The outstanding student presentations to the computer games "Dragons' Den" at the Scottish Learning Festival in 2009 constituted a rich, instant demonstration of the value of games for learning. And the presence of three of the key people associated with that event, Derek Robertson, Ollie Bray and Ewan McIntosh, at Games Based Learning 2010 on March 29-30 to share their insights, will go some way to also making this event, held at The Brewery, London, unmissable.
They are part of a strong education line-up that also includes Stephen Heppell, Dawn Hallybone, Tim Rylands and Alice Taylor, one of the people responsible for Channel 4's innovative use of gaming in its cross-platform commissioning for education.
As with all Learning Without Frontiers events, there will of course be industry speakers, to encourage relationships between education and business. The industry keynote this year is US-based Seamus Blackley (Creative Artists Agency), a key player in setting up the Xbox platform for Microsoft, and there will be inputs from medicine and the armed forces too. And there will also be the currently obligatory shadow minister, in this case for culture and the creative industries, Ed Vaizey MP, to give a virtual taste of Conservative alternatives (and to play VoteForMe 1.z). But the real treats at these events are invariably provided by those closest to the learners, those who can give feedback on successful classroom practice, like the Scottish contingent, Dawn Hallybone and Rim Rylands.
That's because many more teachers and schools are recognising the value of exploiting the digital technologies enjoyed by young people, be they a smartphone, iPod Touch, Nintendo DS or Wii, or Sony PSP. Now you can visit schools from Scotland to east London and see gaming technology used in appropriate contexts ranging from the everyday to the innovative and exciting. Many of them are also already checking out how students' own devices can hontribute to making schools ICT more sustainable in the future.
Very high levels of interest and support
How widespread the changes are is open to debate but teacher networking and collaborations on services like Twitter is at an all-time high, and events like TeachMeet have helped to spread demonstrations of innovative practice with digital technologies. The Games Based Learning event is only in its second year, but it is attracting very high levels of interest and support (around 400 delegates registered already). And its partner event, Handheld Learning 2010 has alread sold 250 Super Early Bird tickets (which include free Apple iPads http://bit.ly/hhl10) in just nine days. The next Early Bird tranche of tickets is now available (again with free iPads) and at the current rate of sales this October event could be sold out by May.
There will also be two teacher-organised "unconferences" – Teachmeet_Game_on_edition and the second part of a "Computer games, learning and the curriculum: uneasy bedfellows?" MirandaMod – on the Monday evening. While the structure of the events will vary, both will feature contributions from participants and both have been attracting effecting online participation.
Events organiser Graham Brown-Martin (left) is buoyed by the trends: "We've been featuring the pioneers of game based learning at our conferences since 2006 and have since seen nothing less than an explosion of exciting initiatives emerging all over the country, delivering compelling evidence of improved learning outcomes as a consequence of using video game and social media technology within robust teaching practice. What has defined this movement in schools is its independence.
"There have been no government schemes, no funding, nordirectives, yet this has been a grass-roots, practitioner-based movement that has fired the imagination of teachers and students alike. In this short time the Game Based Learning Conference has become the de facto place for decision makers, education and industry leaders to meet, engage and move forward. For anyone who has any doubt about the relevance to learning of the technology that learners take for granted everyday this is one conference not to be missed."
Games Based Learning 2010
Handheld Learning 2010
"Why it's Game On for 21st century schools", Derek Robertson's advice for school leaders on the National College's Future website
The Innovators – Dawn Hallybone