Bid to get students to play around in class

August 3, 2001

Games and case studies must play a growing role in university teaching to counteract the trend towards computer-based learning, according to a teaching expert.

Speaking at the recent conference of the Society for the Advancement of Games and Simulations in Education and Training at the University of Leeds, Henry Ellington said it was essential to give students more opportunities for role play and experiential learning.

"Much of the content is being delivered by computer now, so it is important to balance that experience with students actually interacting with each other. Where games and simulations really come into their own is in developing higher-level cognitive skills such as evaluation and decision-making," said Professor Ellington, who retired last month as head of the Centre for Learning and Assessment at Aberdeen's Robert Gordon University.

He said pressure of student numbers had led to the gradual disuse of games in teaching. But, he believed academics could use graduate students and senior undergraduates as facilitators for games and case studies, and internet-based games could involve international distance-learners.

Conference organiser Maggie Boyle said active learning was becoming more widely used, particularly now that the issue of student employability was high on the government's agenda.

She said that games were important as they integrated keyskills with academic learning. Students enjoyed decision-making to a tight timescale where they had to engage their brains, argue and listen to other views.

"Some lecturers are probably a bit nervous expanding their toolkit of teaching techniques, as games give students more power to learn for themselves... but the buzz you get from running games is fantastic," said Ms Boyle, manager of Leeds University's Context Project, set up in 1997 to promote the use of simulations and case material in higher education.

Pauline Kneale, a Leeds geography lecturer, told delegates how she ran an entire masters module for hydrology students as a game, based on a case study designed to raise awareness of the applicability of the degree in the workplace. Students role-played employees, and were expected to work to company standards.


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