Game-based learning: "an additional motivational factor for students"

In the 41st episode of the podcast, we spoke to Hugo Barbosa, a PhD student at the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Porto, who is developing his thesis in the field of game-based learning. And that's the topic that brings us here today: game-based learning.

Game-based learning: "an additional motivational factor for students"
Fígura de ondas técnologicas azul

In the 41st episode of the podcast, we spoke to Hugo Barbosa, a PhD student at the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Porto, who is developing his thesis in the field of game-based learning. And that's the topic that brings us here today: game-based learning. 

With a long professional career in education, Hugo has taught at different levels of education and in this episode he tells us how serious games can contribute as a complement to teaching and as a motivation for students' performance at school. Watch the full conversation:

«It can be a complement to the vocational training system»

When you hear about serious games, or game-based learning, it sounds like an oxymoron, because it's two words you wouldn't think of putting together: serious games. But just because they're serious doesn't mean players can't have fun. After all, what does this concept consist of?

Game-based learning is an interactive application based on games. However, they have an educational aspect, an informative, more educational aspect, and not so much a playful game. So there's a factor of imparting knowledge or a skill. [...] A playful game can be considered a serious game if it fulfils certain requirements, certain considerations, one of which is the transmission of some skill, some knowledge.

Not everyone is in favour of the term "games", because when you play it's usually something unproductive, but the concept of serious games does not contradict this and perhaps even conveys the concept well. Hugo Barbosa agrees, adding that they can be used as a complement to the traditional teaching system:  

Yes, it can even be a complement to the traditional education system. The idea of the term game is always associated with those big, mass-market games played on the computer, and sometimes even with a certain addiction. But here the term "serious game" would be just that, a complement to something that is pedagogical, educational and informative.

And at all levels of education:

They can be used at all levels of education, from pre-school to higher education. Of course, they have to be adapted to the different levels of education. In other words, to the profile of the student. At the moment, there are already university funds, there are already colleges that are implementing them in their curricula, as well as in secondary education, more in the technological areas, they are already starting to use them. It's an additional motivating factor for students.

«By using this particular game, they were learning and didn't even realise they were doing it»

When applied to different levels of education, what benefits can games bring to learning? Hugo Barbosa mentions motivation, feedback, assessment and memory.

One of the main advantages is the motivation of the player, in this case the student. Typically the student, but not only. Why motivation? Because we're talking about the use of technology, something in which there is constant interaction, with the aim of reaching new levels, which is also one of the characteristics of a serious game, which is to have different levels of complexity, of challenges. In other words, progress. Feedback, so there's constant feedback. The question of the score itself. Other games also have scores, that's typical of a game, but the score can be seen as a reward, or is intended to be seen as a reward in this case, and not with the aim of beating the competition. […] Serious games, for example, can work in two main areas, the cognitive part or the physical part, and in the cognitive part they can typically facilitate memory.

And speaking of scores, can a serious game encourage competition between colleagues? Hugo Barbosa says yes, in an educational sense.

Yes. It depends on your classroom practice. For example, it can be seen as competition between colleagues in the classroom, but in a pedagogical sense. For example, the organisation of homework.

In its early days, serious games were created as part of simulation training, for example in the health sector, the military and even flight simulators. But more recently it has spread to the education system, which already has several options. But Hugo believes that learning strategies need to change.

Recently, however, we've come a long way and the education system has many options, some older, some newer, some more tried and tested, some less so. But all with good experience and good results. I'd like to stress that it's always a complement. [...] . It's a complement, but we have to change the strategies, the learning methods. They have to be adapted and adapted to each classroom and each teacher, because in the faculties they are also starting to train and talk a lot about serious games.

As a teacher, Hugo Barbosa has also used serious games in the classroom. As a concrete example, he used games in secondary education, in a study with students from 10th to 12th grade, where the aim was for the students to learn programming.

At the secondary school level, there was a very interesting study with students from year 10 to 12 that focused on ocean literacy, but also on programming. So they were learning to code. By using this particular game, they were learning and they didn't even realise they were doing it.  [The game they used was] Minecraft, the educational version. It's many years old, but it's still being adapted. They were learning, they didn't realise it, and then when they were asked questions, they didn't know. But, mind you, when you put it into the game and explained it to them, they understood it. You could see that it was easier to acquire knowledge.


«There is an emerging market»

Designing these games requires a combination of pedagogy, design art and technology. In this way, both the teacher needs to have some idea of technology and the industry that produces them, for example, needs to be very well advised in the area of pedagogy. At this level, Hugo Barbosa points out that there are already some faculties that have created serious games in their curricular units.  

Nowadays, and even in Portugal, the market is starting to develop a lot. In other words, we have many companies that already create games, games in general, but we also have more educational games, serious games. And then we also have a new paradigm, which is that many of the colleges are already creating serious games in their curricular units. So we have faculties here that not only have a technological side, but also a design side and often a pedagogical side to the game. But there is also beginning to be a combination of interests, which is important, between the commercial market - the companies - and the faculties, which also have technological knowledge, but also pedagogical knowledge. 

Serious games are an emerging market because, Hugo believes, schools are increasingly looking to motivate students.

20, 30 years ago it was a completely different paradigm to today. Now we can see that there is an emerging market. So schools increasingly want to motivate students, they want to engage students, because certainly in a classroom context with more motivated students, knowledge comes much easier. So these serious games techniques and technologies are starting to be used.

Even though it's a game, it doesn't have to be at odds with education, says Hugo. But their use deserves supervision. And he explains why.

And again, we just have to remember: we're talking about technology, games, play, which seems to be at odds with learning, with education. It doesn't have to be. But we have to be aware that if we play in a guided way, in other words with supervision, with a context, with the aim of always learning and with the educational aspect always present, then we don't get into this problem of addiction.

When it comes to serious games, there are two sides to the coin: those in favour of using them in education and those against. However, according to Hugo, there is a consensus: «serious games bring motivation and results».

Watch the full episode on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes or Google Podcasts.


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