Educators have for many years been championing gamification as a way to engage children in learning in an effective, but fun, way. This is particularly the case for science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) subjects. However, rather than just supporting STEM or other core subjects, learning through play can be applied to almost any type of lesson. With young people surrounded by technology and the internet having an increasing impact on their lives, is there more we could do to teach children how to be safe online?
The benefits of gamification are well known, with many educators sharing anecdotes of how learning through play has engaged even the most stubborn of learners. Popular across the curriculum, the way gamification builds teamwork skills and deepens understanding of the subject matter could also be applied to topics that we can find difficult to discuss.
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Schools are finding it increasingly difficult to identify and tackle cases of bullying, simply because it can often be an invisible problem, but also due to the fact that the internet, social media, and increased use of mobile phones among younger pupils means it now goes beyond the playground or school hours. It can happen online in anonymous forums, targeted text messages to the victim, or it can be via isolation rather than specific actions, which are even harder for the victim to explain to the adults around them. Similarly, online safety is a challenging topic to explain to children, whether it’s protecting them from grooming, radicalisation, or security and malware.
A game that can teach children the warning signs and dangers of grooming and radicalisation could take the form of a simulation of an online networking website. Giving them different scenarios to react to, for example ‘a stranger sends you a friend request’ or ‘you see a friend is posting about hurting someone else’, gives students a chance to react in a safe space, gaining points for making the right decision. A similar game that could explore the ways we can know if an email is safe to open, would be to share example emails and give options to ‘add to junk’, ‘download attachment’, or ‘block sender’. This creates an element of competition amongst students based on positive behaviour, but also encourages discussion and collaborative learning, building upon their soft skills.
The way gamification builds teamwork skills and deepens understanding of the subject matter could also be applied to topics we can find difficult
Bullying can be a harder topic, because there are two strands of raising awareness. For example, it’s both about how to support students in dealing with bullying if they are a victim, and educating them about their own behaviour to recognise what they might be doing to bully themselves. Gamification would therefore need to also take two approaches; focusing on awarding points to students who respond to negative scenarios by reporting bullies, standing up for their peers or reaching out to someone who seems upset, but also opening up the discussion in class to encourage students to think about how they treat others.
Of course, teaching sensitive topics needs to be approached appropriately to reflect the serious nature of bullying and online safety, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be overly sombre, either. Especially for younger children, using gamification to equip them with the tools to protect themselves, speak out for others, and educate themselves on appropriate behaviours can be a positive way to engage them.
So, while the benefits of gamification are well-known, there is certainly scope for educators to apply it to topics that are difficult to teach or to discuss. If it can address, or better still tackle, serious and prevalent issues like bullying and online safety, I for one, am a fan.
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