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Gaming at school

How well children learn depends to a large extent on good teachers and effective learning materials. Wilfried Admiraal investigates such issues as gaming as a modern learning tool. He concludes that this tool has little to offer less talented students.

Technological tools and learning

Wilfried Admiraal, Professor in Education and Child Studies, investigates among other things how technology can help students and children learn better. He has devoted a number of research studies to the didactic effect of gaming for secondary school students. For example, the mobile game ‘Frequency 1550’, which sends school students with smartphones into Amsterdam. While walking through the mediaeval centre, students learn about the city’s history. Admiraal compared the effect of such games with that of ‘regular’ lessons, where the same material is offered in a classroom by a teacher.

He concludes that as a teaching method, gaming is a mixed blessing. ‘The didactic effect of gaming is greater for well performing pupils,’ he explains.

'This is due to the game element and the competitive element. But for less high-performing students – and it is precisely this group that would most benefit from new learning methods – no such advantage was observed. These students benefit more from conventional teaching methods, with a teacher who offers them structure. The ‘free’ structure of a computer game gives them too little grip.’ The same conclusion can be drawn for other technological tools, such as computer games to practise maths sums.

Not all students benefit from learning via gaming. Source: Waag Society 2007

Letting teachers to learn from teachers

With his research Admiraal also wants to support teachers in secondary education to be as effective as possible. He is currently investigating the problems surrounding the concept of the Professional Learning Community (PLC), a hot topic in the education sector. This concept presupposes that teachers working at the same school can learn a lot from each other’s knowledge and experience. ‘This not only improves the quality of teaching, it also makes for better professionals,’ says Admiraal. He is also the director of ICLON – the Leiden University centre for didactic research and teacher training – which guides schools in creating PLCs and helping them function.

Many schools struggle with how to create and maintain PLCs, as is apparent from the research of PhD student Loes de Jong and Admiraal’s own research, conducted in collaboration with the Kohnstamm Institute. The structure of schools and the of education limits the opportunities for teachers to join forces. ‘Teachers simply have too few hours to make this possible. Most of their time is spent teaching and there is too little time left to meet with colleagues or to sit in on each other’s lessons. That’s a pity, since this kind of peer review is an essential component of a PLC. And even when teachers do manage to make a first appointment, the initiative usually petres out within six months as a result of time pressure.’

A second obstacle to forming PLCs is that teachers often have little faith in sharing knowledge with colleagues. ‘Many teachers feel the need for knowledge from outside. It’s all between the ears. At ICLON we’re often asked to give a lecture on a specific topic or for one of our experts to come by. If we tell people: you are a group and you are experts for one another, after a while things it still doesn’t go well.’ Admiraal thinks the solution may lie in the academies now increasingly being formed by schools, where teachers teach their own colleagues in order to improve each other’s professional skills. ‘If schools keep it up, they may come to understand how much in-house knowledge they already have.’

Leiden University Graduate School of Teaching (ICLON)


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