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Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Archive for the 'Games' Category

Games and Learning

By Samantha Ahern, on 23 March 2020


Image by Eric Perlin from Pixabay

I recently attended an Educational Technology Masterclass organised by the Moorfields Education Hub about Graduate Skills and Game-Based Learning presented by Dr Matthew Barr from the University of Glasgow.

During the session Dr Barr spoke about research he had undertaken on the use of commercial video games to develop graduate skills, in particular:

  • communication,
  • adapatability
  • and resourcefulness.

In order for the students to persist with the games, the games selected needed to meet the following criteria:

  1. provide a variable feedback system,
  2. enables less experiences students to get something out of the game whilst they develop skills,
  3. and failure needs to have a cost, even though games give us a safe place to fail.

For the study, the students taking part participated in 14hours of total game play across 8 different games. The game playing took place in a specially equipped room. The games used in the study were specifically chosen and played in ways designed to require effective communication, adaptability and resourcefulness.

More information is available in the following papers:

The game play enabled students to develop both tacit and articulated knowledge, but also facilitaed the act of becoming re: graduate attributes.

This session had me thinking about my own practice. I have always used games (usually boardgames or puzzles, sometimes online games) or playful / experiential learning experiences when introducing or explaining concepts. I have also had the opportunity to test a breakout box experience designed by colleagues for their students. The premise of a breakout box experience is that there are a number of locked boxes that you need to unlock. To do this the students need to use what they have been learning to help untangle the clues that will help them unlock the boxes. This is designed to encourage teamwork and critical thinking.

Why should we use games and ‘play’ in higher education?

There are three dimensions of learning: knowing, making and playing.  Play can be defined as trial and error with no fear of failure, we do not neccesarily know what is going to happen, the outcome, but that is of little interest. It is the process of playing that is important, not the result as it may be unexpected or  something thst cannot easily be measured but is learning that affects your personal development. We can tap into this with games.

Gee (2014) talks about the “Game/Affinity Paradigm” (GAP), what is required for this is a well-designed and well mentored problem-solving space. This can be provided by games. An example of this is the game ‘Portal’ and the online community built around the game.  The game itself is not about learning Physics, however players need to develop and apply an understanding of the physics of the game to solve a number of problems and be successful in the game. A tacit, embodied understanding, but neccesarily and articulated knowledge of physics. However, the tacit embodied understanding can give situated meaning to articulated knowledge, developing / enhancing understanding Games as a media are affective, providing a much richer interaction with the content and ideas presented in the game(s) compared to other media, allowing the player(s) explore and discover things about themselves and the world around them. This can be a very powerful learning tool, opening up richer reflection and critical analysis opportunities. This illustrated in the examples below of games-based learning.

Applications of Game-Based Learning

During the talk Dr Barr also provided a number of examples of where video games were being used as part of regular teaching, with many more discussed in Chapter 6 of his recent book Graduate Skills and Game-Based Learning. These included:

  • Kurt Squire’s use of ‘Civilization III’ as the basis for a module on world history. Students developed conceptual understandings of history, geography and world politics, but also questioned the interpretation of these in both the game and their own understanding.
  • Sherry Jones’ use of the mobile game ‘Fallout Shelter’ to teach moral philosophy at Colorado Technical University. In particular ideas around egoism and surveillance.
  • Steve Connelly’s use of ‘Cities: Skylines’ in the teaching of sustainable development at the University of Sheffield. In addition to using the game to model considerations such as the economics and the environment, students were encouraged to critically reflect on assumptions made by the game and what was missing e.g. social concerns re: sustainable development.
  • Tom Boylston’s use of ‘The Long Day of Young Peng’ to elicit empathy amongst Social Anthropology students at the University of Edinburgh. Students became more confident in their understanding of the course material and associated reading as a result of interacting with the text-based game.


Barr, M. (2019). Graduate skills and game-based learning : Using video games for employability in higher education / Matthew Barr. (Digital education and learning).

Etchells, P. (2019). Lost in a Good Game: Why we play video games and what they can do for us. London, UK: Icon Books.

Gee, J 2014, Games, passion, and “higher” education. in Postsecondary Play: The Role of Games and Social Media in Higher Education. Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 171-189.

Koster, R. (2005). A theory of fun for game design / by Raph Koster. Scottsdale, AZ: Paraglyph Press.

Squire, K. D. (2004). Replaying history: Learning world history through playing “Civilization III” (Order No. 3152836). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (305195950). Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.libproxy.ucl.ac.uk/docview/305195950?accountid=14511

Thomas, Brown, & Brown, John Seely. (2011). A new culture of learning : Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change / Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown. United States]: [CreateSpace].

THE Journal article: Breakout! Gaming to Learn

Wired article: Meet Fallout’s philosophers who are obsessed with the game’s intense political feuds

Now and next from E-Learning Environments Summer 2015

By Domi C Sinclair, on 15 July 2015

The second edition of our new monthly vlog series, where we bring you all the most important news from UCL E-Learning Environments. This video focuses on the what ELE are doing over the summer period, as well as some future plans.

Useful link:

Moodle Snapshot: https://moodle-snapshot.ucl.ac.uk/

ELE Blog: https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/digital-education/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ucl_ele

Game SIG: https://moodle.ucl.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=21489§ion=3

Digital Literacy at UCL

By Moira Wright, on 24 June 2015

In my notes for this blog are the headings which include student networking, UCL digifest, partnership working, UCL Teaching and Learning Portal, Westminster Briefing and UCL QAA HER, UCL ChangeMakers and Lego. This list is a somewhat typical of the diverse aspects to my newly created role as Digital Literacy Officer at UCL (I think under 2 years still counts as new?). A lot of ground to cover in this post so will try to be economic with my words (for those that know me – no easy thing).

Firstly some highlights from the London Digital Student Meet-up (LDSM).

Early in June a group of 50 students and staff from different institutions in the London area met for a morning at UCL to discuss digital literacy and student engagement projects. LDSM was co-organised by LSE and UCL and aimed to provide a platform for student networking it was open to all students. To ensure a high ratio of students the invite stipulated staff were welcome as long as they were accompanied by students.

London Digital Student Meetup, June 2015

The event had come about from attending the Jisc CAN conference in April with 3 UCL students. They had participated as panel members and given elevator pitches on the UCL digifest – which they had all worked on as volunteers. Hold the date for UCL digifest 2016 – February 24-26th

Feedback from the UCL students had been that meeting other students and hearing about their projects had been one of the main benefits in participating. That, and a conversation during the conference with Dr Jane Secker, Copyright and Digital Literacy Advisor from London School of Economics about the limited number of opportunities for students to network convinced us both that an open informal student networking event would pique interest.

London Digital Student Meetup, June 2015The morning was very informal with a lot of time in the agenda for discussion and networking and a world café table topics and Lego*. From the anecdotal evidence I heard at this event it is clear that student digital literacy projects are proving to be increasingly impactful and insightful for those involved.

Jane introduced the event with reference to the Jisc six capabilities model. The model is being updated and modified from the seven capability model. The new model (awaiting release) includes wellbeing.

Peter Chatterton was next up for a talk and group discussion about the Jisc Change Agent Network . There were also updates about the pilot for the SEDA Institutional Change Leader award – which is just about to complete its first iteration this summer – the news is that there are plans are to run it again in the new academic year.

Helen Beetham then introduced a draft of the new Jisc Benchmarking the student digital experience tool which was made available to participants for consultation. The tool has been designed to provide institutions with a benchmarking framework to help improve the student digital experience – awaiting release – but once complete the tool will then be rolled out to universities via the NUS ‘student voice’ network. The work is part of the Jisc Digital Student project and once launched will really help universities to assess institution provision against existing evidence of student expectations.

By the end of the morning several things had become apparent to me. And they are, digital literacy must be embedded as a cultural approach in organisations, and is a life-long learning need, that giving ownership to students in this debate is mission critical and joined-up. The other thing was how universal the love of Lego is and how useful a tool it is for engagement*. We have future venues offers from two participants and plans to take them up.

Work has started on the new Digital Literacy pages for the UCL Teaching and Learning Portal. An exciting first project for the Digital Literacy stream of UCL ChangeMaker projects with students developing content for the student pages. The excellent UCL ChangeMakers programme is making this possible and has just completed its successful pilot year with an impressive list of projects – summaries of UCL ChangeMakers projects are available by following this link . I am really looking forward to working on more digital literacy student projects in the new academic year.

The Westminster Briefing I attended with Fiona Strawbridge last week in St James was full of useful information for the upcoming QAA Higher Education Review of UCL with the theme Digital Literacy that UCL has self-selected. UCL will present a snapshot of digital literacy at UCL for the review so I was really looking forward to hearing what Gemma Long, Review Manager from QAA had to say. Firstly we heard that the two themes chosen (employability and digital literacy) were chosen as they are ‘areas that are particularly worthy of further analysis or enhancement’ no surprise for anyone – particularly those who had read the House of Lords Select Committee report on Digital Skills which was released in February. QAA seems realistic in where they think universities are in developing digital literacy for their students but the emphasis has to be on staff developing the capabilities and confidence in their own digital skills sufficient to meet the student needs and expectations.

John Craig, Senior Director Education and Research, HEA talked about the idea of an information society where information expands and becomes more accessible with digitization accelerating this trend and a society that could become victim to Information Obesity “a failure to turn information into knowledge…..as physical obesity is not simply too much food, so information obesity is caused by more than just information overload” (Andrew Whitworth).

Katherine Ready was next – she is Digital and Information Manager from the Open University shared the really excellent open resource Being Digital – a collection of short activities designed by the Open University Library Information Literacy group for developing digital and information literacy. You can choose developed Pathways where learning is on a particular theme so you can work your way through a topic and gain a deeper understanding.

Charlie Inskip from UCL Department of Information Studies then discussed some of the findings from research funded by SCONUL as part of a wider project, Research Information Literacy and Digital Scholarship funded by Research Information Network (RIN). The findings highlighted the importance of teaching, research and technical skills in developing resources and a need for library and information staff to continually develop their digital literacy skills. He concluded that ownership of digital literacies should be shared across and amongst institutions and services and is not the purview of one stakeholder and the ever changing and flexible landscape of digital literacy and an awareness of the continuously changing context is required to successfully meet the current challenge.


Footnote on Lego

*I had been inspired by a presentation I had seen recently which had introduced me to the concept of ‘Serious Lego Play’ . (Alison James at the CRA conference in Plymouth)

Also noted on 11th June that the University of Cambridge announced plans to establish a (link to) “LEGO professorship of play in education, development and learning” alongside a research centre, with £4 million of donations from the LEGO Foundation – news must have got out!


Games, gamification and games-based learning SIG

By Domi C Sinclair, on 18 June 2015

Do you have an interest in games, gamification and games-based learning?

If so we would be really interested in hearing from you, we are looking to put together a special interest group at UCL around these areas. The aim of the SIG will be to encourage interaction and discussion on these topics and others, ranging from research on games and play to their implementation within teaching practice (plus hopefully have a bit of fun along the way).

Please join via our Moodle page if you are interested in taking part along and we will arrange an initial meeting of the group soon.