Sal McKeown taps into the power of creating games at the Education Show 
Putting gaming at the heart of teaching is the mission of a Finnish company called Seppo. Before moving into software development its chief executive, Riku Alkio, was a history teacher working with young people aged 16 to 19 in Helsinki where he discovered that young people would work harder and learn more when they were engaged in creating games.

I met Riku and his colleague Henrietta Lehtonen at the Education Show at Birmingham's NEC where they were presenting with Apple distinguished educator Lisa Whittaker from the Junior Boys' Division of Bolton School.

Seppo staff
Seppo's Riku Alkio and Henrietta Lehtonen at the Education Show

"Games mechanics may be beyond many teachers," says Riku, "but with the right tools, teachers can combine the material world and the virtual world so that pupils may be going out, making handwritten notes, taking pictures, posting their ideas and the teacher can provide instant feedback as he or she can see exactly what is going on from a central computer."

Lisa Whittaker is ICT coordinator at the Bolton Boys Junior School and feels that gaming taps into children's competitive streak. The children she works with like earning points for behaviour, for reading at home. They like trying to achieve and getting on to the next level, and as a result they are moving on, engaging in more demanding tasks and improving their skills.

Lisa and Riku both agree that gaming stretches students and that the classroom is the ideal place for gaming: "Losing face can be a big fear for young people,' says Riku. "But in every game you have to fail first in order to make progress. Good gamers are people who are not afraid to lose. You have test your limits to make progress and gaming is the ideal medium for this."

In Finland, as in the UK, educators are currently determined to make students more active because research shows that children who are engaged in physical activity do better at school. So teachers are looking for technology which can go outside the classroom and feed back into learning.

As a result, they have used Seppo in museums, art galleries and out in the open air. While the software incorporates multiple-choice questions and open-ended questions with text boxes, there are so many more creative answering methods such as audio, video and image-based activities which stretch students as researchers and presenters. 

Tasks might include treasure hunts or creating activities based on a floor plan of a museum or creating a video report on a piece of art. The learners might work together on project-based learning in a real environment using digital story techniques. The key terms are "co-creation", "mobile learning" and "real-time monitoring" by the teacher.

Seppo was shortlisted for the International Digital Education Resource Award at the BETT 2018 educational technology show, and it is now making headway in more than 30 regions including Hong Kong, India and Brazil and there are now versions in different languages including Swedish, Finnish, Arabic, Portuguese, English and Dutch.

I asked about the name of the company and learned that "Seppo Ilmarinen" is a famous blacksmith in Finnish mythology – the "Eternal Hammerer" who created the dome of the sky – and a good role model for young people who set out to forge new things. "Games change the classroom dynamic," says Riku. "It puts students in the driving seat. They are going out and finding the learning instead of having it given to them."

Sal McKeownSal McKeown is a freelance journalist covering disability, education and technology. She is currently writing The Family Guide to Dyslexia, a series of e-books published on Amazon.

Seppo student

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