Teaching With Immersive Gaming – principles and practice
Teachers have always offered rewards for achievement, such as “points”. The usual wisdom is that a student with a correct answer should receive a point. But research shows little relationship between the value of the reward and learning achieved. In contrast, scientists have found a strong relationship between how the brain responds to the reward and the likelihood of learning.
So understanding more about how the brain responds to reward may help us promote learning more effectively. For example, “uncertain” reward generates a greater brain response that predictable reward, and that helps explain our love of games.It is important, however, that the uncertainty is due to chance – rather than a lack of academic confidence. Indeed, lab experiments with adults show that including a chance-based gaming element transforms the emotional response to learning. To learn more about learning games and the brain, download the CPD training slides about The Brain, Reward and Learning
When teaching with immersive gaming (or twigging), students’ learning earns them the chance to win points in order to make the learning more fun and more memorable. Twigging is about the teacher hosting a game that involves the whole-class, with delivery of learning content alternating with gaming rounds that apply and test the learning. In a typical gaming round, students answer a multiple choice question (MCQ) but, before responding, they must also decide whether they will game the points if they get the answer correct. Then, gamers with the correct response find out if they’re lucky: have they doubled their points or lost them? As the stakes rise, the lesson becomes an emotional roller coaster in which the winner is always impossible to predict. Related brain imaging research shows that, in competitive games, our reward system is most sensitive to our own success and our competitors’ failure. So the fluctuating fortunes of others in a competitive learning game can also help engage learners and promote learning.
The G2A Project has demonstrated how whole topics stretching over several lessons can be delivered entirely through gaming, with good learning gains and very positive student feedback. It has also helped emphasised the principles of good teaching practice in this area:
- Questions must be carefully designed: Multiple choice questions (MCQ’s) are often the most convenient type for a learning game. But using MCQ’s doesn’t restrict games to just learning about facts. MCQ’s can assess all levels of knowledge, but their design can require some thought. For more information about designing good questions, download the CPD training slides about designing resources.
- Lessons involving games should retain most conventional features of good teaching: Focusing on helping students acquire new knowledge and understanding is what makes a learning game more than just a quiz. So, as in the example on YouTube, scaffolding students understanding (e.g. through reminding them of principles, warning them of common misconceptions, reframing questions and talking around concepts, etc.) remains an important part of the teaching process.
- Knowledge of the brain and reward should be used to create and exploit “teachable moments”: For example, in twigging, there are some moments before a correct answer is revealed when anticipation is mounting. This anticipation is heightened because the rewards are uncertain, i.e. some of those who answer correctly will be doubling or losing their points according to chance. The science suggests that the brain’s reward system activity is ramping up during this period and learners are likely to be highly engaged and attentive. So a teacher can exploit these moments by briefly reviewing each incorrect option and explaining why it is incorrect before revealing the correct answer.