Playful Pedagogies: Cultural and Curricular Approaches to Game-Based Learning in the School Classroom

Playful Pedagogies: Cultural and Curricular Approaches to Game-Based Learning in the School Classroom

Ben Williamson (Futurelab, UK) and Richard Sandford (Futurelab, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-495-0.ch038


Game-based learning is proliferating in formal school classrooms, yet to date there is relatively little evidence to demonstrate its benefits. This chapter provides analysis from empirical studies of computer games use in authentic classroom settings. It explores game-based learning as the result of specific game-based pedagogies that are being developed and practised by increasing numbers of classroom teachers in UK schools. In particular, the chapter focuses on the ways in which practising classroom teachers discuss and describe game-based learning in relation to their curricular intentions and their less formal cultural assumptions about the relevance of gaming in learners’ new media ecologies outside of school. The chapter argues that teachers have developed a cultural discourse and a curricular discourse for articulating game-based learning. These two modes for understanding game-based learning are described, and data from two studies are discussed to indicate how these understandings translate into classroom activity.
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Project Background

Our data comes from two empirical studies of game-based teaching and learning in school classrooms in the UK. (Full project details can be located at

Teaching with Games

The first project, Teaching with Games, which was funded by Electronic Arts and took place in 2005-06, explored how teachers might develop classroom pedagogies to facilitate game-based learning. The project examined in practice recent claims about the role of commercially-developed games in supporting learning (e.g., Prensky, 2001; Gee, 2003). Specifically, the project aimed to:

  • Offer an overview of teachers’ and students’ use of computer games, and the attitude towards the use of such games in schools.

  • Identify institutional, curricular, technical and cultural factors impacting on the incorporation of computer games into existing school practices.

  • Describe the processes by which teachers plan and implement game-based learning in existing curricular contexts.

  • Classroom interventions were supported by national surveys of teachers’ and students’ attitudes to the use of commercial computer games for learning (for analysis see Ipsos-MORI, 2005).

In particular, the project resulted in the development of a range of specific pedagogical interventions based around the classroom uses of the games The Sims 2, Knights of Honor, and Rollercoaster Tycoon 3. It included interventions within specific curricular areas—such as physics—as well as in cross-curricular, competences-based or thematic teaching approaches.

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