Benjamin Franklin famously said "Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn" and it's this idea that people learn more when they're fully engaged which drives much of the development of serious games, or interactive educational software.
A variety of these games already exists, offering immersive experiences that help learners to develop practical skills such as welding or hairdressing. Or to gain insight into strategic tasks like transport planning or urban development. They aren't intended to replace traditional teaching methods but they add new and richer layers. They adapt learning to the ways that many people – especially young ones – now experience life and interact with their friends and colleagues.
Jisc is persuaded by the evidence that suggests that innovative us of digital technological can improve teaching and boost performance. With support from the Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) Jisc did some research with FE colleges, including a number of specialist colleges. We found that some were already experimenting with interactive educational software, variously buying them from developers, using free resources found online or creating their own basic games. This take-up was quite limited, though, with cost being cited as a major reason. No surprise there - any college hoping to go down this route will have to budget not just for the software but also for the provision of appropriate devices.
We decided to see if we could help by developing a practical business model for the sector to enable interested colleges to subscribe more cost-effectively to commercially-created interactive software and games. A pilot project during 2013 included products from five commercial suppliers but resulted in only very limited commitment from colleges to embed these resources in their teaching in the near future.
That might suggest that there's little interest in the concept from FE colleges, but follow-up work reveals that the reverse is true. As many as 92 per cent of the colleges we spoke to want to extend the pilot. Having taken free trials, they can see a time approaching when they will want to exploit the technology.
Students react enthusiastically to the use of serious games to support their learning, and the majority have the digital skills to take to them from day one. Any resistance usually comes from teaching or managerial staff and not only because of cost. Some still see games as a pursuit that's strictly for leisure. Others recognise the value but feel that there's no-one on the teaching staff with the time or the expertise to explore and evaluate the products on offer.
But gaming software, both for leisure and for teaching and learning, are going to continue to develop and gain mainstream acceptance. The feedback from the pilot has been sufficiently positive for us to extend it for 12 more months. We're interested to hear what people feel about interactive games and how they could be used within colleges.
Ben Taplin is licensing manager at Jisc Collections