Games-based learning must tailor cost to austere times, education experts warned

Approach still ‘untried’ in terms of effective teaching


Irish and UK experts in games-based learning will be told that it’s not “ethical to spend vast amounts of money on what is effectively an untried and untested way of teaching and learning” at a conference beginning in DIT today.

Dr Nicola Whitton argues that ambitions to bring “commercial level” games into classrooms should be curbed, with “cheap and effective” games the best options for schools during the “age of austerity”.

While calling herself a “massive advocate” for using computer games in the classroom, Dr Whitton, from Manchester Metropolitan University, says: “There’s a lot of rhetoric in games-based learning where games have to be these high-end, commercial quality games. We don’t need to spend lots of money to have an effective platform for learning.”

Dr Whitton, keynote speaker at the two-day Irish Symposium on Games-Based Learning, which is now in its third year, says research in this area is still “patchy”, with most studies being “small scale” and often looking solely at whether children “like games-based learning rather than whether they learn from it”.

“If you took a group of university students and used ‘pints-based learning’, they’d probably love it but wouldn’t learn much from it,” she says. “What students like is different to learning.”

The event is intended to provide a forum for teachers, lecturers, students and researchers to discuss the effectiveness of using games, or gaming elements (also known as “gamification”), within all levels of education.

The use of games in the classroom has been championed in Ireland by researchers at Waterford Institute of Technology in particular. The Department of Education- backed website,, encourages the use of games to teach English, maths, science, geography and other subjects.

Dr Pauline Rooney from DIT, who is chairing the event, says: “Culturally, I think there is still an issue with the idea of games in education”.

Some educators at second and third level in particular, she says, see them as “inappropriate” within the classroom, lab or lecture hall.

Dr Rooney adds that students embedded in rote learning systems, such as the current Leaving Cert (“where it’s all about regurgitating information”), will often “prefer to be fed knowledge” rather than taking part in interactive learning activities such as games.

Other topics up for discussion during the event include the use of gesture-based devices to teach mathematics, games-based learning in early childhood and using virtual worlds in the classroom.