doug — off the record

just a place to share some thoughts

Why Gaming Isn’t Going to Catch On Bigtime Anytime Soon…

…even though it really should.

At the EdCamp at Waterloo on Saturday, I attended a conversation on Gaming in Education.  At one point, we went around the room and talked about applications that have been used in the classroom.  The list included:

  • Halo
  • Minecraft
  • Pioneer Land
  • First person shooter games
  • Scratch / Alice
  • Smurf Village
  • Find the Animals / Talking / Pocket Pond
  • Crisis
  • Call of Duty
  • Words / Scramble / Hanging with Friends
  • Draw Something
  • Angry Birds
  • Must
  • Webkins
  • Lego Mindstorms
  • Civilisations

Each offering had at least one fan and described how it was used by them.  But, the discussion came around to the issues that those interested in gaming should be aware of.  And, there were suggestions offered.

  • Getting the software installed on school computers – if it’s not installed, run the software from a CD / DVD;
  • Getting access to a website that’s blocked – tether one’s cell phone and use the data from there;
  • Nervousness about using it in class – don’t, instead start an after school gaming club;
  • Concern about other teachers’ or administrator’s impressions – let them know in advance that gaming is happening and that there will be noise and enthusiasm;
  • The appropriate use of instructional time – use the activity for group collaboration; procedural writing; problem solving.

All of the issues are real and legitimate and the creative solutions proposed do get around the problem.

BUT, and this is a big but, all of the issues are significant blocks that indicate that the system is not ready for and not prepared to support the activity.  I mean, if using Minecraft and being part of the Minecraft community is worthwhile in the classroom, it should be easily accessible.  Kudos to the creative that find ways around the blocks but

  • if it’s educationally worthwhile, why should they have to do it?
  • the creative may find a way, but will all teachers?
  • what message is being sent to students about the value of the activity when it’s not as easily accessible as their favourite word processor?

There needs to be a momentous change in attitude if this is to become legitimate.  Recently in my university course, I wasn’t there when the topic of Scratch and Alice was discussed.  However, I did have to read the reflection wikis and read comments like “I’m not sure that programming should be taught in school – not every student is going to be a programmer.”  As you can imagine, I did have to take this issue on and share my opinion.  If you extend that logic, not everyone is going to be a mathematician so why do we teach everyone mathematics?  Not everyone is going to be a historian, why do we teach everyone history?  My point, which I hope I made well, was that perhaps not everyone will be a programmer but certainly everyone needs to know the computational thinking behind setting up a cell phone or programming a furnace or connecting a home computer to the internet or even just estimating the price of a purchase or the size of a tip to be left.  I encouraged them to read Douglas Rushkoff’s “Program or Be Programmed“.

It was early in my career that the lights came on for me to the value of gaming.  My context was as a computer science teacher and it only took one programming assignment about creating a payroll to realize how uninspirational such a topic could be.  We quickly branched into writing our own games after looking at some commercial products.  Consequently, the projects became richer and more complex and students were concerned about interface design, checking all conditions, trapping errors, and all that good computer science stuff.  One only needs to download a few projects from the Scratch repository to see how sophisticated the products can be.  I love showing off this project written by students at Leamington District Secondary School.

And, yet, we still have educational systems that:

  • need convincing that blogging can be part of a literacy program;
  • need to embrace the fact that there’s more to life than standardized testing results;
  • don’t embrace bringing personal computing devices to the classroom;
  • block internet content because “we know what’s good for you”;
  • associate effective computer integration only with creating word processing or presentation files;
  • fill in your own blocker here.

For every teacher using gaming effectively, there will be hundreds that haven’t ventured into that realm for any of a myriad of reasons.  Some are attitudinal; some are institutional; some are philosophical; some are …

I hate writing this type of post but I do feel that it’s reality.  Please let me know below how far off the mark I am.  I just got the very distinct feeling sitting in that session that I was in a room of outliers.  A great group of trouble shooting, successful in their own right educators, but destined to be outliers for some time to come.


10 responses to “Why Gaming Isn’t Going to Catch On Bigtime Anytime Soon…”

  1. Doug, I love this post, and you’ve definitely given me a lot to think about. I’m torn on this issue: I’m actually on the cusp of using and not using gaming in the classroom. My problem is that I want expectations to come first, and I need to make sure that this happens with gaming. How do teachers ensure that it does? How do they assess/evaluate that the students are learning what you want them to learn from these games? I continue to contemplate these issues. I’d love to hear what others have to say about this!



  2. Doug, you have a point about the school networks not being ready for games in the classroom. But the same could be said of social media only a few years ago. When I was a student teacher, four years ago, I tried to use tools like voicethread and blogger with my students. My board’s IT Dept were not so enthusiastic and getting it set up was an exercise in workaround frustration. Today, those very sites are linked to from the board’s website and frequently cited in PD sessions around “engaging learners”.

    Acceptance/adoption of video games in learning will be much faster than the last cycle of adoption (ie social media tools, before that comics/graphic novels). It always is. I think discussions around games at the 2013 conferences will be much different.


  3. Doug

    You are absolutely right, unfortunately, I wish I could disagree with you. But in a world of ‘high stakes’ testing and instruction rather than education and engagement, we will not win.


  4. Aviva,
    I really wish that LCSI had come through with the license for MicroWorlds Junior as I had tried to get you last year. I think that you would have fallen in love with it, as I did, when using it with my grade 1s. It was in the first 10 minutes of using it, when Eric hid his turtle on the screen to have a classmate try to find it, that I realized the dynamic had changed. My students were in charge of programming the computer – a whole different dimension that making a blog post or comment, or creating a basic presentation with simple tools. This was different. This was not a trivial use of computers which quite frankly, we see a lot of today, don’t we? As they created video games, there were bugs to work out, directions to record and communicate to a gaming audience and designs to create. The planning surpassed the primary curriculum and went higher…as our work with technology often does!


  5. Doug,
    There is a difference between playing games in school, which is basically what you are describing in your post, and gamification. When I first heard of the use of games in education, I thought it was, as you’ve described, playing a variety of games with an “educational” focus. Gamification is a whole different ball game.

    I would encourage you to take a look at the links I’m providing and consider doing a post on gamification.

    Gamification versus Game Based Learning –
    Gamification of Education –
    The Gamification of Education (Infographic) –

    Finally a link to pdf document from Glenn Booker (who as at EdcampWR) and has posted this publicaly, about gamification in computer science:

    If I wasn’t in the final year(s) of my teaching career, I would be working on the gamification of my courses.


  6. […] before I came to school, I read and commented on this blog post by Doug Peterson (@dougpete) on Why Gaming Isn’t Going To Catch On Bigtime Anytime Soon. Gaming is something that I really struggle with in the classroom, as I want classroom activities […]


  7. I agree with you. You brought up some BIG road blocks to gaming in the classroom. I especially identify with the practical system issues around actually having access to games that have potential to lead to great learning opportunities. It can (and has been) a struggle. I am thankful that the Admin I have had in my last 2 schools have supported me in varying ways. Having an admin voice behind your plans does help lower (not eliminate) some of the huddles that need to be jumped over.


  8. Peter posted some links about Education Gamification, including a link to a little summary I wrote and posted to the Education Gamification group on Edmodo. It has definitely been interesting trying to add some game mechanics to my course. For the most part students have responded favorably and have been excited to level up, earn badges, etc.
    Here are a few more links to explore, on gamification, games & learning, etc…

    And a graphic that Peter actually posted to the Ed. Gam. group


  9. Doug: don’t let the dinosaurs get you down. Learning Technology Support Services in Peel is a board-level group with mandate that in theory matches its name. In practice until very recently it was a worst case example of 90’s style IT department non-customer-service, and it stymied the efforts of many creative teachers in Peel who were attempting to use tech in useful, interesting, valuable ways in their classes.

    No more. The board commissioned an external consultant to review the work of LTSS and take feedback from teachers and other stakeholders in the Peel board. The results were damning. Now there is wholesale change afoot, with more coming. See for one example. Something like that would have been anathema to the old LTSS.

    In short, don’t take the system laying down. Creative teachers are the lifeblood of an educational system, and they DO know best. As Margaret Mead wrote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”


  10. […] in education is a topic that many educators are exploring, but is it even possible in the education climate that requires so many levels of approval? There needs to be a momentous […]


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