Games as teaching method

A didactic game is construed as some sort of game where set rules are observed. It is an educating tool serving the didactic purpose. An important aspect of the game is to achieve a strictly defined score. Competences acquired when playing didactic games, e.g. persistence, critical thinking or readiness to run risk, facilitate the development of entrepreneurial attitudes. Examples of didactic games strengthening those competences are location-based games and strategic games.
(Article by Natalia Kaszkowiak and Joanna Tobys, based on the Erasmus+ project Trio2Success outputs)

A complex and multifaceted nature of teaching – learning requires a rich repertoire of teaching methods. The essence of modern understanding of methods is the evocation of action, development of thinking and creativity (Kruszewski 2005; Król 2007). Coping with risk, persistence and critical thinking are ones of many skills that we can develop using available teaching methods, which are frequently still seen as unconventional. Those are for instance didactic games.

Use of games dates back to the antiquity. The oldest board game was found in China – it dates back to 3000 BC (Faria, Nulsen, 1996). Some ethnographers are convinced that it was education that was the reason for creating many games. Their task was to reproduce natural living conditions of humans, share knowledge with the next generation and prepare them for proper functioning in the society. A good example may be chess, which was used as a typical simulation game 2000 years ago. Its aim was to prepare soldiers to do battles (Surdyk, 2008).

The creator of modern pedagogics – Jan Amos Komeński – recommended methods that taught through play. He gave most credit to simulation and competitive games. They were to maintain the attention of the student and evoke their motivation (Siek-Piskozub, 1995). Many authors claim that each game is a play, but not each play is a game (Galant, 1987). Therefore, it is essential to grasp the differences between them. The most significant factors distinguishing the game and the play are the following:

  • meaning of score – stronger in the game than in the play,
  • nature and meaning of rules – explicit and formalised in the game,
  • competition in the game,
  • limitation of illusion in the game (Okoń, 1987).

Hence, the game is a higher form of play based on respecting strictly set rules by at least two students (Grzesiak, 1984). The literature includes other definitions and classifications of games as well although most authors use the term of didactic game directly. Wincenty Okoń characterises the game as a form of play where set rules are observed. In this case an important aspect of the game is to achieve a strictly defined score. He also underscores the educating functions of the game: respect for norms, possibility to compete, teaching how to win and how to lose. On the other hand, the didactic game is a game with a certain didactic purpose, a teaching tool (Okoń, 2007). Similar stance is expressed by Czesław Kupisiewicz, who – underlining the features of play in the didactic game – classified them a well, distinguishing the following types of games (Kupisiewicz, 2009):

  • simulation games – the task is to present a specific fragment of reality in a simplified manner, which makes it easier to observe or manipulate it;
  • situational games – the idea is to challenge children and the youth to solve fictional tasks,
  • staging games – they require the reproduction of past events or create new plans of those events.

Franciszek Szlosek provides a slightly different classification of didactic games, which he ranks among activating teaching methods. He distinguishes the following game types:

  • simulation-based – actions taken by players resemble actions taken by people in real situations in everyday life;
  • decision-based – role play by students with presentation of thoughts, statements and attitudes;
  • psychological – based on interactions between individuals or groups striving to achieve set goals (Szlosek, 1995).

On the other hand, Krzysztof Kruszewski says that the didactic game is a problem-based teaching method. He underlines its role in shaping creative thinking, which makes it possible to rebuild old and create new patterns. Therefore, what is present here is thinking and learning characteristic of the problem-solving process (Kruszewski, 2005).

Upon analysis of the definitions made by the said educators, the didactic game can be understood as a teaching method facilitating the acquisition of knowledge and skills, containing components of play, based on observance to strictly set rules and allowing the student to learn how to win or lose. Ever more often, games – simulation-based in particular – are based on computer programmes and the Internet. The most significant features of didactic games are the following (Wawrzeńczyk – Kulik, 2013; www.womgorz.edu.pl; www.lscdn.pl; www.graszkolneniowa.pl):

  • purposefully organised didactic situation which allows to achieve the set goals, not only didactic ones, but also education-related ones;
  • explicitly set rules which largely pertain to subject-matter and time limits;
  • activity of students and other interactions between participants;
  • introduction of competition.

Didactic games are an effective measure in shaping general competences. Participation in the game reinforces and emotional and motivational sphere of the student. The most important competences developed with games are the following:

  • teamwork, formation of and leadership in a team;
  • communication and cooperation, especially active listening, argumentation, asking questions, expressing and accepting criticism, negotiating and coping in conflict situations;
  • time organisation and management, that is the determination of priorities, classification of tasks, work planning and acting when there is time pressure;
  • a range of other analytical skills, which include goal determination and critical thinking (Wawrzeńczyk-Kulik, 2013).

Many authors underline that didactic games are an efficient method of developing persistence. Gabriela Kapica claims that they develop willpower, willingness to overcome difficulties and persistence. They bear successes, which evoke optimism and self-faith (Kapica, 1991). Maria Noga adds that “they develop such character traits as regularity, persistence, self-discipline and feeling of justice. They teach how to take up tasks on one’s own and how to get on in a peer group” (Noga, 2009).

Persistence in didactic games allows students to overcome problems, see them as effort on their way to success. It increases motivation and optimism concerning learning new things, rules and dependencies. Therefore, participants of games are not discouraged by difficulties and learn from their failures. Such an attitude allows them to develop another competence, that is readiness to cope with risk and running risk.

The didactic game sets students before the necessity to make decisions and be responsible for them. It is connected with acting when there is uncertainty and a chance of failure (Wawrzeńczyk-Kulik, 2013). Participants realise that making decision under risk bears mistakes. Movements at every game stage are the mastering of the previously made, frequently risky, decision and modification of assumed game strategy. It is therefore necessary to use yet another competence in this case, that is critical thinking. It is connected with sober, reasonable and reflexive and logical thinking and investigation. It is characterised by use, analysis and assessment of information obtained from the host or other participants or independent formation of it (www.criticalthinking.pl). Critical thinking is a component of creativity and problem-solving, particularly in crisis. It allows to see differences and make decisions.

Didactic games used in the teaching process are met with growing interest and recognition at schools and in institutions. The recent years have witnessed a some kind of renaissance of games and plays. Learning with them has undisputable didactic merits in comparison to the traditional teaching model (Surdyk, 2009; Kapp, 2012). There are many studies on correlations between the use of didactic plays and games and the effectiveness of teaching many subjects. Johan Huizing Roger Caillois proved the importance of ludic activity as the basic human activity. It is them that are considered the most eminent precursors of ludology (i.e. science dealing with games) (Surdyk, 2009). Other game examiners are for instance as follows: Jespera Juula, Gonzalo Frasca and Markku Eskelinen (Surdyk, 2009). On the other hand, as for Poland what needs to be remembered are the theoretical assumptions set forth by the already-mentioned Wincenty Okoń and Florian Znaniecki.

Studies confirm the attractive and activating function of games. This is so as games teach seeking, creating, consolidating and using necessary information. They allow to go beyond information found in books, bear new ideas, develop social competences and build the foundations for teamwork. Teresa Siek – Piskozub invokes the results of numerous empirical studies which prove increased effectiveness of education with simulation (Siek-Piskozub, 2001).

On the basis of the results of studies by Kapp and Sheldon, it may be assumed that games are an opportunity for teachers to improve the effectiveness of the teaching process. They allow for increasing involvement of students. They are efficient in overcoming significant deficits of traditional teaching methods (Kapp, 2012; Sheldon, 2012). The development of computer technologies more and more frequently allows for a wider use of teaching electronic games.

In January 2004, by the initiative of researchers, academic lecturers, PhD students and students, the Games Research Association of Poland was established. Its main aim is to study widely understood games in many aspects and use them in education as well as promote and develop knowledge on games both in theoretical and practical terms, i.e. creation and distribution of games. The Association promotes the idea of games as a form of creative use of time (Surdyk, 2007).

Location-based game and strategic game on the basis of Poznań

The location-based game is a play performed in the urban area, where the participants solve tasks set in the scenario according to their own variants. The factors decisive in winning are time and number of quality of solved tasks. The game combines components of on-street happenings, stalking and computer games. It is classified as a didactic (simulation) game requiring mental effort, movement-based and sport games requiring physical effort and territorial games requiring special preparation (Warcholik, Leja, 2012).

Location-based games date back to the 1920s and are connected with the United States. In Europe, the first game was organised in 1970s. In Poland, their history is much shorter. The first games were organised here at the turn of the 20th and the 21st century (Warcholik, Leja, 2012).

Browsing through the literature, it is well worth paying attention to an attempt to systematise location-based games. One of the classifications was made by Olga Nowakowska, who divided those games into lover’s, commercial and educational (Nowakowska, 2011). Lover’s games are organised by private initiative by person or people who do not act commercially, but mainly out of passion. On the other hand, commercial games are mostly organised by touristic companies and advertising companies or travel agencies with view of profit. They are frequently part of city touring during integration or motivation trips (Nowakowska, 2011). Last but not least, the educational game combines practical skills of participants with theoretical knowledge. It serves to obtain new information and it stimulates intellectual activity (Warcholik, Leja, 2012).

The game can have any subject matter. The goal of participants, moving around a city, is to perform tasks and reach the set points, that is places where the so-called agents can wait for them. The give the participants a task to complete. The winner is the participant who completes all tasks the fastest or who has got the best score (Nowakowska, 2011; www.lscdn.pl).

So far, Centre of Professional Counselling for the Youth (CDZdM) in Poznań was twice involved in the organisation of a location-based game in the area of entrepreneurship for students from upper secondary schools. The first edition was held in October 2014, the next one two years later, in October 2016. Every time, the Centre is the content partner of the game and cooperates with associations and foundations from the poviat of Poznań. Their task is to achieve a grant for performance of a public task (a round of a location-based game) from the Poznań City Council and then to settle those funds with the donor – Business and Agriculture Department of the Poznań City Council. The amount of such a grant is PLN 10,000 (EUR 2,380). The content partner is responsible for recruitment of participants and contact with schools and for content-related support.

The aim of the location-based game, in which CDZdM is involved, is to provide the participants with skills useful in establishment and running of their own business, with particular attention drawn to modern business and creativity in seeking the idea for the business activity. Students obtain knowledge on business plan formation rules and establishment of their own business, starting from dreams, through a plan and business concept, and ending on actual implementation.

The game is preceded by a preliminary stage, where the coordination team is created. Its task is to create the terms and conditions, application form, list of Internet tasks, description of stations and instructions for their agents and to create the map of the game. A graphic artist prepares promotional materials (logo, letter sheet, etc.) and the look of the participant sheet. The promotion is performed by means of the traditional and local media and subject-related websites as well as social media. Information is also sent directly to schools. Three-person teams of students of upper secondary schools in Poznan can participate. Recruitment is performed by filling in the application form at the website. At this stage there are no limits as to the number of teams.

The game starts at an Internet stage. Its aim is to provide the game participants with knowledge in the area of entrepreneurship, creation of attitude of in-depth analysis of information about business, investing in oneself and manner of thinking about earning their first money. The condition for participation in the game is to read and accept the terms and conditions and a consent by a parent/legal guardian for participation in the game. The Internet stage is performed via specially designed website and it lasts two weeks. Each task has to be solved within two days. During that time, the participants receive tasks to complete, for which they are granted points by entrepreneurship experts appointed in the game. The task of the experts is also to sent back remarks, reservations and ideas The experts are usually business consultants, employees of Project Coordination and City Revitalisation Bureau, professional economists and bank representatives. A condition for further participation in the game is the completion of tasks within the time limit specified by the organiser. The prepared tasks pertain to the following:

  • idea for business: description and justification of the idea and its goal;
  • sales: determination of the strategic client, goal of sales, investigation of the business’s environment (competition, suppliers and recipients);
  • business’s resources: financial, tangible and human resources, provided services, prices, distribution and promotion;
  • concept of business: it contains components included in the third task and additionally includes the strategy and general justification of the idea. It shows components which can prove whether a given idea is feasible;
  • preparation of a sale strategy: creation of the idea for seals, indication of manner and stages in which it will be carried out;
  • creation of a product logo and name: preparation of a marketing strategy, general vision on promotion and presentation of the business or a product;
  • creation of presentation of business’s idea; a task summarising the previous tasks. The presentation is prepared in the multimedia form.

In 2016, 41 teams participated in the Internet stage, 10 out of which went through to the on-site stage. Its aim is to familiarise the participants with various types and forms of business activity, teach them how to cooperate and teach them consequences of their choices and how to take risk. At the start, the players receive a starting pack consisting of a T-shirt with the game logo, beverage, snack, compass, map, notebook and pen. Additionally, students and volunteers are covered with accident insurance.

The on-site stage lasts ca. 3 – 4 hours. It is held in the area of the city of Poznań, where there are points where the teams perform various tasks in the area of business activity:

  • sale of a product to a difficult client: a volunteer plays the role of a difficult client and the participants are to sell them their product;
  • business promotional campaign: determination of components of promotion adapted to the idea of the business;
  • creation of a promotional video: assessment of time, idea and used methods;
  • interview with an entrepreneur; acquisition of information on the specific character of a business or a product, learning about the successes and difficulties of the entrepreneur;
  • presentation of the business plan: the concept of the business is assessed by a jury.

The game ends once all teams perform the tasks. At each station, the participants receive 0 – 5 points, depending on the quality of performance of a given task. The general score from the Internet and on-site stages are taken into consideration to determine who wins. At the end of the game, in a room at the Poznań City Council the winners will be announced and awarded. Board games were the prize in 2016.   The class of the entire ceremony is bettered by the presence of the Mayor of the City of Poznań.

In 2014, 18 people and 10 volunteers participated in the location-based game and in 2016 – 123 people at the Internet stage and 30 participants and 15 volunteers at the on-site stage.

Another example of the simulation-based didactic game is the strategic game. It is frequently referred to as the business simulation game in the literature. It is a form of conducting business activity under virtual, not real, conditions. Its main advantage is the possibility to observe the behaviours and effects of activity of businesses without risk and costs related to experimenting (Gaweł, 2016).

The history of development of simulation games is several thousand years old and pertains to the military. Simulation games used nowadays for education purposes in the area of economy and administration stem from war games. In this day and age, business simulation games appeared in mid-1950s. The first business game was created in the United States in 1956 by American Management Association. In a short time, consulting companies and universities became interested in the games. Over five years they became exceptionally popular and their use for educational purposes soared (Gaweł, 2016; Wawrzeńczyk-Kulik, 2013).

Business games are a simulation of operation of a business or its part. The participants play roles of members of the management of the company. They have to make managing decisions reflecting the operation of the company. Actions are taken with incomplete information on the game and the market. Via the trial-and-error method, the participants can analyse the effects of their decisions. Therefore, they gain better understanding of and insight in various aspects of business management (Gaweł, 2016).

Business simulation games are composed of four parts:

  • rules showing the types of managing decisions that need to be made and their limitations,
  • structure indicating the parameters of the game and their correlations,
  • competition resulting in the situation where decisions made by one team have an impact on the results obtained by all participants of the game,
  • feedback received after each decision rounds (Gaweł, 2016).

This type of games more and more often employs computer programmes serving to make decisions in the so-called virtual reality. The programmes are developed on the basis of mathematical models reflecting certain market phenomena in simplification (Wawrzeńczyk-Kulik, 2013).

In years 2014 – 2016, by the initiative of the employees of the Centre of Professional Counselling for the Youth and the employees of the Business Faculty at UMP, four editions of a strategic game took place, which were a supplement to class in business basics. The games were held in cooperation with the Poznań University of Economics and Business. They are organised free of charge by one of the game authors, professor Aleksandra Gaweł from the University of Economics and Business.

3- and 5-person teams of students from upper secondary schools in Poznań can sign in. The event is promoted via the website of the Centre, social media and on the basis of the contact database of schools and educators.

The first presented game was developed and implemented as part of project named “Strategic Management Games – innovative teaching method for business education (SMGBE)”, number 2011-1-PL1-LEO05-19884, financed as part of programme Leonardo da Vinci, Transfer Innowacji. The project is coordinated by the Poznań University of Economics and Business and implemented in cooperation with University of Graz (Austria), ISM (Lithuania) and the Wielkopolska Chamber of Industry and Commerce (Poland).

The organisation of the game requires the preparation of at least one computer station per group and Internet access. The prerequisite is the registration of all players at website http://bizarena.eu.poznan.pl (Gaweł, 2016).

The participants of the game – on one hand – use their knowledge and skills in the area of entrepreneurship on the basis of their qualifications – they analyse possible options, make decisions and examine the effects of their steps. On the other hand – the seek answers on their own, preparing the most effective strategy of operating on the market (Gaweł, 2016).

During the game, students are divided into teams, where they make decisions connected with the establishment and operation of a virtual enterprise (they e.g. establish the business name, split functions or define the strategy of business operation1). The game consists of 10 decision rounds. The winner is the virtual enterprise that develops and releases an assortment of services most adapted to the needs of target groups. Players compete for demand on their services. The make all decisions related to the operation of business, including those connected with marketing policy or human resource management2. The game takes nine hours in total and is usually spread over three days. Each game features five competing teams.

The starting market position of each player is the same. The have the same starting capital and identical possibilities to enter the market. They receive PLN one million at the start. Starting with round two, the standing of businesses changes. This is a result of teams making various strategic decisions, which has an effects the financial standing of an enterprise, its demand for service and profitability of sales (Gaweł, 2016).

The winner is the team that has the biggest capital after ten rounds. Each round finishes with feedback showing the effectiveness of the employed strategy. Awards for the participants are closely connected with the theme of the established enterprise.

In the first three editions, each team became a chocolate manufacturer and started to expand onto the European market. In the last edition, the participants established virtual fitness clubs. 65 players participated in all editions. Usually, the games are organised as part of the Global Entrepreneurship Week, becoming an effective tool in entrepreneurship teaching.

Benefits and conclusions

The competences acquired during didactic games, particularly in strategic and location-based games, facilitate the development of entrepreneurial attitudes. The most important benefits from the use of games in the teaching process can be seen from the point of view of three groups of stakeholders: young, entrepreneurial employees, professional consultants and teachers.

The benefits for young, entrepreneurial employees:

  • learning about new areas of knowledge and their assessment – didactic games evoke positive motivation for learning and they consolidate obtained knowledge. They deepen the interest in the topic, understanding of basic notions in the area of management and they integrate knowledge from various domains;
  • mastering entrepreneurial skills – the games also make it possible to acquire practical experience in making strategic and tactical decisions related with a virtual enterprise, such as : understanding of market mechanisms of operation of enterprise, solution of micro- and macroeconomic problems connected with the establishment and conduction of one’s own business activity. They evoke the willingness to win and stand out. The allow for sense the bitter taste of failure;
  • acquisition or development of key competences connected with various interactions, such as: development of teamwork skills, persistence, critical thinking and analytical thinking. Games allow for acquisition or strengthening of readiness to act, take risks and assume responsibility. The develop perception and precision (Siek-Piskozub, 1997, Wawrzeńczyk-Kulik, 2013).

Benefits for professional consultants:

  • increased knowledge on the student – games allow for better insight in professional interests, stronger and weaker spots of young people. They allow to check the competences declared by students. The show team roles and so show the predispositions of the student.
  • motivation of students to actively seeking new solutions and breaking old patterns – games make competences connected with creative approach to problems and orientation to risk more dynamic;
  • mastering of the skills required for the capacity of professional consultant and influence in their reputation among students. Games can show creative approach of the consultant to work with students. They present a competent and creative educator open for novelty (Dołęga-Herzog, Rosalska, 2014).

Advantages for teachers:

  • getting to know the student in various situations – games make it possible to see character traits that are usually not visible. They allow to assess the student’s lacks and deficiencies in situations which are not connected with stress;
  • presentation of issues related to various phenomena, technical processes included in the curriculum – games develop interest in the topic of class and positively influence the relation of the student to the subject (Gulińska, 2008);
  • more effective educational impact of the teacher during the game – games allow to shift the centre of gravity from the teacher and their teachings to the student and their independent action.

Teachers or professional consultants creating and implementing scenarios of didactic games, particularly location-based and strategic games, should mind several basic activities. They will be decisive in the correct course and effects of games. First of all, the recipient is to be specified. Then, proper level of difficulty is to be selected. It is also important to set the rules binding to all participants. It may be useful to hold an organisational meeting where the rules and conditions of participation in the game will be presented. Increase in the level of students’ involvement will depend on the level of variety of tasks. A well conducted play will allow to use the benefits derived from didactic games, that is the development of entrepreneurial and social competences.

From the moment of employment of didactic games in the teaching process, their popularity keeps increasing. They are becoming ever more various, the game market is expanding, and so they become the object of interest on the part of many authors. The issues of games and plays for children and the youth were in Poland touched on by – inter alia – W. Okoń (1987), G. Kapica (1991), T. Siek- Piskozub (1995), Cz. Kupisiewicz (2000), M. Bondarowicz, T. Staniszewski (2000), K. Kruszewski (2005), A. Surdyk (2008 – 2009). It is also possible to familiarise oneself with a ludology-related scientific periodical – and at the same time the official magazine – of “Homo ludens”, the Polish Association for Game Studies. As regards foreign literature, it is worth reading the works of the following authors: R. F. Barton (1974), G. Gordon (1974), J. Huizinga (1985), R. Caillois (1997), I. Flemming (1998), D. Chauvel , V. Michel (1999), R. Portmann (2001), J. Juul (2003).

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Pubblicato da Natalia Kaszkowiak

Natalia Kaszkowiak

She got her degree in the faculty of education at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan (Poland). She is closely related to career counseling for ten years. She works with students as well as job-seekers and unemployed persons. Currently, she works at the Career Counseling Center for Youth in Poznan, where she supports the students in their career development. Her main responsibilities are individual work with pupils, giving seminars and training.

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