Level up! Games, resilience & innovation

I have just returned from a five-day trip to Adelaide where I attended the Global Emerging Leaders Summit (GELS) and the Australian Council for Educational Leaders conference. The overall arching theme was “change” and “innovation”. One thing that really stuck out at me from both conferences was the need for resilience. Students need to be resilient in order to be innovative in a rapidly-changing world. To order to innovate, you need to be able to fail, fail multiple times, and get back up to reflect and improve. In one of the conference sessions, the principal from North Sydney Girls High School spoke about how her school was developing students’ resilience as a foundation for them to think outside the square.

But what about the teachers and their resilience? In GELS there was lots of talk about many teachers being skeptical about change; that they don’t want to prototype or try anything new when clearly what they are currently doing is not working or is contrary to research on best practice. While it is important to build students’ resilience, I think it is equally as important to build teachers’ resilience.  I think every teacher has had this experience – they come up with a brilliant lesson or activity to engage their students and improve their learning, but when they implement it, it just doesn’t go right. Sometimes it even fails dismally. I have had this many, many times. But I look back at the reasons why it failed, tweak the idea and try again. Many teachers do this, but  many teachers would simply give up and go back to their previous way. Some teachers not only give up but become increasingly cynical towards new ideas.

So how can we make teachers more resilient in order to lead to innovation? I think games based learning will have a role to play here, for students and teachers. No one is ever successful at a game the first time they play. And no one gives up on a game the first time they fail. (Yes people do rage quit, but that is usually after many attempts.). When you die in a game, you re-start and try again. Most of the time you work out what killed you the previous time so you won’t do that again and try something different. Most of the time you work out patterns in things like how the enemies come out at you so you devise more efficient ways of wiping them out. Imagine what our schools and classrooms would be like if all students and teachers did this? There is research that shows playing games can build resilience of improve “self-concept”. Susan Main and John O’Rourke showed that when students used hand-held console games to learn maths, their confidence in themselves increased and their achievements increased, signficantly more than the control group of students who did not use games. (This article is in the Australian Journal of Teacher Education, vol 36 (2), pp. 42-55)

So video games build your resilience, but it is unrealistic to expect a student or teacher to play a game and suddenly become resilient all other aspects of their lives. We need to look at elements of video games that build players’ resilience. I think there are three key elements.

Element 1 –  You have a guide

In games this is usually a fairy, a dog, some sort of partner like a fellow detective, or a third-person voice that speaks to you. This guide doesn’t know everything, but they are there to give you hints and suggestions when you feel stuck. And that’s why you try different things to pass a level. A good example of this is the fairy Navi in the Legend of Zelda series.

navi and link from legend of zelda

Element 2 – A supportive community

When the fairy in the game doesn’t give you anything useful and you’re still stuck, you jump on the internet to ask other gamers. The gaming community is a supportive network that would tell you what you’ve done wrong and give you suggestions to improve.

Element 3 – Setting you up for success

red mushroom power up  star power up

Games place strategic “power-ups” and objects to make sure you can be successful in your quest. Games do not set up for players to fail. Games make sure you can work out how to win. This can be placing extra “health packs” in a space just before you go fight a boss, or the game reminding you that perhaps it’s a good idea to visit the markets to stock up on health supplies before embarking on your next quest.  The Child and Youth Health website actually makes an analogy between video games and resilience, citing that you need “power-ups” to keep you going in life when you face obstacles.

Teachers and students need these three elements in gaming to be replicated in their real worlds. We all need a Navi to guide us. We all need a supportive community like an online professional learning network where we can share our expertise but also ask for guidance from others. We also need power-ups (resources, leadership, etc) to make sure we are set up to succeed.

So grab your Xbox, Playstation and Wii and play something as the first step. Imagine how innovative and engaging our classrooms can be …

4 thoughts on “Level up! Games, resilience & innovation

  1. Great post. I think what people absolutely miss about developing a model from game theory is that it requires an understanding of, and ability to create, nurture and support a culture that should be free to grow, rather than to be strategic. It’s the model that matters – the ability to see play as a fulcrum with instructional design balanced with game design. The latter is always owned by the players, the former provides concrete supports. GBL is therefore quite hard, as it requires some understanding of both things, which means thousands of hours of experience and analysis towards the conceptual model you have in mind. Personally, I believe you can use games and game-methods consistently to engage and motivate – and as such see little point in dividing players into age or gender. It isn’t about which game will help us teach x – it’s about seeing x as a potential game environment. In that way you’re not limited to think about any particular title or type of game. The issue for games, is when the model is successful, those who prefer strategy to culture have a vested interest in diminishing them. A successful model is fundamentally built on performance toward competency though experience – the exact opposite of how education likes to operate. To me this isn’t a theory, it’s alive if you know where to look. Debating people of whether they should look is pointless. Our Massively Minecraft project has parents, kids and teachers all learning together – no because of the game, but because we have a model whereby we can select inputs to get the right outputs. The same model would work in any game-world – even if that world didn’t mean a video-game. You are so right – if you don’t play you simply will never aquire the patterns and schemes to understand how games teach – and if you do, you soon realise their power. Playing to Level 60 in Warcraft can teach you more about community and how it learns that a life time of conferences and post-grad readings – and it’s way more fun.

  2. Pingback: Gaming and gamification

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