With the fast-developing digital age comes ever-impressive new technology. This is used to power not only video games, but the way we access information every day.
But forget watching videos on an iPad or taking part in worldwide banter on Twitter – what about schools? Why can’t motion controllers be used to teach our children important lessons? Sony believes they should.
Pushing new game technology into the National Curriculum is something that the firm feels is imperative to the education system.
“Games consoles don’t just play games, they are sophisticated media players,” Sony Computer Entertainment Europe’s senior VP Ray Maguire tells MCV.
“There is no reason why you can’t play open standard educational content such as videos, audio and web-based lessons through a games console like the PlayStation.
“There is also increasing empirical evidence that games-based technologies, if used with Curriculum-based content, raises student attainment, improves engagement and attendance.”
There are already teachers and students across the UK using PSPs as learning tools, with several schools in Sheffield first to opt for a more digital education.
Sony is focusing on pushing LittleBigPlanet 2 and PlayStation Move into schools as the customisable game and motion-sensing controller offer pupils a creative method of learning.
“The pinpoint accuracy of Move is great for hand-eye coordination skills,” adds Maguire. “It perfect for fitness and healthy eating regimes.
“Where schools are short on space, it’s a great way to play table tennis and movement activities.”
But how exactly can games help kids during actual lessons?
Maguire says: “LittleBigPlanet is a game based around physics and within the game you can create your own level – millions do this already.
“We are going to be creating teacher packs where class teachers with a specialist subject knowledge in science, technology, engineering and maths – the stem subjects – create ‘levels’ with content aligned to their specific age range.”
Relevant in-game content will be posted, hosted, shared and played via LittleBigPlanet. Students can work collaboratively in class with a teacher moderating, or they could work on levels as homework.
Maguire says Move is also ideal for teaching mathematics, such as calculations around the distance objects are thrown and travel times.
The game could also be used to teach languages, as LittleBigPlanet allows a variety of audio and text files to be saved for assessments. Each language could have its own bespoke in-game level for students to navigate and learn from.
Progress through PSPs
Regardless of whether or not teachers pick up Move, there are many schools already using a different Sony product in lessons right now – the PSP.
It is not just a handheld gaming device, it also acts as a media player – perfect for PowerPoint presentations or recording video footage for student projects.
Black Ridge Technologies has even developed an education-based augmented reality programme for the PSP called Second Sight. Students and teachers can ‘tag’ media onto a PC before loading it onto the PSP’s memory stick.
Students have used Second Sight to explore visitor sites for the National Trust and learn the spatial relationship of the solar system.
“It has enhanced the way that students learn Shakespeare,” adds Maguire. “It’s really up to the imagination of the students working with the teacher as to what they can do with this. It’s really engaging.”
Breaking into the system
Arguably the greatest challenge of getting games into schools is convincing the Government, schools, governors and teachers. Funding is tight, teachers work and plan constantly – and that’s not to mention the army of parents who will no doubt question why their children are ‘playing games’ at school in the first place.
“Right now it’s a big problem because games are not endorsed by the Department for Education and there is no clear commercial return on investment for game publishers,” says Maguire.
“At the moment, we rely on inspirational teachers and schools who recognise that games or other rich media can provide stimulation, engagement and relevance.
“Clearly, we are not educationists, so we have to work collaboratively with teachers, students, parents, communities and government to make sure that we provide a workable framework and that content is driven by learning outcomes that are endorsed by teachers and examination boards.”
A new Hope
All of this work is already having an impact. Last year the UK’s minister for the creative industries Ed Vaizey asked industry veterans Ian Livingston and Alex Hope to produce a report into the skills needed for the UK to thrive as a world-class centre for the games industry.
The Livingstone-Hope review was published in February and called for an academic rethink. It says that the UK could generate an extra £1bn in sales by 2014 if it overcomes the existing barriers in academia and keeps up with global competitors. The review found that schools should give students the key stem skills required for game development to encourage them to take up positions within the industry later on.
In Birmingham, Sony has initiatives underway with the Local Authority, where teachers can practice using games-based technology that they can take into the classroom. The format holder is also in discussions with Ed Vaizey to access the viability of rolling out ‘Games Clubs’ in secondary schools. There are already plenty of bespoke game development courses in universities across the UK.
But how likely is it for games to be seen as learning tools by the Government and the education system? When will it happen?
“It’s happening already, although on a small scale,” says Maguire. “There are many examples of brilliant teachers who have introduced games into the classroom under their own steam and are now reaping the rewards.
“And it is not just games, it is richer content – video, Flash, audio and games. I think there is a great case for a National Digital Curriculum to complement the existing Curriculum.”