Evaluation Summary because I have put heart and soul into my school in the last 7 years and I think this might really impact and make a difference to a place which I care about deeply. I took time to consult and ask others and wrote reflections which opened my eyes to many things, good and bad.

I am already using many of the things which I have learned in school. My 5th grade all have Glogster accounts now and my school evaluation will be shared with our school leadership team in the near future. I think about ethics much more and know that I will always struggle to cite a source properly and that OWL at Purdue is now a favorite in Safari.

I wrote in my reflection for 543 that I was, ‘all in’ and so I am. Education has been the single thing in my life which has been consistent. It has always been there and perhaps as I faced some curveballs this Fall, so it was again. Everyone needs something to be there when life gets tricky. For some it is religion, others family or music. For me it has been education and learning. I know this post is quite personal but I believe that in order to truly reflect you have to be honest and open and so I write what I feel. I really don’t think anyone reads anyway!

To all of you who I have learned from this term, thanks. I am sure you have your curveballs too and I hope that you hit a few home runs off yours. Keep swinging.

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”


Thanks for reading it this far. A

Final Reflection for EdTech 543

Wow, I can’t believe that I am finishing up this final post for the course. There are lots of things I have been thinking about and I hope that I can touch on a few of them here. Reflection to me is a very personal thing. Reflection is part of the path to understanding – something which I differentiate from knowledge or skills. If you acquire knowledge, develop and practice skills, add in time and genuine reflection, then maybe . . . just maybe you have understanding. That is how I see it anyway.

I need to set a little context before I can go into more detail. I have been teaching for 16 years, my parents are teachers, my sister is a teacher, my wife is a teacher. Education is an important part of my life. It is not and has never been just a job. I’m not trying to sound pious, it is just that this course has had a profound effect on the way that I think about things and for me to say that means a lot. Last year I went to hear Will Richardson talk and he was inspiring. He relit a fire that had been smoldering in me and to cut a long story short it resulted in me signing up to do my M.E.T.  I stepped down from my leadership role at school – going from Head of the Upper Elementary to class teacher so that I would have time to study, be a dad, be a husband and an effective teacher. I was daunted at first, I had not studied at this level since I completed my teaching qualification. Things are working out ok though.

Times are changing in education. Social media and the tools available today to educational professionals are beyond anything we could imagine 15 years ago. If we embrace them and use them then we really can change the status quo. What I have learned in this course is huge. I have new knowledge on a variety of topics, I have new skills in a wide range of online tools which are impacting my pupils as I use them in class. Glogster, Edmodo, Kidblog – all being used by my pupils now. Directly as a result of what I have learned on this course. But more importantly I think I have come to some real understanding on a few key things.

Social media is not going away. It might change form but humans are social creatures and the easier it is to connect the more we do it. Social media in education has the possibility to achieve very powerful things – it can bring people together and connect them. Maybe teachers, maybe pupils – those of different faiths, religions, ideologies, background and cultures can come together. Not easy but the only way change happens is if people worth together. This course has helped me to understand that I should not look to blame when things don’t work out for me but look for someone to help. E.M. Forster wrote about the theme of connecting in his book, ‘A Room with a View’. I read it in High School and it has stuck with me for 20 years -‘only connect.’

Connecting as a professional educator is easier, quicker and more manageable than it has ever been. I have learned about how to do it safely and effectively and have begun to know how to teach my pupils about it. I have enjoyed my course. It has been hard at times – real life goes on in the background, but I am proud of my efforts. I have blogged with my heart on my sleeve and tried to be critical of my performance and honest about my learning. I am not sure how much has been read by anyone else. . . but that almost doesn’t matter. There was a cathartic effect to writing and blogging. So what next?

I will keep blogging, tweeting, and finding webinars. I will strive to encourage my colleagues to do the same. I will connect with others and expand my PLN. I will continue to curate and share. If it was a poker game. . . I’m all in.

I have connected with some of the people on the course. I am confident Matt and I will be friends for a long time to come. We have learned together. Thanks to all of you who have shared, read and commented and I wish you all the best going forward. I have a lot of learning to do but this was a great start.

Grading myself on my blog performance: Hmmm not easy. Someone told me once that the definition of a good teacher was someone who was constantly dissatisfied with their own performance. It stuck. I have written and reflected to the best of my ability, listening to myself and others and being honest with my thoughts so  I would give myself 74.5. Not perfect but it rounds up to 75.

Thanks Andrew