Eurídice Cabañes
  Gamestar(t) - An ARSGAMES project
 

GAMESTAR(T)- An ARSGAMES Project

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María Rubio Méndez

ARSGAMES, Spain

Eurídice Cabañes Martínez

ARSGAMES, Spain

 

Abstract

 

Nowadays there is a distinct tendency to integrate technologies into the classroom, but in practice the introduction of the ICT in education is not producing the expected effects. We are confronted with the second digital divide, which consists in the dissociation of the students from the technologies introduced in the educational sphere that do not match their actual technological environment. GAMESTAR(T) has been developed in this context as an ARSGAMESi project which, taking into account the potentialities of video games for education and socialization, proposes a series of weekly meetings that include assembly meetings for decision making about the Club's rules, activities and materials, thematic courses related to specific domains of knowledge and the Club's sessions, in which children play assisted by monitors in an atmosphere of critical and collective reflection. In the following, it will be examined how the club developed, which methodology was used, what problems were encountered and the solutions that were found.

 

INTRODUCTION

Some of the measures most firmly adopted in view of the need of a digital literacy have been the introduction of digital technologies into the classroom (computers, digital interactive whiteboards, projectors, etc.), and the increasing pressure put on the teaching community to use them; an usage that must be included in the didactic planning of the different subjects, as well as among the objectives of the annual center planning of each educational center. In the main text of the current Spanish educational legislation, the Ley Orgánica de Educación (hereafter LOE), competency in the ICT usage is included as a part of the curriculum in different educational stages. These measures seem to demonstrate that the educational advantages of technology have been internalized by educational agents, especially in a technologically mediated society like ours.

 

Although it is evident that the introduction of the ICT can have a positive effect on education, the way it is being carried out practically is, in most cases, insufficient and even counterproductive. As pointed out by David Buckingham (Buckingham, 2008), we are confronted with a second digital divide which consists in a dissociation of the students from the technologies introduced in the educational sphere so far, for these technologies differ greatly from those they are familiar with and do not match their actual technological environment. Outside of the educational environment, students generally have extensive access to different resources: they use technology for communicating through social networks, chats, text messages, etc. They play video games, surf through the Internet searching information of their interest, they download and edit multimedia contents, etc. Compared to the amount of resources available outside of the classroom, the technologies used in educational contexts lack all interest for the students, insofar as they are regarded as alien to them, boring and tedious, as well as limited.

ARSGAMES acknowledges the benefits of the technologically mediated education and understands the importance of bridging the second digital divide by making the educational technology, as well as the contents, more attractive to the students.

Although ARSGAMES has always aimed its activity concerning the “serious” research on video games at an adult audience, for a certain while it had been considered to create a link to a younger audience so that it would be able to stimulate a critical and creative spirit among children and teenagers, and try to use video games experimentally in different areas of the educational field. This aspiration could materialize thanks to the financial aid “Ayuda a la Creación” of Intermediae Matadero, Madrid, which made possible the GAMESTAR(T) project.

Now it will be presented what ARSGAMES is and what the GAMESTAR(T) project consist in:

ARSGAMES is a Cultural Association composed of professionals, artists, researchers, students, etc. that work on video game research in all of its facets (educational, cultural, economic, artistic, etc.). ARSGAMES organizes events and develops projects related to the world of video games, such as OpenArsgames, PlayLab or Gamestart. Even if its range of activities is quite wide, ARSGAMES is specially focused on education with the GAMESTAR(T) project.

GAMESTAR(T) is a project that explores the possibilities of video games as a resource for education, socialization and entertainment. Its three main lines of action are:

GAMESTAR(T) Club. A video game club that meets weekly at Intermediae, whose aim is to define how to configure a new, collective space for video gaming that encourages associationism and self-management among its members.

GAMESTAR(T) Gameteca. The “library” containing board games, video games and other resources, located in the Cúpula de Estación Futuro at Intermediae.

GAMESTAR(T) School. Out-of-school workshops focused on learning with video games which deal with diverse topics such as history, gender questions, health, or how to create video games.

 

At the outset of the club its objectives were:

  1. Familiarize the participants with the video games language so as they can think critically about themselves, develop their analytical capacities, and provide them with tools that allow them to modify or even create their own video games.

  2. Create and stimulate team activities around video games.

  3. Keep alive the critical spirit towards video games that had been generated by the OpenArsgamesii held at Intermediae-Matadero (Madrid), and extend the activities to a younger audience.

These objectives were evolving along the year; they were extended and simultaneously became more complex. From a pedagogical point of view, certain needs were detected that had not been envisaged in the initial project and that refer to aspects connected to the second digital divide and the critical digital literacy, to the personal development and the educational and affective needs of the students, as well as to formal to aspects pertaining to the management and coordination of the project. Dividing them into three main groups, the extension of the objectives can be specified as follows:

  • Second digital divide and critical digital literacy.

    • Offer workshops and activities whose technological tools are designed to be in accordance with those used by the students in their leisure time.

    • Promote “critical gaming” including reflection on the video games used (content, structure, implicit values, etc.) as a key feature of the activities and workshops of the club.

  • Personal development, educational, and affective needs of the students.

    • Involve actively the students in their own learning process fostering a feeling of belonging to the club in a way that is consistent with the pedagogical principle of “active learning”.

    • Design sessions structured so as to incorporate the student's needs, interests, and motivations following the pedagogical principle of “meaningful learning”, which consists in showing the relationship of the knowledge to be learned in the club with the students’ previous knowledge, as well as its relevance for real life.

    • Attend to students’ specific needs, interests, and capacities in order to adapt the activities to them applying the pedagogical principle of “attention to diversity”.

  • Coordination and management of the project.

 

    • Establish sound information channels and means of dialogue between the different instances that facilitate the coordination, monitoring, and adaptation of the project.

Throughout this chapter the principles that guide the GAMESTAR(T) project will be examined in detail, taking into account the pedagogical foundations it is based on, the methodology applied, and the issues it raised along its development. The authors hope this experience is enriching and inspiring for those people interested in pedagogical innovation through the use of technologies in the classroom, especially through video games.

The concept of usability used in this chapter transcends the analysis of the understandability, learnability, operability, and attractiveness of certain software, i.e. the usability of certain video games, and focuses on a specific context of use (an educational context where practice is guided by libertarian pedagogy) in which any video game renders possible to achieve the targeted general and the specific educational objectives. In the case of GAMESTAR(T), the usability of certain video game is determined not so much by its intrinsic characteristics (software design, interface intuitiveness, gameplay or avatar characterization) as by the way it will be integrated in a set of activities. Assembly organization, fostering of critical thinking, and cooperative gaming are the fundamental elements to which any video game should be adapted: from a simple shooter designed specifically to deal with health issues (such as Immune Attack) to commercial fighting games with a complex gameplay (like Tekken 5), the selected video games can equally meet the requirements imposed by GAMESTAR(T) objectives successfully. Following this guiding principle, in this chapter it will be offered a guide with general criteria that should be taken into account when selecting video games that would be used in an educational context similar to that of GAMESTAR(T). These criteria are more closely connected with pedagogical-methodological aspects of video game implementation than with specific software design features.

The next section “Background”, will examine the current state of the introduction of technologies into the Spanish educational context (paying special attention to video games), the methodological principles that are at the root of the adopted pedagogical model, and the educational advantages that video games can entail for that model. In the section “GAMESTAR(T) experience” detailed information about the GAMESTAR(T) experience is offered, specifying the problems encountered, the solutions found, and the results obtained through the implementation of the methodology. The main aim of the chapter is to present the GAMESTAR(T) experience and to offer a guide that could eventually be useful for those who are interested in introducing similar pedagogical models in other educational contexts. Such a guide is available in the section “Guidelines to selection and introduction of video games in educational environments”. Finally, the section “Conclusion and future research lines” contains a critical assessment of the GAMESTAR(T) experience and a sketch of the principles that, according to the authors, should guide the research on the utilization of video games in education.

 

Background

From the second half of the 20th century, the pedagogical principles and practices have evolved considerably making education revolve around the personal development of the students rather than the acquisition knowledge. This new pedagogical model has its roots in an old conception of the human being that had been buried into oblivion in Spain's educational system during Franco's dictatorship: the concept of the human being as an integral being, whose multiple dimensions (moral, social, cultural, etc.) must be equally developed without detriment to any of them.

According to Silvio Gallo (Gallo, 1997), the philosophical-pedagogical tradition incorporates basically two different ways of understanding the human being: the essentialist and the existentialist conceptions. The former conceives the human being as predefined by an essence that determines its being externally. This conception appears in pedagogical theories which, like that of Plato, understand education as the development of that essence in a process that brings it to its most perfect state: the state that best resembles the idea that forms it. The latter conception, however, considers that there is no human essence: the human being is realized or constructed through action, and there is no model to approach to; this model is realized throughout life at the same time as one's own identity. Human beings are open, modifiable, and their only limit is the infinite horizon of their possibilities. The GAMESTAR(T) project completely adheres to this latter conception.

Traditional pedagogy rests upon an essentialist conception of human beings. Nevertheless, the new trends in pedagogy take the existentialism as the starting point, being Rousseau in his Emile the forerunner of this stream of thought. It must be noted that “existentialism”, in this context, does not refer to a strict sartrean or heideggerian existentialism, but it should be taken in a broader sense as the conception of human being as a formless being that has to develop itself in its multiple and diverse dimensions, from the cognitive to the moral aspect. The principles of the LOE, such as the promotion of an integral education based on knowledge, skills and values, support this conception. Thinkers and pedagogues like Francisco Ferrer y Guardia (2009) or Silvio Gallo (1997) identify this view of human beings as a complex, ever changing reality at the basis of the new pedagogy: “The human being is understood as the product of a multiplicity of facets that articulate harmoniously and, for this reason, education must be concerned with all these facets: intellectual, physical, moral, etc.” (Gallo, 1997, p. 9). These human facets are closely related and deeply conditioned by the social, cultural and political context. In a society like ours, the technological or digital dimension should be included and, as shown above, the LOE does so.

The specific characteristics of our technological society make an existentialist pedagogical model, which situates students at the core of their own learning process, especially appropriate. This pedagogical model has been defended by different schools of progressive pedagogical thought (Rousseau, 1974; Giner de los Ríos, 1988; Ferrer y Guardia, 2009; Freinet, 1970, 1982). For all these schools, the teacher role should be restricted to that of a mediator of the students' learning process and it is connected to the principle of pedagogical self-management, according to which the students are the main agents of their learning process in that they choose what and how they want to learn. Although all these tendencies share a concept of the teaching function, they support different views on how it should be put into practice that depend on their supporting an authoritarian or anti-authoritarian conception of education. In any case, the general, common objective is the individualization of education focused on students rather than on knowledge.

The use of technologies may prove highly beneficial for this pedagogical model, since it allows a direct access to a wide range of knowledge and resources via the Internet. The teacher role would be that of a critical guide that encourages the students' capacities for information analysis, contrasting and selection, as well as the ability to detect wrong, biased, or deceiving information, etc.

GAMESTAR(T) methodology incorporates the contributions of these pedagogical schools and models; something that will be better explained in the section devoted to the analysis of the GAMESTAR(T) experience. This pedagogical project derives both from the existentialist pedagogical models and from the new theories on education and technology that demand the introduction of the ICT into the classroom, especially from those that have demonstrated the educational potentialities and advantages of video games, opposite to traditional education systems. All this will be examined in detail below.

 

Educational potentialities of video games

 

Since the end of the 20th century, research studies on the educational potentialities of video games have proliferated. There seems to be general consensus that video games are useful tools in order to develop certain skills and cognitive capacities. Along general lines, and following a study carried out by the Department of Psychology of the University of California (Greenfield & Cocking, 1996), it can be consistently argued that video games help develop the next dimensions of human beings:

 

  • Spatial perception and recognition.

  • Development of the visual recognition and the dividing of the visual attention.

  • Inductive logic development.

  • Cognitive development of scientific-technical aspects.

  • Development of complex skills.

  • Spatial representation.

  • Inductive discovery.

  • Development of iconic codes.

  • Gender construction.

The Research Group on Video games of the University of Málaga (Spain), led by M. A. Aguilera and A. Méndiz (2004), has conducted a detailed study on the interrelationships between video games and education. Their study reviews the bibliography available about this topic and it draws conclusions in favor of the introduction of video games into the classroom as elements that help develop the next procedural abilities:

Reading: some video games can be used advantageously to stimulate the reading of books related to them (reading as a procedural value) (Grupo F9, 2000).

Logical thinking: find out the way to escape a situation or enter it, work out how to solve a problem, design a strategy, organize and plan elements with a view to certain objectives, etc. (Ball, 1978; Estallo, 1994 and 1995; Grupo F9, 2000; Le Diberdier, 1998).

Observation: the most exercised skill due to the amount of elements displayed on the screen and to the need to discriminate them visually and spatially (Lowery & Knirk, 1982-83; Estallo, 1995).

Spatiality, geography: development of cartography, and spatial representations: maps, plans, etc. (G. Ball, 1978; Lowery y Knirk, 1982-83; Gagnon, 1985).

Vocabulary: video games can be used to learn unknown words which are easily decoded in the context of the game (Ball, 1978).

Basic knowledge: video games allow the children to acquire basic skills and abilities necessary for their daily experience and development (Griffith et. al., 1983; Estallo, 1995; Bartolomé, 1998; 1998; Gros, 2000; Grupo F9, 2000; Le Diberdier, 1998).

Orthography: spelling and writing correctly the most common words or those that are being learned. (Grupo F9, 2000).

Problem solving: an ever present element in video games that demands from the player a capacity to cope with or escape from difficult situations; this is particularly important in strategy video games (Silvern,1985-86; Estallo, 1995; Bartolomé, 1998; Gros, 2000; Grupo F9, 2000; Mandinacht, 1987).

Strategy planning: an important mental activity demanded by video games, especially the most difficult ones (Long & Long, 1984; Silvern, 1985-86; Estallo, 1995; Bartolomé, 1998; Gros, 2000; Calvo, 2000; Esther-Gabriel, 1994).

 

The cognitive value of video games is decreasingly questioned or disputed among experts, as it is attested by the numerous studies on this issue quoted in the work of the researchers of the University of Málaga.

Nowadays, the educational plans and strategies are beginning to show a greater interest in this medium owing to its promising potentialities. Video games not only can help us develop abilities and skills, or acquire specific knowledge, as we have shown above, but they also bring about significant improvements to the learning process since their specific characteristics stimulate motivation, concentration, creativity, etc. Video games can also facilitate the integration of groups at risk of exclusion. These topics will be examined in the next subsections.

  • Immersion

Immersion is an advantageous element of the educational practice that uses video games as a learning tool. This concept can be easily explained: immersion is a psychological phenomenon which consists in a profound diminishing or a loss of a subject’s awareness of the real, surrounding physical environment to the extent that the virtual environment of the video game is “believed” to be real instead. This is equivalent to taking a leap from the everyday life into a virtual world by means of a loss of self-awareness that leads subjects to a more intense experience that fully engrosses them: it constitutes a leap to another space where one inhabits fiction. The game acquires significance when one immerses oneself in it. If such an immersion is possible with conventional games, the level of immersion that could be attained through video games is undoubtedly much higher.

Thanks to the new technological advances, “video games allow the staging of a fantasy digital scenario, being the immersion experience one of its greatest appeals. The surrounding world is put aside and we enter a dimension in which time perception changes. It is a timeless world, so to speak. The surrounding space disappears and another time modality replaces conventional time. The video game on the screen operates some kind of dissolution of the subject in the machine, accompanied by the corresponding timelessness that characterizes these fusion situations.” (Balaguer, 2005).

In which sense can the phenomenon of immersion imply an advantage for education? Paying attention to traditional lectures as well as the realization of monotonous, boring tasks is complicated and may lead to diminished students’ level of attention, something that can have negative consequences for learning. However, the unattractiveness of a lesson is not the only factor that contributes to lack of attention. Environmental and psychological factors have also an influence on attention processes. One of the acutest problems that can be detected in traditional education is the students' lack of motivation and attention. Therefore, a fundamental objective in education is the search for a way to motivate students and to attract their attention so that they concentrate and remain concentrated. The immersion generated by video games mitigates the negative effects of a pressing environment and facilitates the students’ deep concentration on the learning process. If the phenomenon of immersion can be induced through video games, then the students' attention will be focused precisely on that we try to teach them. It may be very difficult to concentrate on a single task for a long period of time, since there are always multiple stimuli that divert our attention, but one can instead play a video game for many hours without the attention level being diminished, because all capacities are solicited by the audiovisual environment. Using video games for educational purposes stimulates attention and concentration, which leads to improved learning.

  • Experimentation without consequences

Video games constitute a sphere for experimentation without consequences. As an advantage, this brings along the possibility of a stimulation of the students' creativity that encourages them to risk doing things they would never dare to in real situations. Students may get motivated to try to overcome situations or answer to questions just because of the challenge they represent; thus, they familiarize with the cognitive context or framework they are working in; they learn through trial-and-error method; they experiment adopting different perspectives about a single case or phenomenon (provided that the video game allows to repeat or try again) that can offer them a global vision and help develop the so called lateral thinking.

Therefore, it can be argued that video games are a suitable tool for an education that stimulates creativity and involves students and teachers directly in the learning process, promoting active and meaningful learning.

  • Integration

Owing to their ludic and interactive elements, video games have become a very powerful tool that influences our conception of reality and the way we form our opinions. According to Juan Alberto Estallo (Estallo, 1995, p. 117), “[video games] are tools through which children understand the cultural medium that surrounds them. Video games represent faithfully the social symbolism and the cultural constructions of our context, what should allow us to control their contents as well as their possibilities as value transmitter. Terry Toles affirms that gaming and entertainment activities configure a subtle expression of the ways a culture perceives reality.”

Those potentialities should be seriously taken into consideration: although the current mainstream commercial video games show a clear tendency to sexism and help perpetuate the stereotypes of masculinity as action and femininity as passiveness and submission, a reappropriation of video games may be useful for the elimination of these and other prejudices, and can transform them into a tool for values education.

Contra viento y marea is a good example that deserves closer examination. In this video game, the player has to assume the role of a person (women and men of different ethnic groups can be selected) who must flee from her country in order to preserve her life due to war or political repression. From the flight to the construction of a new life in the host country, players have to face interrogations, painful decisions, the arrival in a foreign country whose language they do not know, the search for accommodation, the prejudices and discrimination of the people, etc. This video game, created by UNHCR (The United Nations Refugee Agency), allows us to go through the experience of being an immigrant, and to understand why people must flee their home country as well as the tough conditions they are subjected to as a consequence. It is, in fact, a great tool to eliminate the dominant pejorative conceptions about immigrants.

This example is sufficient to show how video games that deal with appropriate subject matters can facilitate the integration of marginalized groups. But the educational potentialities of video games do not end here; video games can be an integration tool in themselves and regardless of their content. Their ludic and interactive elements, together with their social component, promote associationism and group dynamics. As it will be examined below, GAMESTAR(T) offered an opportunity to confirm that video games can go beyond the social, economic, and gender conditions creating social bounds among children of different origins in a shared gaming context. In this sense, the usability of a video game cannot be measured through parameters such as the interface or the gameplay. Given their special characteristics, video games can be integrated in educational practice following other usability criteria that come directly from the educational context and the methodology. In order to promote integration, video games should be used taking into account certain usability parameters:

 

  • Students’ socio-cultural and personal context. Students’ socio-cultural context determines to a great extent their interests and their relationship to video games. From an educational point of view, the usability of certain video game should be assessed on basis of the students’ gaming skills in order to select video games that fit them, be it the case of students that have not previously played video games, or students with learning difficulties or functional diversity. The specific characteristics of each student should also be taken into consideration ―following the principle of attention to diversity― to select the most appropriate video games; those characteristics can be identified through interviews with the student, family and social workers. There are video games specifically designed for people with functional diversity, however, it is inadvisable that only the students with functional diversity play this kind of games if an actual integration is to be achieved. Besides, commercial video games that are not specifically designed for people with functional diversity or learning difficulties can be adapted and used so that all students play collaboratively. On the other hand, their socio-cultural level can affect significantly the students’ abilities, since the opportunity to play at home depends on the family’s economic situation. GAMESTAR(T) incorporates a strategy aimed at promoting domestic usage of video games: loan of video games from the gameteca, arrangements with video game shops to offer discounts for the club’s members and information about free online video games. Finally, the socio-cultural situation has a strong influence on the preferred types of video games. Some video games may be shocking for people from certain social groups. Thus, usability should be also assessed with reference to the video game plot, characters and actions or tasks to be carried out. Teachers should take this into account and, whenever possible, introduce video games designed and developed in different cultures to show the existing diversity of video games beyond the most publicized and popular commercial ones.

 

  • Students’ ludic, aesthetic and genre preferences. It is important that the selection of the video games that are going to be used in a concrete educational context matches the students’ interests. Thus, it is possible to contribute to the bridging of the second digital divide, which makes students lose interest in the topics the educational practice deals with. Teachers should try to identify the students’ preferences through direct observation, interviews or questionnaires. In GAMESTAR(T), the assembly organization and free gaming help teachers detect these preferences so that more attractive and successful activities can be designed and arranged.

 

  • Contents. Contents should be adapted to the kind of thinking that is going to be encouraged among students. Violent or sexist contents do not need to be necessarily excluded, since video games with arguably inappropriate content can be used to draw the students’ attention to certain aspects of everyday life, and carry out a critical analysis of them. Video games with explicitly sexist content were purposefully selected to be used in GAMESTAR(T) workshop “Girls and Boys: playing together”, in order to make students think critically about the sexist values that video games implicitly promote, so as they could draw conclusions for everyday life, where those values still persist, from the knowledge and reflection that emerged from gaming.

 

Since there are not clear parameters that show the difficulty or usability level of video games with respect to the different aforementioned aspects, it is important that, as a sort of preliminary examination, teachers themselves play the video games they wish to incorporate to educational practice to determine whether they would fit its objectives and needs. Likewise, teachers may detect other initially overlooked key issues through gaming together with the students, thus uncovering the advantages and disadvantages certain video games may entail.

 

The GAMESTAR(T) EXPERIENCE

 

The GAMESTAR(T) project began in July 2010, thanks to Flavio Escribano (creator of the original idea of a video game club) and to the financial aid of Intermediae-Matadero. In the beginning the club held a monthly meeting of the assembly in order to consensually determine the resources that would be purchased to build up the Gameteca (consoles, video games, peripherals, etc.)iii, its usage rules and the general rules of the club. After several monthly meetings, the need for a more frequent activity was evident, so that in March 2011 the club began meeting weekly incorporating ludic activities suggested by the teachers but approved of by all the children. From the outset, the aim of this club was to explore, experiment and learn using different types of games, turning its members into little researchers that enjoy the different ludic possibilities that exist in our society (emphasizing the potential of gaming as generator of discussion and reflection). The game club tried to stimulate associationism and a collaborative spirit among the club's children, as shown by the fact that they held periodical meetings in which an assembly was formed to discuss and elaborate the rules that regulated the club.

A number of different activities related to video games were organized within the club, including thematic courses. These thematic courses were intended to familiarize students with video games as a gateway to and a tool for formal education (history, arts, mathematics, etc.) and non-formal education (health, socialization, etc.). The courses are the following:

Health > Games for health. This course presented video games related to health care in a (in the traditional sense) out-of-school context and outside of the hospital, in order to understand the process of becoming ill, being treated and recovering, acknowledging the importance of every agent involved in it (patient, health staff, family and friends, etc.).

Retro-Gaming > Retro Party. Video games have a history of their own; this course was intended to study the origin of video games paying attention to different aspects, such as aesthetics, hardware power and the evolution and relevance of different gameplay forms. The aim is to discern the future of video games regarding their past and present.

Gender > Boys and Girls. Are there really games specifically designed for boys and girls respectively? How is gender represented in games? This course had a double objective, on the one hand, to show that one can play any type of game independently of the player's gender and, on the other hand, to try to uncover the discriminatory politics inherent in some video games and to propose solutions accordingly.

Little Big Planet > Creation of levels. The creation of levels is a very important part of some games. Many games have succeeded rather because of their capacity to provide the players with the possibility to construct their own stages than because of the game itself. This course aimed at stimulating the participants' creativity and generating a desire to modify and experiment with the tools provided by each game, transgressing their purportedly “normal”, self-evident use.

History > Stories from history. Video games are among the best educational resources for teaching history in a participative manner. They allow us to actually see Earth’s evolution, humanity's most prominent technical and social achievements and the most important political events that configure our present political geography. Video games have no rival as an interactive medium for teaching of history.

Scratch > Creating your own video games. Using Scratch, a software tool for multimedia creation developed by the MIT and intended for children from 9 years of age, this course offered the possibility of creating little video games. The aim was to foster creativity, appreciate video games as a medium of creation, understand their language and develop the specific technical skills that are required to use them as a form of expression and representation.

Social relationships within online video games > In accordance with the philosophy of Game Arenas or online multi-player video games, we organize tournaments to show the students the need for creating some game rules and a scoring system beyond those incorporated by the games themselves.

The thematic courses mentioned above were held on a monthly basis within the weekly sessions of the club. These thematic courses, together with the meetings of the assembly (also monthly) and the club's activities (using the resources of the Gameteca), constituted the three pillars of the GAMESTAR(T) project. GAMESTAR(T) combined self-management of learning and associationism with formal and informal education focused on knowledge, competencies and skills. A ludic atmosphere dominated the sessions which represented a source of motivation and a means to create cohesion as a group.

It is important to emphasize that the majority of the club's children belonged to a group of people at risk of social exclusion, a circumstance that demanded special attention to the specific characteristics of each child, always applying the principles of attention to diversity and integration. The methodology that guides the club's activities incorporates all these aspects.

Methodology: Pedagogical principles

The methodology designed for Gamestar(t) is part of a mixed process between ludology and pedagogy wich consist of stimulus, action, reflection, and feedback, according to a scheme that is inspired by the world of video games.

  • Stimulus: An appealing program due to its activities and its content.

  • Action: Truly participative activities which demand interaction with the audience in order to work properly; an appropriation of the video game language facilitates action.

  • Reflection: Stimulation of critical and creative thinking through reflection and discussion about all the information and every activity as well as through other activities like the modification of the available video games.

  • Feedback: Creation of an archive that serves as a physical and virtual document repository that is continually updated and is available for further a posteriori analysis and as an information resource for future research.

The project approach is fundamentally based on meaningful learning through video gaming. In our society, video games belong to everyday life, and, as a result, they have been incorporated in the way children and adults confront and conceive the world, to the point that they even codify our understanding of the world. Using video games as a learning tool implies stimulating the process of knowledge acquisition and involving its agents directly in it.

The goal of the project methodology is to foster critical thinking and the analytical skills of the participants, so as they can extrapolate them to the world of video games and to the entirety of their experiences. Therewith it is also intended to raise their awareness as responsible and critical video game consumers, and as potential professional or amateur video game developers in future as well. For this purpose, workshops are arranged where collaborative and active learning has fundamental importance so that the order and progress of events is guided by the interests, concerns and needs of the participants.

The pedagogical models that GAMESTAR(T) is based on are explained below.

  • Existentialist” Pedagogical Model

As noted in the section focused on the project's background, GAMESTAR(T) follows a methodology based on the existentialist pedagogical model. In opposition to the traditional educational model where the acquisition and reproduction of knowledge alone were considered the ultimate objective of education, that model does not put knowledge at the heart of education, but the students and the development of their individual characteristics. Such principle requires that teachers take into account each person's cognitive structures, experiential framework, interests, abilities, flair and attitudes, on the one hand, and the diversity inherent in the groups the project has worked with (children at risk of social exclusion that attend a day care center run by the Red Cross), on the other. The origin of this diversity lies in multiple factor, such as economic, socio-cultural, geographic, ethnic and religious factors, just as in the children’s different intellectual, psychic or sensory capacities. Thus, the central role assigned to students in education implies a transformation and an adaptation of the educational environment to them, and not the other way around.

In this type of pedagogy the teacher function is closely related to the principle of pedagogical self-management, a key feature in the methodologies applied in Summerhill by A.S. Neill (2004), in Freinet’s techniques (1970) or in the pedagogical rationalism of Ferrer y Guardia (2009). All these tendencies concur that the teacher should be assigned the function of a mediator or facilitator of learning.

 

  • Pedagogical principle of anti-authoritarianism

 

The principle of anti-authoritarianism constitutes an inseparable part of the education of responsible and free subjects. Those individuals condemned to submission are irresponsible individuals, insofar as they delegate all responsibility on their tutor, that is, the person who dictates and rules they must comply to and the patterns of behavior they are expected to display. The political trends that have embraced anti-authoritarianism are manifold, from the bourgeois progressivism of Summerhilliv (Neill, 1994, 2004) to the anarchist libertarianism of Paideiav (Martín Luengo, 1990). The key question is how to introduce this system of free self-discipline within the classroom. However, posing this question implies a critical and anti-authoritarian reflection and the establishment of an educational system open to change. The management of discipline is a highly controversial issue in current pedagogical debates; the authors of this chapter consider that further research on this issue is of fundamental importance for the future of educational practice.

 

  • Principle of pedagogical self-management

 

The principle of pedagogical self-management is developed within the framework of libertarian pedagogy through the self-regulation of learning on the part of the students. This methodology favours an education focused on individual responsibility and personal effort and merit. Accounting for these implications, Silvio Gallo (1997) has pointed that another kind of learning is at stake when it comes to pedagogical self-management, namely the socio-political learning of social self-management.

 

  • Principle of context-based usability

 

The principle of usability that the GAMESTAR(T) has followed and applied is based on the idea that any video game is suitable for educational utilization provided that the contents, gameplay, etc. are adapted to the students’ socio-cultural context, their ludic preferences and to the kind of thinking that is to be developed. According to this principle, the targeted context, where video games are to be introduced, takes precedence over the technical characteristics of video games themselves. Consequently, assessment of video game usability depends on and varies with the different educational needs. The criteria that guide the selection of video games according to their context-based usability should focus on the pedagogical principles that underlie educational practice, on the students’ particular characteristics and on the educational context where that practice takes place. Anyway, context-based usability should be guided by the aforementioned pedagogical principles for they are a fundamental part of the educational context in which the ludic activity develops.

Although the development of the GAMESTAR(T) project followed the methodology taking always into account these pedagogical principles, the practical application of any theory always gives rise to problems and needs that were not anticipated in the beginning. This was the case of GAMESTAR(T): it was necessary to highlight certain aspects of the methodology, modify some concrete practices that aimed at certain objectives and develop a reflection on unforeseen issues that turned up to be of great relevance in the course of the club's activities. The following section offers an in-depth analysis of these problems, presents the reflections of the GAMESTAR(T) coordinators about them, and reports the measures or strategies adopted in search for satisfactory solutions.

GAMESTAR(T) challenges

Rethinking the principles that guided the project proved to be necessary due to some difficulties that were encountered throughout its development (both in the workshops and the club's sessions). This led to define more precise the pedagogical and procedural methodology.

One of the most pressing issues, which needed to be dealt with most urgently, was the adaptation of the project to the particular characteristics of the students the project worked with. In the beginning, one of the basic objectives of the GAMESTAR(T) project was to approach video games to the students in an unaccustomed way, presenting them not only as playful tools, but also as cultural products. However, since the group was composed mostly of teenagers at risk of exclusion, the attention to diversity became the core of the pedagogical program. The affective and emotional needs of the group members could not be put aside in favor of the acquisition of certain theoretical knowledge through video games, as it was planned for the workshops (history, health, history of video games, etc.). The learning methodology should be explicitly oriented to the integration and the improvement of the group's self-esteem. In this sense, video games turned out to be a highly efficient tool with a great number of possibilities that should be carefully analyzed in order to be put into practice optimally.

It is important to emphasize that, in spite of the intrinsic advantages video games entail for this issue, an effort to unite the (theoretical and practical) pedagogical perspectives with the possibilities this medium offers remains absolutely fundamental. Just as what happened after the introduction of technology into the classroom, the second digital divide could deepen if teachers do not take into account the students' situation, previous knowledge, needs and preferences, and two other elements that often neglected, namely what students consider their actual problems are, and what teachers want to encourage in them (in this case of GAMESTAR(T), an improvement in their quality of life as for self-esteem and integration, and an approach to video games from a cultural perspective). One of the most difficult tasks faced by the people involved teaching practice is to develop a general, comprehensive methodological perspective that three challenges: firstly, how to put into practice the theoretical principles of a libertarian pedagogy; secondly, how to integrate video games in that pedagogical theory (which was developed in a context other than ours where the relationship between technology and education was not an issue of concern), and finally, how to put into practice a libertarian pedagogy that integrates video games. Therefore, it is necessary to take advantage of the experiences of other groups and projects, and of the creativity and innovation displayed in the development of one’s own practice too.

Hereafter it will be offered a define the problems and controversies we came across and, in the next section, we discuss the solutions we considered most appropriate for our project, solutions that are always guided by the principles of creativity, reflection and incorporation of other existing (theoretical and practical) sources. The different problems can be divided into three main groups: second digital divide and critical digital literacy, personal development and coordination, and management of the project.

  • Second digital divide and critical digital literacy

As shown above, the introduction of video games into the educational environment, even as a key tool, can never be enough to bridge the second digital divide. Students are perfectly able to recognize those video games specifically designed for education (serious games) and the utilization of video games not created as such for educational purposes. Thus, they are reluctant to participate in activities like workshops where video games are used with evident educational objectives, even in those where they are encouraged to play the games they like and usually play themselves. Students always choose and search for the ludic element and prefer free gaming to guided gaming. Undoubtedly, this is a factor education professionals should take into account and learn to take advantage of.

It must be noted that the ludic element inherent in video games offers a great advantage in order to facilitate the teaching and learning process, which consists in reducing the stress and anxiety level the students experiment when they are expected to acquire new knowledge and skills. However, this is not all; in many cases, students, especially if in risk of social exclusion like the project worked with, suffer a high level of stress and anxiety related to the learning process, probably due to an unstable and unsatisfactory school situation, which leads to an immediate rejection of any attempt from our part to provide them with new knowledge. In the case of GAMESTAR(T), students attend a video games club with the preformed expectation of amusing themselves: the club is a place for having fun and not a place for taking “classes” or acquiring new knowledge, for they associate this to a pressing and stressful context. The educational strategies to be adopted must adapt to this circumstance and benefit from it as much as possible.

During the workshop sessions, it was evident that students initially were reluctant to participate in the activities: they declared explicitly that they had no interest in the workshop and that they preferred playing freely; some of them engaged in other activities like talking to people that did not belong to the club or playing other games that were available at the venue where the workshop took place (table tennis, computer video games, etc.). Nevertheless, the majority of the students eventually participated and enjoyed the workshop sessions. It was in those moments when the second digital divide was most evident, but also their specific personal situation, their fears and hopes with respect to education and the acquisition of knowledge. Bridging the second digital divide was one of the main objectives and challenges of the GAMESTAR(T) project. If the project had not succeeded in closing this gap, then the critical digital literacy would have turned out to be an arduous, almost impossible task to carry out, since it would have been impossible to reach out to the students to make them think about their own gaming, promoting critical gaming, group reflection and discussion. However, it was possible to take advantage of this situation by means of rethinking and redefining the methodology. In the next section the strategies applied and the advances made in this area will be examined.

  • Students’ personal development: self-esteem, motivation and integration

The greatest challenge for the project emerged only when it had already started, that being the reason why the project's design had not included objectives and methodological strategies that referred to it. This challenge was brought about by the students that eventually made up the club. Most of them were going through difficult personal situations: they came from broken families, some among them had especial psychological traits (highly giftedness as well as retardation) or experienced academic failure. In this context, attention to diversity played an essential role in the development of the methodology and the formulation of the club's objectives.

The people in charge of the project found themselves in need of defining clearly and precisely the actual problems and challenges faced when working with students at risk of social exclusion in order to tackle them properly and overcome the difficulties. The trial and error method is not a good choice in education since something extremely valuable is at stake, namely the students themselves. It is advisable to adopt cautious strategies, studying and evaluating the possibilities essayed by other pedagogical projects that have encountered the same situation.

Paideia was a fundamental reference in this reflection process. The pedagogical principles that guide this school, the methodology and strategies used in relation to concrete problems (such as those reported by Josefa Martín Luengo (1990)), served as a source of inspiration and helped determine the adopted measures. It was possible to adapt them to GAMESTAR(T) own context with the aim of improving the educational conditions and the personal development of the club's children. Next section offers an analysis of the strategies utilized and the solutions found. The following is a description of those problems and their specific features.

Aggressiveness: some children of the group attempted to dominate the others assuming the role of the “leader” or the “bully”. They behaved aggressively towards their peers and the teachers, sometimes even violently, using expressions and assuming attitudes that were offensive towards the others. While free gaming they took the console controllers off other students; they chose in the first place the games they wanted, regardless of their partners' interests; they even assaulted physically or verbally (yet without causing tough fights). They adopted a defiant attitude towards the teachers, refusing to participate in the workshops or to adapt to the normal functioning of the club, though they eventually did.

Competitiveness: together with aggressiveness, competitiveness was one of the most compelling and difficult challenges. Most of the students behaved competitively while gaming and in the workshops: they needed to stand out of the rest by means of winning, and when they did not manage to do so, they got angry and acted violently. This element of competition was fostered in one of the workshops offering video games as prizes for the winners of a little “tournament”: the rest of the students refused to acknowledge the victory of the winning group and started to act aggressively, insulting and defying them, shouting and fighting. In consequence of this workshop, it was considered to implement strategies that mitigated the harmful competitiveness: the club, its atmosphere and dynamics would have been seriously damaged unless urgent measures had been adopted. Offering prizes intensified a counterproductive competitiveness; besides it made the students feel that the club's resources did not belong to them as club members, but they could win and own them privately through tournaments, a circumstance that undermined the feeling of belonging and responsibility.

 

Gender segregation: in the beginning, there were only two girls among the club's members; although the number of girls increased as the course advanced, these girls attended the club only sporadically. Boys asserted and enforced a strong masculine territoriality so that gender segregation was evident in the personal relationships as well as in the activities they carried out and the games they chose. This is one of the biggest problems that were faced, which was alleviated braking up gender segregation in many aspects.

Motivation: The students were highly motivated and willing to attend the club's sessions and they remained so along the course. The children manifested openly their wish to participate in the club’s sessions; they were happy and enthusiastic and wished that sessions never finish. When the club increased the frequency of its meetings, changing from a monthly session to a weekly session, all the students were receptive and happy about this decision. The only motivation problems were those related to participation in the workshops, which, as shown above, were probably caused by the second digital divide as well as by the students’ personal characteristics and attitude towards education.

 

  • Coordination and management of the project

In reference to the students, we noted some problems that were an obstacle to the development of the club. These problems derive to a great extent from the lack of feeling of belonging to the club that became manifest in a lack of responsibility for its elements.

Lack of responsibility: the system of video game loan must be redesigned several times due to a deficient commitment and responsibility on the part of the students. They forgot the games at home or they simply did not return them; they did not report accurately the games that were on loan, to whom, etc. The “king” or the “queen of the game” (the representative of each group in charge of controlling the borrowing) did not fulfill their function efficiently and video games were constantly disappearing. The library lost a great number of games; this situation jeopardized the workshops, which could not function without games, and was detrimental to free gaming both at the club and at home through the video game loan. However, this lack of responsibility in the management of the club’s resources did not imply a lack of conservation of the infrastructure: the video consoles, controllers, and video games were not physically damaged and neither were other peripherals, nor the building where all the meetings were held.

In reference to the teachers and the people in charge of the management and organization of the club, there were few coordination problems and they were easily solved.

  • Video game selection according to context-based usability

Video game selection is one of the most crucial decisions to be taken when implementing a model of pedagogical innovation through video games, such as GAMESTAR(T). This process of selection may be arduous, partly because to scan the range of existing video games is a laborious task, partly due to the fact that it is difficult to find video games with the required characteristics that fit the targeted educational context. However, once they have been found, its implementation in the educational planning is rather easy: one only has to use video games in the habitual or expected way to obtain good results. Video game selection according to context-based usability demands the adaptation of any video game to the educational context, regardless whether they are serious games or commercial video games (fighting video games, racing video games or shooters), being the latter more difficult implement.

In the case of GAMESTAR(T), this posed a challenge from the beginning, since it was not known which people would integrate the club and, therefore, what their socio-cultural situation, needs and preferences would be. In order to cope with the question of personal preferences and tastes, the children were brought to a specialized shop so that they could participate in the purchase of the resources that would compose the gameteca choosing the consoles and video games they liked most. The shop assistant offered the children a guided tour explaining the differences between video game platforms (Play Station 2 and 3, Play Station Portable, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, Xbox 360, etc.) and the content and gameplay of many video games. Thus, it seemed that the challenge of video game selection had been overcome. Two unforeseen problems appeared though, namely the adaptation of video games to the duration of the club’s sessions and to the students’ socio-cultural context.

Time management: many video games demanded prolonged gaming to achieve their own objectives (solve puzzles, clear levels, follow a story, etc.). The problem posed by this circumstance is that the students were interested in that kind of video games only if they could play one single video game during a whole session or even during the whole course. For instance, the completion of the objectives of Zelda: Twilight princess (one of the selected video games) requires more than 20 hours of gaming and, besides, if the gaming sessions happen on widely separate occasions, players may lose the thread of the story and their interest in the game. This was also the case of Animal Crossing: City Folk, The longest journey, Prince of Persia: The sands of time among many others. As a consequence, it had to be examined how such video games could be used in the development of the project.

Socio-cultural context: the panorama of the current video game industry, whose titles come mainly from the American or Japanese market, does not represent the cultural environment of the club’s members, who belong mostly to the Latin American or African culture. This issue had to be considered when assessing video game context-based usability. Video games such as Sing it, for Play Station 2, were highly popular with the students, who choose to play it in the free gaming sessions, but it did not match their socio-cultural context because all its song’s lyrics were in written in a language they did not know (English) and the characters dressing style had nothing to do with theirs. In spite of this, video games with a gameplay similar to that of Sing it are specially appropriate to foster the musical, reading and social competencies. On the other hand, they can contribute significantly to integration in that the students play together collaboratively as a group. From the teachers’ point of view the challenge was to take advantage of this type of games adapting them to the students’ socio-cultural context.

Owing to the complexity video games’ context-based usability can entail, a detailed guide will be offered in the section “Guidelines to selection and introduction of video games in educational environments”.

These are the most important challenges that arose in the course of the GAMESTAR(T) project, which needed to be met adapting the methodology and objectives correspondingly, as has been shown in this chapter.

With respect to the relationships the children established with video games, the way they used them during the free gaming time and the workshops made evident the importance of bridging the new digital divide as a precondition for the advance towards a critical digital literacy. It is essential to understand that the introduction of technologies into the classroom is not a sufficient condition for the critical digital literacy, just as it is not for the motivation and encouragement of the students: it may occasionally be counterproductive unless it is accompanied by a specific pedagogical plan. The next section is devoted to the presentation and discussion of the different educational strategies adopted in GAMESTAR(T) to cope with its particular challenges.

 

Pedagogical strategies and solutions

The organization through an assembly and the model of pedagogical self-management were two of the mainstays of the project, which were indispensable for its existence and continuity. Consistently with these principles, all strategies, action plans and concrete measures were put up for discussion and approval both by the coordination team and the students’ assembly. Now the principles that governed the assembly will be examined, as well as the way the assembly organized itself and the problems and controversies that emerged in the process of putting in practice these ideas.

  • The assembly model: pedagogical foundations

The assembly model has its roots in the libertarian movements that have explored, experimented and defended its advantages over other models of social organization. In the case of GAMESTAR(T), the focus is on two of the assembly models in the pedagogical practice that have made a greater impact and have become references for the application of this mode of organization in the field of education: Summerhill School (UK) and Paideia School (Spain). Both schools are guided by the principle of self-management that is realized through decision-making in an assembly. Despite the fact that their respective ideological orientations are quite different, being Summerhill a less politicized school than Paideia, which defines itself explicitly as an anarchist school, the way decisions are taken in both of them is the same: all people that belong to the school gather and sit down to discuss those issues that are of relevance to its functioning (from the curriculum to the organization or the rules), all members are listened equally, their voice has the same effect and each opinion or vote has the same value, independently of the person's age or position in the school. Thus, for example, in Summerhill the vote of a seven-year old girl had the same value as that of A. S. Neill himself (founder and director of the school).

The commitment to the assembly consists in accepting everybody’s freedom to express their opinions and to comply with the decisions made by the whole group. In Summerhill or in Paideia, freedom is encouraged, but, above all, the responsibility that freedom entails. This principle governs the assembly and it is the source of the pedagogical self-management. GAMESTAR(T) followed this form of organization and recognized its pedagogical advantages, but also its social and political convenience.

In the first place, the assembly serves as a meeting point and as an event that gives rise to a feeling of belonging to the community, as a space for freedom within it and responsibility for it. Such an organization contributes to the solution of the motivation, integration and responsibility problems that might emerge within educational communities. Listening to children expressing their wishes, concerns and suggestions is a fundamental step that must be taken if the educational experience is to be improved. The assembly must not be regarded as a “support group” that helps individuals express their feelings, but as a place for decision-making whose strength must be taken seriously, considering the repercussions it may have for the different pedagogical projects that assume it. Children are considered as agents of their own learning process, as free subjects that are capable of taking personal and collective decisions; decisions that must be taken into account and compulsorily and inevitably realized in practice. Important decisions for the development of the pedagogical project, in the case of GAMESTART(T) a video game club, are taken in the assembly and these can modify or even overturn other decisions taken previously by the people that devised the project. Only assuming the force of this principle can a model of pedagogical self-management be achieved that is fully efficient and produces the expected benefits: development of individual freedom and responsibility towards the group, optimal development of the competencies (knowledge as well as skills) and stimulation of the critical spirit.

The assembly cannot be managed in an authoritarian manner; therefore, anti-authoritarianism must remain a key principle. The anti-authoritarian principle is inextricably linked to an education focused on freedom and responsibility. These two concepts make up the fundamental basis of the shared vocabulary of libertarian schools like Paideia. The education of free, engaged citizens presupposes an education focused on individual and social autonomy, and responsibility. Those individuals relegated to a submissive status are irresponsible individuals, since they delegate their responsibilities to their tutors, i.e. those that prescribe the rules they must comply with and, thus, determine the way they are expected to behave. If a critical spirit and personal freedom are to be fostered, that principle should always be present in educational practice and be so experienced by teachers and students.

The advantages of this model of organization can be summarized pointing out that the assembly:

  1. It is a meeting point and as a common event for all those involved in the teaching and learning process; it is especially appropriate to give rise to a feeling of belonging to the community, of freedom within it and of responsibility for it.

  2. It constitutes a medium or a channel where information about the group’s interests, wishes and suggestions can be shared, improving communication, mutual respect and a joint search for solutions.

  3. It helps develop critical thinking in that it opens the possibility to question and actually transform the foundations and organization of the group, the concrete didactic applications (activities, workshops, classes…), and the time and learning management.

Taking into account the pedagogical advantages offered by the assembly, this model was adopted aiming at solving some of GAMESTAR(T) problems, such as:

  1. Lack of responsibility. The assembly served the purpose of fostering a feeling of belonging to the club; decisions have been respected and put into practice as far as possible. The system of video game loan and the lack of responsibility for the games was debated several times in the assembly, so that the children drew diverse conclusions and decided to apply different strategies. In this way, the children developed a greater sense of responsibility, which resulted in a greater commitment to, and a greater success of the system of game loan.

  1. Motivation. As shown above in this chapter, the introduction of video games into the teaching practice does not imply an intrinsic source of motivation for involvement in the teaching-learning process. The assembly was instrumental in overcoming some deficiencies, concretely, it was the scenario for the expression of the wish for transformation that the club's members openly manifested, which, in turn, gave the teachers clues about how to direct their practice: fostering the ludic element, team-working, self-managing the time and resources… These are some of the key points that helped understand how to reorient the pedagogical strategies and how to introduce video games into education satisfactorily.

  1. Second digital divide. Considering the special situation of the project, this problem appears to be intrinsically connected to that of motivation. Through the meetings of the assembly, it was possible to understand to a great extent what elements of our pedagogical plan were failing and what deficiencies were affecting the introduction of video games into the educational practice. Listening to the children's opinions and suggestions was essential in this respect; observing how they play with video games, what they prefer to do, what they expect from them, etc., is indispensable in order to improve the educational experience adapting the study plan and the concrete activities to the students’ interests and preferences. This aspect is crucial to bridge the second digital divide. The assembly model, together with the self-management of learning, opens new and vast possibilities of success.

  1. Competitiveness, aggressiveness and self-esteem. The feeling of belonging to, and responsibility for the club generated in the course of the meetings (together with other measures) greatly reduced hostility, competitiveness and aggressiveness. Children felt that all decisions taken were theirs, so they were increasingly keen to participate in the club, not as passive members that only attended to play at a video game club, but as active, committed members that regarded themselves as the makers of the club and those responsible for its correct functioning.

  1. Gender segregation. This problem can be easily solved in an assembly system where each opinion and vote is equally respected, regardless of sex, social class or ethnic group. In such a context, students learn to value people for themselves, to listen and respect them equally.

  • Organization of the assembly

The organization of the assembly was based on dialogue and discussion conducted by two people in charge of the moderation, being these positions subjected to rotation between meetings of the assembly. The entire club’s members, teachers, coordinating staff, and children had the same opportunities to express their opinions, suggestions or reflections; and decisions were taken in a horizontal, non-hierarchical manner, so that every vote was of equal value, be it of an adult or of a child.

The meetings of the assembly gradually became a key part of the club's development; their frequency was changed from once a month to twice a week, one at the beginning and the other at the end of each weekly session.

Except on very few occasions, the meetings did not last more than half an hour. They followed this order:

  1. Election of two assembly moderators in charge of taking note of the turns to speak, and of reporting each person's contribution. Sometimes a ballot took place for choosing the moderators, while on other occasions they were simply two volunteers.

  1. Proposal of an order of the day, respecting certain points that structured the organization and guaranteed its continuity. If someone wanted to make a suggestion outside of the order of the day it had to be proposed as another point to be dealt with.

  1. Treatment of the order of the day points strictly respecting the turns to speak, which were requested raising hands, while everybody listen, etc. If necessary, a ballot could be taken.

  1. In the end-of-session meeting, several points were regularly treated, like the problems that may have emerged along the session, the positive aspects and the activities for the next session.

 

  • Practice of the assembly model: problems and controversies

Among the biggest problems faced when it came to put into practice an assembly model of organization, was the total immersion of the children and the teachers in a hierarchical and too often authoritarian education and social system. This is by no means a specific problem of GAMESTAR(T), but of every initiative that seeks to implement a self-managed, assembly model. In the first place, our socially structured tendency to organize the teaching-learning relationships hierarchically should be eliminated in favor of the development of a self-managed, horizontal organization that requires the assumption, on the part of the teachers, that they are not more important than the students. Teachers’ voice should be put on a level with that of the students. Moreover, teachers should make students understand and assume that they are their equals. In GAMESTAR(T), a continuous process of shared learning took place: teachers and students learned to listen to one another and developed a mutual understanding and respect that contributed to the fact that each person respected herself too. Reinforcing the self-esteem and the awareness of being an equally valuable individual as any other partners was one of the main achievements of the club, even though it is a never ending task that is always be in development:.

Examining the core of the practice, it can be seen how this general problem derived in other more concrete and specific problems: the lack of respect towards those that intervened before the assembly, and of motivation to participate in the debates, the lack of order when rising to speak or the scarce active participation. The absence of participation traces back to the fact that the students of the Spanish education system are hardly ever questioned about their interests, nor encouraged to take decisions about their own activities or the way to organize the class and the school. Only patience and, above all, a rigorous application of the decisions made by the assembly could result in a gradual improvement of participation.

GAMESTAR(T) project is still young, but experience, always connected to reflection, may help improve and make the teaching and coordination team, as well as the children, aware of our principles and how to put them into practice.

Organization through assembly and self-management were not the only elements that were introduced as pedagogical strategies to solve the club's problems. Issues such as aggressiveness, self-esteem and competitiveness required other specific measures:

Team work: it helped promoting responsibility among the club's members, and reducing the level of aggressiveness. The groups were not permanent and each member assumed different roles in different moments. The elder helped look after the younger, they collaborated to overcome challenges thinking together, and some even taught others tricks and cheats for their favourite video games.

Elimination of meritocracy: a measure proposed in the debates of the coordination team and in the meetings of the assembly that, together with the teamwork, was aimed at solving the problem of competitiveness. While in the beginning prizes and awards were offered to those individuals who deserved them on grounds of their personal merits, these were replaced with awards for the club as a whole: the prizes depended on the good functioning of the club and they were to be enjoyed by all members. Any system that fosters meritocracy was thus eliminated, replacing the individualistic egotism with a feeling of belonging to a group, where every person is an important part. This measure was very successful in establishing the club itself as a source of motivation and not exclusively its objects (video games), and it also generated a greater sense of responsibility and better integration.

Time management: video games that require prolonged and continued gaming (e.g.: Animal Crossing: Folk city o Zelda: Twilight princess) were reserved for loan, or for special occasions in which they were taken as elements of analysis of their characters and aesthetic values. In the workshop “Girls and Boys: playing together”, Animal Crossing: Folk city was used as an example of video game that the industry considers “for girls only” with the aim of making students reflect on video games and gender prejudices.

These were the measures adopted by GAMESTAR(T) for the improvement of the educational experience using video games. As we can see, not all problems derive from the utilization of technology and video games in the educational practice, and, in the same way, the essayed solutions are not only intended for the technological sphere. The authors firmly believe that the introduction of video games, or any other pedagogical resource, whether technological or not, must be accompanied by a critical, theoretical reflection, and by an adaptation of the didactic planning to these new tools. It is no longer possible to think that students will be immediately motivated by mathematics, history or language classes where video games are used: our students demand more freedom, a way to exercise and develop their creativity (for instance, a girl demanded at GAMESTAR(T) video games about “art”). The introduction of video games into the classroom should take into account these factors and react correspondingly.

 

Context-based usability: two examples of concrete methodological application

This text makes use of a specific concept of usability, i.e. context-based usability that refers to the adaptation of video games to a certain educational context, rather than to the selection of video games already designed to adapt to that context. In order to offer a brief introduction to the selection of video games according to this concept of usability, two practical examples of the GAMESTAR(T) experience will be presented. The first refers to the practical development of a workshop; the second refers to the program planning for a series of club’s sessions which was carried out in assembly meetings in collaboration with people of great cultural influence on the club’s members: “The Big Bang case”.

Student usability in a workshop

All the measures mentioned above began to be consistently applied in the context of the workshop “Girls and Boys: playing together”. This workshop was paradigmatic with respect to the implementation of the methodology described in previous sections; the maturity of this methodology was reflected in its success.

Along the development of the previous workshop, it could be confirmed that the problems already detected in the functioning of the club were not only reappearing, but also being reinforced due to a bad pedagogical management. Competitiveness, aggressiveness and gender segregation were present in this workshop, so that it was evident that a new pedagogical approach was urgently needed. As a result of this workshop, GAMESTAR(T) coordinators initiated a shared reflection ―supported by the research on the spectrum of possible pedagogical methodologies that are backed up by an undisputed success― that led to an improvement of the GAMESTAR(T) experience.

The workshop “Girls and Boys: Playing together” will be now presented with the aim of offering a case study that illustrates the methodology and the dynamic of GAMESTAR(T). As explained above, the methodology is based on:

  • Assembly meetings at the beginning and at the end of each session.

  • Self-managed team work.

  • Elimination of meritocracy and aggressive competitiveness.

  • Selection and introduction of video games according to context-based usability.

Now it will be examined how the workshop was managed and how the methodology was implemented.

This workshop was the first to incorporate an assembly at the beginning of each session. As it was the first assembly, it was decided that two adults would act as moderators so as it could serve as a model for the younger of how the moderation task is supposed to be carried out: take note of the turns to speak, read the order of the day, take minutes, etc.

The order of the day of that session was:



During the meeting of the assembly, it was explained what the workshop would consist in and how it would work. Once this was perfectly clear, children began to play. In this workshop girls and boys had to find out the meaning of certain colored labels that had been attached to the video game covers they were playing. For that purpose, they had to play together those video games, discuss and draw conclusions. Then they had to write down their guesses on a blackboard inside of one the four boxes (blue, red, green and yellow) that had been drawn on it, and that corresponded to the classification of all the games available, which were: Tekken 5, Animal Crossing: Folk city, Tomb Rider Legend, Monkey Island 1 & 2, Maniac Mansion, Maniac Mansion: day of tentacle, Alice in Wonderland, Worms: Armageddon, The Sims, Mario Kart, Extreme challenge, Age of Empires II, and Super Mario Bros. These video games were selected according to the following criteria:

  • Students’ preferences: most video games had been selected by the students to integrate the gameteca, so they matched their preferences.

  • Gender stereotypes: video games that represented and perpetuated gender stereotypes were selected to be critically analysed, although strongly sexist video games were avoided (it was decided to exclude these games in order neither to support the companies that produce them nor to let those games be incorporated to the gameteca)

  • Personal experience of the teachers: it is extremely important that teachers themselves play and analyse the games prior to their selection; in the case of this workshop, the teachers in charge of it already had previously played all video games used. Besides, both of them had conducted research on video games and gender, the former through interviews with players (Cabañes, 2009), and the latter through an analysis of the gender features of 25 video games and 50 characters (Rubio, 2011).

The workshop’s playful atmosphere was essential for both the formation of groups and its development. The group formation was carried out through a little game: the children picked a card from a hat. The cards contained the name of a well-known video game character (Mario, Sonic, Lara Croft, etc.). Those with the same card joined and formed a group. After that, each group began to play a different video game, though the children eventually mingled and started writing their reflections individually on the blackboard. At the end of the game, a little meeting took place, where several children were selected to present to the assembly the conclusions of their group.

The role of the workshop’s coordinator (Eurídice Cabañes) and that of the rest of teachers consisted in accompanying the students while they played, trying to make them think through dialogue, concretely through a series of questions that had been previously prepared: “Why have you chosen that character?”, “Do you never choose girls? Why?”, “What is happening in the game?”, “Do you think all characters wear the appropriate gear for the activity they have to perform (fighting, racing, exploring, etc.)?” Other strategy consisted just in playing. For instance, while playing Tekken 5, boys claimed that it was impossible to win selecting female characters for they were weaker; the teacher only had to grab the controller, select a female character, and achieve overwhelming victories, to show the students that theirs was an unfounded claim whose base was solely a gender stereotype. Such a simple but practical demonstration could produce more immediate and intense reflection that one carried out only through dialogue.

They were able to draw many conclusions, individually, in groups and in the final discussions:
 

-Blue: video games whose main character is a man. They noted that most video games do not have a female main character. These video games were: Monkey Island 1 & 2, and Super Mario Bros.

-Red: video games whose main character is a woman. They remarked that these games are equally fun as the blue ones and pointed out that boys also play them. These video games were: Tomb Rider Legend and Alice in Wonderland

-Green: video games that allowed choosing your character. They noted that you can also choose a girl, but they are far less numerous and always wear provocative clothes. These video games were: Mario Kart, Tekken 5 and Maniac Mansion.

-Yellow: video games that the industry labels as intended for boys or girls. Fortunately nobody discovered the meaning of this label. These video games were: Animal Crossing: Folk city, Worms: Armageddon, The Sims and Age of Empires II.

- That the video game Maniac Mansion: day of tentacle had no color assigned because there are girls and boys among its main characters, and at least these do not incarnate gender stereotypes.

In the final meeting, these conclusions were discussed, and a joint evaluation was carried out, which confirmed that the workshops objectives had been achieved. These objectives were:

- Be able to perceive video games as biased cultural products and as language that conveys certain discourses; be able to understand and think critically about these discourses.

- Assume the gender perspective about video games and inquire about the values and models they offer, about the reasons for their highlighting some aspects of reality leaving others aside, and about the process that leads people to prefer certain video games over others.

- Realize that one can play and enjoy video games of any genre regardless of the industry or of our sexist society dictates.

- Analyze the representation of male and female identity in video games and detect gender stereotypes; think critically and creatively about possible alternative models of masculinity and feminity in video games.

In order to assess the workshop’s functioning and the efficacy of the methodology, the teachers held a meeting where each part of the methodology was discussed: assembly organization, self-managed team work, elimination of meritocracy and aggressive competitiveness, and video game selection according to context-based usability. This evaluation was carried out through direct observation and discussion, without following a fixed questionnaire. The group reached the following conclusion:

  • The introduction of the assembly meeting at the beginning of the workshop gave the children the possibility to understand the activities to be performed. This was confirmed by direct observation of the fact that children were able to display an orderly pattern of action without asking the adults; there were no more disoriented children that did not know what to do. On the other hand, the students’ interventions during the assembly meetings and their obvious high motivation level along the development of the workshop showed that the introduction of the assembly organization was successful: it made them feel more confident.

  • The formation of groups and the final open discussion helped avoid harmful competition among the children: the objective and the reward of the workshop were to uncover the enigma of the video games colors, an aim that was best attained collaborating with others. Each individual action had an impact on the common objective, thus reinforcing the children's self-esteem and companionship. This was evaluated through direct observation and discussion of the observed facts: aggressiveness and conflict reduction, cooperation between different members of the group, respect of gaming turns, orderly interventions before the assembly, etc.

  • Video game selection according to context-based usability was assessed through direct observation of the gaming process: it developed without mayor frictions and the students got actively involved in it.

It can be concluded that, owing to the methodological change, the great benefits brought about by the introduction of the assembly model in each session combined with the pedagogical model that uses video games as an educational tool could started to be noticed. The element of social integration of the former combined with the ludic element of the latter, produced an wide scope of action that rapidly evidenced its advantages over other more traditional pedagogical models, such as the authoritarian models based on lectures. In the workshop “Girls and Boys: Playing together”, the participants acquired the knowledge they were expected to learn in a relaxed atmosphere, playing video games among those selected by the workshop's designer; this diminished the level of anxiety and provided them with other emotional and social rewards, like integration, self-esteem and responsibility.

  • The Big Bang case

The Big Bang case can serve as a clarifying illustration of how the club’s planning could be adapted to the students’ context through video game and resource selection according to context-based usability. As mentioned above, the video games that dominate the market nowadays come from the American and Japanese industries and, as such, they implicitly incorporate a cultural background and express certain values that do not necessarily correspond to the (mostly Latin American and African) ideological and cultural background of the students the project works with. The Big Bang case shows the pedagogical strategy followed to avoid the incompatibility between the values of commercial video games and those of the students concretely with reference to musical culture.

The club’s members enjoy playing commercial music video games (e.g. karaoke video games like Sing it, dancing video games like Dance central or video games like Rock band where gamers play as a full band) owing to their attractive gameplay, yet they identify neither with their musical style, nor with their aesthetic configuration, nor with the song’s lyrics, nor with the main characters. In these video games, the characters’ appearance follows the American urban fashion trends and the musical style (pop, rock, etc.) does not correspond to those preferred by GAMESTAR(T) students, namely Latin American music like “reggaeton”, Latin hip-hop, etc.

Teachers had no problem in identifying the students’ musical preferences through observing their habits (listening to music with their mobile phones and mp3 players) and directly asking them. During the assembly meetings, they suggested introducing Latin music as they already did in their own musical presentations for the end-of-course celebrations. Teachers also observed that a Latin music band called Big Bang, which rehearsed at Intermediae-Matadero, was very popular with them and had great influence on them as a sort of cultural icon and model (students asked teachers for Internet addresses to visualize their videos or get their music).

As a result of these observations, GAMESTAR(T) coordinators held a meeting to discuss the possibility of integrating one of the members of Big Bang as a collaborator of the club the following course. Big Bang’s role would consist in including new musical styles in the existing music video games (changing the rhythm, song intonation, dancing style, etc.) in order to improve their context-based usability. Besides, it was also suggested that Big Bang, together with the club’s member, could make new video games according to their interests and preferences.

It would be carried out within the framework of the assembly where students would decide the way Big Bang would become a part of the club. The context-based usability model makes no sense without direct and active participation on the part of the students, whose identity will determine the usage of the video games.

Summarizing, the proposed model is based on the following scheme:

  • Research of the students’ socio-cultural context and specific needs.

  • Detection of usability problems in the concrete practice.

  • Search for solutions based on the results produced by the research on their tastes, preferences, needs and demands.

  • Adaptation of context-based usability in collaboration with the students.

assessment of Gamestar(t) experience

In the course of the sessions arranged for the club and the thematic courses, great advances were achieved in making the participants familiar with the world of video games as a cultural experience, and not merely as entertainment merchandise. The club was also successful in fostering critical thinking about the elements that build up the everyday life (being video games a part of it), which involves learning to analyze the ideas they propose and the values they incarnate.

The project showed children, teenagers and adults the possibilities of video games as meaningful learning tools that involve the students actively in the process of knowledge acquisition. Moreover, it was rendered possible that a group of children be able to create and manage their own game club, feel it as something of their own, and assume responsibility for and active management of the club.

In spite of the problems that emerged in the course of some of the club's sessions, it can be consistently claimed that the general outcome of GAMESTAR(T) was very positive. The experience with the club showed the educational potentialities of video games and their undisputed capacity for social integration.

Self-management of their own club made children feel the space and its resources as something of their own, which implied a greater commitment to the management and preservation of the resources of the gameteca. Most importantly, it also resulted in an improvement of the students’ self-esteem and self-conception. These improvements had, in turn, a positive effect on the reduction of the competitiveness level and interpersonal conflicts. A great level of self-discipline and organization of the activities could be observed during the sessions, especially after the introduction of the assembly meetings at the beginning and at the end of each session. Interpersonal relationships improved to the extent that children of different origins and different social classes developed a group conscience and supported each other.

In the thematic courses, there was an excellent performance and a high level of achievement, though the children's motivation and interest in the workshops varied from person to person. We observed that some children chose to borrow educational video games from the gameteca that had been used in a workshop, showing thus their interest in the subject matter; or that some children explained questions related to a workshop in the free gaming session.

Assessment of context-based usability

In addition to the evaluation of the GAMESTAR(T) experience based on its specific objectives, an evaluation of the selection and usage of video games has been also carried out using context-based usability as a key criterion. In order to evaluate this, a number of indicators have been identified and several criteria have been established to assess them.


 

Guidelines for selection and introduction of video games in the educational environment

 

Selection and introduction of video games in the educational environment is a crucial challenge that will determine whether this model of pedagogical innovation is a success or a failure. The following guidelines try to define some basic criteria to select video games successfully for utilization in the educational environment.

Research and analysis of the students’ socio-cultural context

According to the principles of attention to diversity and of adaptation of the curriculum to the students’ specific needs, the main role of the teachers is to identify the socio-cultural context of the students. This context consists not only of the students’ living conditions and cultural background, but also their own interests, expectations and needs. In order to detect these factors, it is necessary to carry out an investigative work that includes consulting pedagogical academic sources, direct observation of the environment and the students’ activities and interviews with the students and their relatives.

In those cases where such an investigation is unfeasible, an initial questionnaire, which has to be filled by the students, can serve as a preliminary evaluation of the each student’s personal situation and of the environment. The questionnaire could contain items like those used in GAMESTAR(T), which, though not explicitly referring to the students’ familial and socio-cultural context, can produce relevant information to orient the educational practice, since they reveal the conditions under which the students normally study and their relationship to video games.



Regarding the personal and socio-cultural context, the essential data that have to be collected are:

- If students have previously had access to technology and to which extent. This will produce useful data to determine the intensity with which each student has to be monitored, as well as the level of complexity of the virtual interfaces to be used. For instance, a student that has never had access to a computer should begin by familiarizing with its different components and playing very simple games like One Button Bob, where all actions are performed by pressing a single key.

- If there are cases of students with functional diversity or learning difficulties. Special attention should be paid to the students with functional diversity or learning difficulties that have had none or almost no access the ICT, whose learning curve might be less pronounced. Students with functional diversity may never be able to attain a satisfactory usage of the standard technological interfaces.

- Students’ preferences, with the aim of selecting video games similar or identical to those they play in their spare time, which will contribute to bridge the second digital divide.

- Personal and familial attitude towards video games. In many cases, the family’s prejudices against video games have a strong influence on children. They enjoy playing games, but, at the same time, they feel guilty about it, for they internalize the negative discourses about video games; such a contradiction gives rise to unhealthy gaming habits ―a situation that affects more to girls owing to the gender bias that distances them from technology (Castaño, 2008). Teachers should help children to get rid of the mark of shame implied by their ludic-technological practices. In the same way, teachers should be prepared to detect solitary gaming practices and to reinforce collective gaming and companionship in those cases.

 

Definition of learning objectives

In the first place, the educational objectives must be clearly defined through a critical reflection. These objectives may be general (those that can be included in any educational planning that incorporates technology, in this case video games) or specific (the subject’s objectives that refer to concrete knowledge and abilities).

- General objectives: among the general objectives there are two that must be included in any educational planning that assumes technology both as a tool and as a end in itself, namely to bridge the second digital divide and to bring about critical digital literacy.

- Specific objectives: specific objectives depend on the concrete needs of each environment and subject. In the case of GAMESTAR(T), one of the key issues was integration and knowledge transmission that varied with the workshop. For instance, in the workshop Play for health, the specific objectives were to foster critical thinking about drugs, to contribute to sexual education and to offer basic medical knowledge; whereas in the workshop Stories from history, the specific objective was to transmission of general knowledge about the history of humanity.

It is essential to produce well defined and concrete objectives before selecting the video games that will be used in the students’ formation in specific subjects, since according to the criteria for context-based usability, video games should adapt to the previously delimited pedagogical context.

Criteria for video game selection

Once the students’ socio-cultural context has been analyzed, and the pedagogical model, objectives, and methodology have been defined, it is possible to move on to video game selection according to the following criteria:

Time management: video games should be selected so as they adjust to the time available for educational activities. Video games that require prolonged and continuous gaming to achieve the objectives can be used in long-term and intensive educational programs; on the other hand, video games that imply short games are ideal for short-termed educational plans or long-tem plans with few and infrequent sessions. The possibility of at-home gaming should also be taken into account.

Adjustment to age: adjustment to age according to usability can be carried out taking into consideration the video game content, gameplay, aesthetic values, and interface design. PEGI (Pan European Game Information) video game rating system advise only the presence of graphic violence, bad language, sexual content, discrimination, drug use, gambling, and whether the video game can be played online. These rating systems, which may be useful to decide on content, do not indicate whether video games are appropriate with respect to the rest of aspects on which adjustment to age depends. As a consequence, teachers should play the targeted games themselves or at least consult the existing pedagogical literature that deals with such games.

Adaptation to motor functional diversity: if there are students with motor functional diversity in the group, specific video games with adaptive design should be selected or, at least, commercial video games with simple, easy-to-use technological interfaces.

Critical thinking: context-based usability assessment allows the adaptation of any video game to the targeted educational environment, providing that it is directed by the teachers towards the learning objectives. The fostering of critical thinking is crucial when trying to introduce violent, sexist, racist, homophobic or classist video games, since their ideological background may influence in a negative way if educational practice is not guided by concrete criteria and strategies that critically challenge, dismantle and eventually discard such interpretations or perspectives. The confection of video game analysis tables containing information about plot or narrative, character design, gameplay, etc. that would be stored in a file repository is very useful. The strategies intended to cultivate critical thinking are the following: discussion and debate, questionnaires, analysis of practical examples or case studies, guided or comparative analysis of video games, monitored gaming with active participation of the teachers, etc. In the case of serious games, intended to develop specific skills and to acquire certain knowledge, and that of persuasive games, aimed at fostering critical thinking about specific topics, free gaming alone can be an efficient way of achieving their respective objectives; however, critical thinking does not emerge from the mere act of gaming, but it has to be developed through strategies like those just mentioned. The rationale behind this statement is that critical thinking is a second-order thinking process about each video game values, assumptions, implicit and explicit intentions, effects, etc.

Attention to objectives: hereafter is a table of video game genres with information about the abilities they contribute to develop, the kind of knowledge that can be transmitted using them and some examples of concrete video games.


Some methodological pedagogical measures recommended to improve context-based usability:

It is strongly recommended to use the assembly along the entire development of the educational practice as a method of reflection and decision on video game selection and on the specific implementation in the educational environment.

Other appropriate practices:

- Collective gaming, which facilitates familiarization of students with video game interfaces unknown to them, and promotes integration, associationism and cooperation. As a result, it is students themselves that help each other acquire new abilities in a ludic context and in a non-hierarchical way.

- Cooperative gaming practices that not only promote associationism and cooperation, but also integration; therefore, it can be very useful to improve deficient context-based usability of specific video games. For instance, in case there were a child with hearing difficulties within the group, cooperative gaming can make up for important auditory signals through a code of tactile signals designed and used by the students themselves in order to improve usability.

- Active participation of the teachers in the gaming activity, which leads students to reflection and critical gaming, helps detect their needs, interests and preferences, creates non-hierarchical social bonds and suppresses the impression that gaming is being controlled by teachers. This contributes to bridging the second digital divide and eliminates the prejudices against video games that still distress some children.

conclusions and FuTURE rESEARCH dIRECTIONS

After several months of application, and having ascertained the positive results of the utilization of video games in educational contexts, the authors consider that the GAMESTAR(T) project should keep improving, taking advantage of the experiences and the solutions implemented. This experience opens a broad and complex horizon of research on pedagogical innovation, as well as of development and application both in teacher training and teaching practice.

In the first place, research on pedagogy is essential for the project. Bearing in mind the difficulties encountered, the pedagogical foundations of the criteria and actions should be sounder. Therefore, the members of GAMESTAR(T) should be encouraged to undertake a deeper commitment to the foundations of the pedagogical plans and their practical application. Integrating video games in education is a novel challenge, which demands a justification that cannot be based solely on its advantages for knowledge acquisition. As shown in this chapter, this advantages are numerous and of great importance, but they would be useless and unsatisfactory if they are not accompanied by a pedagogical basis that takes into account the students' characteristics, interests, preferences and their personal development. Bridging the second digital divide is the true challenge for the introduction of video games into the classroom; research should concentrate on this issue, analyzing how children establish relationships to video games and why they are so attractive to them, all with the aim of transferring the motivation and interest they generate to an educational context.

On the other side, it is of great importance (and this is the second aspect of GAMESTAR(T)) to train teachers for the usage of video games in classroom. Teacher training should be oriented to an understanding of the meaning of the so called second digital divide and how video games make possible to bridge it. Education plans should include, on the one hand, theoretical knowledge about the pedagogical principles and practices that must be taken into account to improve the teaching experience with video games, the existing video games, its characteristics, the benefits they bring about, the possibilities of creation of own video games, etc.; and, on the other hand, practical knowledge about how to incorporate video games in didactic planning in a efficient and satisfactory manner.

The future lines of research that this project opens:

  1. Possibilities of bridging the second digital divide through the usage of video games.

  2. Improvement of the technologically mediated teaching activity through teacher training plans.

  3. Possibilities of raising the students' level of satisfaction with the educational processes, especially those mediated by technology.

This chapter’s conclusions do not limit to a complacent ascertainment of the advantages of the usage of video games in education. It certainly entailed problems that had to be faced and dealt with, which require pedagogical effort to find solutions. The task at hand is by no means easy. That is why it is essential to report the whole process, so as it can serve as a reference for all those interested in introducing video games into the classroom and help develop teacher training programs.

Following the spirit of the GAMESTAR(T) project, the authors intend to continue with their (theoretical and practical) research on the introduction of video games into education, and to advance to the second stage of the project, i.e. the training and counseling of teachers about the introduction of video games into the classroom. Such work consists in providing teachers with all the indispensable knowledge to accomplish this task through a ludic approach to the video games world, presenting examples of the application of concrete video games to teaching of specific knowledge and skills, informing about how video games are currently being used in different educational projects and which tools are available for creating your own video games.

The GAMESTAR(T) project showed how it is possible to bridge the second digital divide and that, for this purpose, it is fundamental to pay attention to whatever children desire, expect from and look for in video games, how they relate to them and what they demand from teachers.

 

REFERENCES

 

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ADDITIONAL READING SECTION

 

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i ARSGAMES is an international cultural association composed of professionals, artists, researchers, students… that work on video game research in all of its facets (educational, cultural, economic, artistic, etc.).

ii In the year 2009, ARSGAMES and Mondo Pixel began to collaborate with Intermediae through its financial aids to creation. Since then they propose periodical meetings, coordinated by ARSGAMES or by Mondo Pixel, that gather professionals, artists and amateurs that work around the game art, research on game studies and game art theory. OpenArsgames is nowadays an indispensable reference for the academic studies on art and video games in Spain. The project consists in a series of presentations given by invited experts that take place the last Friday of every month and deal with different aspects of the video game studies: narratology, cognitive studies, theory of representation and ludology.

iii A game library that hosts a collection of board games, video games and other resources that are available for usage or loan.

iv Summerhill is a progressive, co-educational, residential school, founded by A. S. Neill in 1921. The school is located in Leiston, UK, and it is currently one of the most important democratic schools, where the students together with the teaching staff decide and determine through an assembly its normative and functioning. Nowadays the director of the school is Zöe Neill, daughter of A. S. Neill.

v Paideia is a free, anarchist school located in Mérida, Extremadura (Spain). Paideia was founded in January 1978 by three teachers: Concha Castaño Casaseca, María Jesús Checa Simó and Josefa Martín Luengo. The school is self-managed in all aspects, from the economic to the educational and the personal.

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