Can video games be used at school? And if yes, why should we use them? I have heard these two questions many times. They address some aspects of video games that have been debated both inside and outside the field of game-based learning research: from the positive effect of video games on learning to the nature of what they can teach us.

But first let’s clarify one thing, in this post I am writing about COTS video games: Commercial Off The Shelves. In other words, games that have not been developed for educational purposes.

I have always considered video games as tools. Teachers can use them in specific lessons, in order to teach specific topics. But I also always thought of video games as a cumbersome tool. As they are not meant for a pedagogical use they require a lot of work to be adapted to the class context and they often cover only one small part of what you want to teach. In addition, the game has to be part of a well-thought pedagogic plan (as is the case with any medium used in the classroom). I always thought of this as an inconvenience, but I haven’t had time to dwell on these points so much as my research covers playfulness in general, but gamification more particularly.

With these reflections in mind, I traveled to rainy Bergen to attend Nordahl Grieg high school’s day conference. Nordahl Grieg is famous for its use of innovative, often collaborative and almost always digital, forms of learning and teaching. I was especially looking forward to hearing the spillpedagogene (game pedagogues) explain their approach to the use of video games at school. Contrarily to the perspective I took in my research, the game pedagogues, Tobias Staaby and Aleksander Husøy, are focusing exclusively on commercial video games. They highlight three main approaches to the use of games at school:

  • games as story telling
  • games as visualisation
  • games as excursion

In doing so they remind us that not only games are an interesting medium to investigate different themes, but they are in and for themselves a part of our culture. When teachers introduces a novel in their class, they are not expecting the novel to teach the students all there is to know about a theme on its own. On the contrary, teachers have to facilitate the students encounter with the book and to scaffold their learning all along the process. The same happens with games. As video games are a cultural medium, like novels or films, their require a certain amount of scaffolding and facilitation in order to bring forth the learning of the students.

Staaby and Husøy have developed a pendulum model to illustrate this process of going from the content in the game to the content of real life through the concepts of the subject.

Staaby/Husøy’s pendulum. (Reproduced with permission, translations added to the original)

They describe the dialogic process going on in the classroom, through discussion between peers and teachers, as the way to link the subject’s concepts and material to their expression in the game world and the real world.

In the following video (english subtitles available), you can see an example of this pendulum process. Tobias Staaby is interviewed by the Norwegian national tv news and explains his experience of using The Walking Dead in his ethics and religion class.

It was a great experience meeting them and hearing their point of view on using video games at school. I was gladly reminded that the main reason for using video games in our teaching, might be that they are a part of our culture and as such they should not be forgotten by schools.

For more information about the game pedagogues:


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