Angela Colvert is a senior lecturer in English Education at the University of Roehampton. She is currently completing her doctoral research into alternate reality games in education.

Angela was one of a team of researchers involved in the development of the BAFTA-nominated online game ‘Teach Your Monster to Read’. Here she reflects on seven lessons from building a phenomenon in educational gaming.

  1. Giving children the position of ‘expert’ helps them to engage
    Angela believes Teach Your Monster to Read had a key difference compared to other reading games. Instead of the game being about the child learning to read, it was focused on the child helping their monster to read. That, she says, was the “secret” behind its success.

    Angela says: “The children feel invested; they’re becoming the experts at reading and they’re passing that on to this lovely, adorable-looking creature on the screen that becomes their monster.”

    She adds: “We had one child, and it was real joy to watch. He was sitting on his chair to begin with. Then, as he started to understand the game and move his monster around this virtual world, teaching his own monster to read, he was physically engaged with the game. He was jumping up and down out of his seat, cheering his monster on.”
  2. It also encourages camaraderie between pupils
    Beyond simply learning to read, Teach Your Monster to Read also had the unexpected bonus of building a community between the children. In one school, where the game was being used as part of the children’s’ reading practice, Angela was struck by the teamwork that had developed.

    “There was so much interaction going on off-screen,” says Angela. “You’d have a child jumping out of their seat, going over to someone and saying, ‘look, look, you’re on the bit I’ve just done!’ and then supporting another child. They supported each other and shared their successes.”
  3. The key to success is a strong story
    Angela’s research was inspired by her own interest in alternate reality games. She began to consider the potential power of computer games after spending hours playing them in her spare time.

    “The games I was engaged in playing had, in many ways, very strong narratives,” she says. “I started to look at them critically when I studied for my MA, and I did research which began to look at how games-as-text invite players to engage with the narrative and the stories in different ways.”
  4. Children can do more than many people think
    As her research interests became more refined, Angela began to experiment with the idea of encouraging children to build their own alternate reality games. At a primary school in South London, she asked a class of 10- and 11-year-olds to build and create a game for nine- and 10-year-olds.

    She says: “What I find exciting about my research is it’s always challenging my own perceptions of literacies and what children can achieve when given a challenge which ignites their interest. In this whole design process, all the designers – who were 10- and 11-year-olds – had an important role to play… I really felt in those instances that I was the facilitator of learning rather than the leader.”
  5. By building games, children learn the importance of collaboration
    As working behaviours change around the world, children need to develop skills that will help them in later life. Angela contends that working on a group project, such as building an alternate reality game, helps them to understand new processes.

    “Children are often asked to create polished, finished texts,” she says. “You’re asked to create an assignment, you finish it, polish it, and that’s your final draft.

    “While that’s a useful skill, children are also going to need to be equipped to create texts that are evolving through multiple authors – like working in Google Docs, for example.” When building games, there were multiple children working on the same texts. This gave them the experience of “creating stories […] and shaping meaning collaboratively.”
  6. They also begin to understand the concept of research
    As Angela’s class began to develop its own alternate reality game, her pupils also learned about effective research and sourcing information.

    “You wouldn’t just go to one source for your information,” says Angela. “You might go to a website, watch a film or read a book as well. Part of the skill now is to find information and collate it in that way.

    “The skills and competencies required to read, write and make meaning are much more diverse that they have been in the past.”
  7. Educators shouldn’t be afraid of innovation
    The idea of using computer games in a primary-school classroom might be relatively new. But Angela believes it certainly has merit.

    She says: “As educators, we need to learn from each other’s innovative practices.” Angela hopes this approach will help the teaching profession “begin to think about the pedagogical shifts” needed to support children and prepare them for adulthood.

    “If we can develop children’s ability to develop their learning and thinking in these key areas, then we are beginning to equip them for some of the changes ahead. What we’re looking for … is to empower children to be effective communicators both now and in the future.”

About this podcast
The University of Roehampton Podcast is produced by the University of Roehampton in collaboration with Roehampton Online. Its thought-provoking approach aims to introduce listeners to researchers, authors and academic experts from the University.

Listen to the episode – Teach your monster how to read, write and love homework.

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