In conversation with BESA

How game-based learning and CLIL can improve pupils’ outcomes

As part of a new series for Education Technology, the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) is interviewing one of its members each month to discuss educational resources and issues. 

This month, BESA talked to Glen Jones, Director of Emile Education, and Sarah Lister and Pauline Palmer, from Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), who were instrumental in the development of Emile Education. 

BESA: What is the story behind Emile?

Glen: Cyber Coach (the company behind Emile) was founded in 2013. I met MMU’s Knowledge Transfer Partnership office in 2014 when we were looking to expand our offering to schools into MFL (prior to the 2014 National Curriculum changes). That’s when I first met Sarah Lister and Pauline Palmer, and I was sold on a CLIL-based resource for primary schools. 

A prototype was demonstrated in January 2017 at BETT, where we received over 80 distributor enquiries! This interest led us to expand the game-development team and helped us access funding from Creative England, the Regional Growth Fund, and Greater Manchester Export Fund. 

Emile was launched in the UK at MMU’s £129m Faculty of Education Building on 28 September 2017 and in Mexico at BETT Latin America in October 2017. 

Sarah and Pauline: This product has been created under the auspices of a Knowledge Transfer Project (KTP) in which Cyber Coach is working with MMU. The company wished to expand its range of educational products and approached the University to secure the pedagogical expertise and input. 

The academics were already engaged in research activities related to CLIL. The academic team consists of a mathematician and a linguist, hence the decision to focus on mathematics. Emile derives from the French term for Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL). 

BESA: What are the benefits and advantages of partnering with the education department of a university?

Glen: I strongly believe we have managed to combine the speed of response and focus an SME can provide with the knowledge, experience and awareness an organisation like MMU can provide. 

The research being conducted in parallel to the development, periodically a new feature to all existing games, needs to be introduced. This means Emile is constantly evolving. Not just adding more and more games, but adding usability features, easing access, helping (particular groups of) children to learn more deeply, etc.

Sarah and Pauline: Research is a key component of the project and underpins the ongoing development of the product. The engagement in research enables us to conduct robust trials to ensure that the games are fit for purpose and are pedagogically sound. Feedback from children and their teachers has been, and continues to be, a core element of the academic research.

BESA: Why did you decide that Emile would implement game-based learning? 

Glen: As a company, we believe strongly in making use of the engaging aspects of computer games when providing learning resources. Game-based learning done well is great, done badly it does not add to learning. 

Sarah and Pauline: Game-based learning is an integral part of the KTP project, providing a motivating and meaningful context for learners to engage with both subject content and language learning.

Game-based learning is one of the few contexts where it is acceptable for children to make mistakes and learn from this in a non-threatening environment. A significant benefit of contextualising learning within computer games is the potential for learners to revisit subject content and opportunities for repetition of language. Children have commented on the fun element as well as the fact that the games make them think. 

BESA: Education technology is expected to help teachers save time. How much is Emile helping drive school improvement?

Glen: CLIL fundamentally saves time. For example, in a CLIL (Maths and French) lesson, students will have better learning outcomes than if they had a French lesson and a Maths lesson consecutively.  

At Cyber Coach, we don’t purposely try to save anyone time. We try to provide good and engaging resources. By really engaging children, we believe better outcomes will be achieved. However, we always keep focus on the learning outcomes to be covered.  

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