Term 1 2022
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Playful learning in the library
Education Consultant Sarah Pavey explores how gamification can be used to create a playful learning environment in school libraries.
Just before our imposed months of isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I received a call from Facet Publishing, who are part of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) – the representative body for the library profession in the UK. They say every cloud has a silver lining and in no small way the lockdown offered me a chance to write a book about playful learning specifically for school librarians, unhindered by the distractions of other work and leisure engagements. The result was my book Playing games in the school library: Developing game-based lessons and using gamification concepts.
Having experience of working both with UK school librarians and others from the international community, I am very aware of how the curricula and the role of the school librarian can vary. My idea was to write a book covering many different contexts so it would be of global practical use. I set out to collect case studies from around the world to help frame my chapters and was delighted that over 15 nations responded to my call.
The research resulted in new friendships from librarians working in primary and secondary schools as well as in special education. It was amazing and I am indebted to everyone who told me about their playful approaches to learning from the simple but innovative ‘Toy Night in the Library’ from Lithuania to virtual scavenger hunts for library induction using the Seppo App in Germany.
It is vital to get the balance right and to focus on learning outcomes. My book explores many types of game but also shows how librarians have adapted games in practice to fit with the constraints in delivery.
Why games work … and why they sometimes don’t
There are plenty of ‘how to’ manuals about game play but I wanted to delve into the psychology and relate it to known pedagogical approaches. Why do some games have appeal, being fun to play while delivering learning outcomes that would be hard to achieve in traditional teaching? Why do some games motivate students to learn so effectively? What are the magic ingredients in design?
I wanted this theoretical knowledge to relate to practice and to understand why games sometimes need to be used with care or perhaps not at all for some students. To guide the reader through this maze I introduced eight students, all with the character traits and abilities we might find amongst our own library classes.
For example, we meet Josie who is disengaged with school and finds that no lessons have any relevance to her lifestyle. Her motivation needs to come from within. Games linked with information, media or digital literacy concepts – or quiz-style games where the results determine life choices and pathways – might work well with a student like Josie. They would enable her to understand the relevance of skills beyond the school environment.
Choosing the right game for the right moment
Taking a game-based learning or gamification approach does involve a degree of boldness and risk. It is much easier to offer didactic teaching of information literacy or a passive reading lesson but is this engaging for us as librarians and for our students? Some may argue that introducing games requires financial outlay and impinges on our precious time, but this is not necessarily true. In my book I explore games that just use oracy or perhaps pen and paper, or if we want to get more technical, the latest apps and phenomenal IT gadgetry. There is something for everyone, however long you want to spend on design and play and however much money you have spare.
It is vital to get the balance right and to focus on learning outcomes. My book explores many types of game but also shows how librarians have adapted games in practice to fit with the constraints in delivery. Would you know how to plan a lesson on internet safety without access to any computers when given a five-minute warning the class was on its way to the library? One librarian from England faced such a challenge.
The students had a last-minute lesson scheduled on internet safety to be led by the librarian. Unfortunately, the internet in the school was not working. A game had to be devised to teach students the importance of keeping their personal information private. There were 25 students in the class. Each student was given a piece of paper with a list of personal characteristics – 25 in total – of the same fictitious person. Each piece of paper only had one part of the total information filled in – such as the person’s first name or their age or their password. The class then had to question each other in pairs and swap information by whispering. The first person to get all 25 pieces of information shouted out ‘SCAMMER’. There was then a discussion about how long the process took and why some pieces of personal information may be more important to keep safe than others.
Have you ever become so absorbed in a game that time seems to fly past and it is almost as if you are living in an alternative universe?
Incentives, motivation and achieving a 'state of flow'
Have you ever become so absorbed in a game that time seems to fly past and it is almost as if you are living in an alternative universe? Understanding information and assimilating knowledge seems simple. This is known as a ‘state of flow’ (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) and perhaps is what we strive for our students to experience. The motivation becomes intrinsic and fosters a love of learning for learning’s sake. But this is sometimes not achievable and certainly not for the whole class. So then we start to look at incentives.
The difference between game-based learning (learning through play) and gamification is one of rewards. When we offer points and prizes, we are using gamification techniques to motivate our students. However, there is a dichotomy. Cerasoli, Nicklin and Ford (2014) point out:
- Incentives enhance a performance
- Intrinsic motivation boosts attainment
- Incentives reduce intrinsic motivation
So, there is a delicate balance between rewards being effective or actually reducing engagement. This is why Josie, for example, might struggle with a points-based reading scheme.
Games for learning and for promoting our libraries to our communities
With our wonderful librarian creativity, the door is wide open for designing learning tools for students, working with subject teachers and working on promotional campaigns. In our roles we often have more autonomy to experiment, and I believe we need to take advantage of this opportunity. Even when launching my book, I considered how I could invite international contributors and still provide something playful, fun and informative and accessible. By holding a virtual launch party on Kumospace, I wanted to give attendees ideas for designing their own library online, incorporating games and an exploratory experience – perhaps as part of a school training day for staff and students. You too can participate still, the door is open, but be aware that unless you take a friend you will be talking to yourself!
To use Kumospace, please register through the platform, then you can choose a room and explore. Please be aware that this resource works best when using Google Chrome as your web browser.
Game-based learning and gamification methods can be quick, cheap, enhance engagement in boring topics, make complex subjects easy to understand, allow for graceful failure in a safe environment and be designed for all ages and abilities of student. Go forth, create and play!
Cerasoli, C. P., Nicklin, J. M. and Ford, M. T. (2014). Intrinsic motivation and extrinsic incentives jointly predict performance: A 40-year meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 140(4), 980–1008. doi.org/10.1037/a0035661.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. Harper Perennial.
Pavey, S. (2021). Playing games in the school library: Developing game-based lessons and using gamification concepts. London, United Kingdom: Facet Publishing.
Sarah has written an online training course on game-based learning. It is available from the School Library Association (UK) and can be completed in your own time. It gives practical experience of concepts in the book. Details are available on the SLA website.
Contact the author directly via email [email protected]
You can find Sarah’s book Playing games in the school library: Developing game-based lessons and using gamification concepts, for purchase here: www.bookdepository.com/Playing-Games-School- Library-Sarah-Pavey/9781783305339