Method and background

Games as teaching tools

The goal of this section is to provide a few concepts and some basic general guidelines for the use of game-based learning activities in class.

What is a game? While we all intuitively know many games that we played or still play, this is not a simple question to answer, both because of the complexity of the factors that games are concerned with and because of the different types of games available.

For our purposes, it is sufficient to say that a game is a sort of “other environment” which is generated by the decision of individuals to follow a defined set of rules. Indeed, when people decide to play football, kicking a ball into a white net becomes incredibly meaningful – which is not the case in real life: they have become players; we can say they entered the magic circle of the game.

Playing is strongly related to learning – and this is why playing is the normal mode of experience for children. At first, playing requires learning about the game that is, learning the rules. Secondly, playing in most cases means playing with others, that is, establishing and managing goal-orientated relationships with them (even if only temporarily). Thirdly, playing means approaching our environment in a supposedly risk-free way (within the magic circle), which allows less constrained experimentation. Finally, becoming a player means taking on a new identity, and contrasting it, during the game, with our real one.

So, while our perception is that “playing is for free time, learning must be hard”, the reality is quite the opposite: a good and fun game is one that requires players to learn. Of course, this does not mean that games are good for learning everything, but it suggests that games such as Game4U can be used as an effective ingredient for instruction.

Learning through games: games in the class


The relationship between the game and learning is mediated by pleasure: when the game allows the individual to have fun, learning, notwithstanding the difficulty, will be more efficient. If learning is at the basis of each game it is also true that each game, if it is done voluntarily and with the purpose of having fun, will allow players to learn and also to become aware of new things. The component of being voluntary is fundamental in order to allow the players to enjoy the full experience of the game. If it is not done voluntarily then fun and learning will not take place. This is probably the main difficulty when proposing a game within a mandatory instructional setting.

This also means that a main component of the game is the control which is given to the players. The player is the centre of the game, he/she is the one that gives strength and life to the game, and he/she is at the centre of the action together with the other players. The player is the one that decides what to do and when (always within the rules) deciding his/her destiny within the game.

Therefore, in order to use the learning potential contained in each game, it is necessary to create a strong magic circle, which allows the emotionally involvement of the players. Nevertheless, there are no formulas or rules through which it is possible to create a “catchy” game. In the creation of games finalized for teaching nothing can be taken for granted and certain. The teacher always has a fundamental role in the creation of the emotional participation of the players, testing new ideas, techniques and styles in conducting the game.

As a teacher, it is important that you consider both the advantages and disadvantages of using games for learning in your class. Advantages of game-based learning include: Increased motivation for students. Playing a fun game creates a unique and stimulating experience, which motivates the participation and the cooperation of students, and unleashes their potential for learning. Game4U exploit competition and collaboration in order to generate engaging situations where learning becomes part of a shared pleasant experience.

Complexity embedded in experience. Games such as Game4U implement a rather complex model of entrepreneurship which is, of course, more complex than any model. But they do that within a game, that is, they do not approach complexity with definitions and concepts, but provide an engaging experience where complexity becomes somehow natural. Such experience provides a great basis also for the development of analytical understanding and conceptualization.

Learning through action and observation. When playing games, we do not learn by transmission (what the teacher says), but by making decisions, acting, and observing the action of others. This stimulates participation and active learning, which leads to a deeper understanding and retention of knowledge.

Autonomous learning. Through direct experimentation and feedback, players learn during the game, and also how to learn more on their own. Game4U players are pushed to make decisions, and to reflect on them in order to identify what and how to improve.

Entrepreneurial competences and why they are important nowadays


Entrepreneurial competences

In entrepreneurship education it is interesting to know which concept of entrepreneurship is used and which respective competences (skills, attitudes, motivation,) are therefore to be educated. Only on this basis suitable didactical methods can be chosen, or – as in our case – games can prove their adequacy concerning these objectives.

The concept of entrepreneurship has to be differentiated from a managerial perspective. Just like the entrepreneur and the businessman are not the same, entrepreneurship and particularly entrepreneurial attitudes are not related to skilful management but to autonomy and (vocational) competence. So entrepreneurship and particularly entrepreneurial attitudes as learning targets do not only apply to the classical entrepreneur but also to the self-entrepreneur, the intrapreneur and the social entrepreneur.

However for such a complex concept the specific competences and their constellations are not uniform. In the frame of Game4U the basic set of competences, which are sufficiently relevant for the whole concept, have been distinguished. However in this basic set there is a crucial difference. On the one hand the learning targets are to be found in the wider field of motivation: self-efficacy, clear values, readiness to take risks, ambiguity tolerance, a will to produce results etc. On the other hand specific skills can be mentioned e.g., planning, presentation, negotiating and interpersonal competencies (for a summary cf. Collins/Smith/Hannon 2005) It is an assumption of the project members that there are two ways to foster entrepreneurial attitudes, the direct one via the motivational dimensions of entrepreneurship and a second one via the performance of specific entrepreneurial actions including these skills thus providing the learner the experience of competence. Concerning the different target groups originally relevant for Game4U a specific list of inter-related competences was thus developed: decision making, ambiguity tolerance, information competence, goal-orientation, creativity, exploration, leadership, social competences, networking competence, empathy, organizational competences, self-confidence, motivation, self-reflection, team working, planning, assessment, focusing, taking initiative, problem solving, out-of-the-box thinking, factor analysis.

In order to prove the didactical adequacy of our games for fostering entrepreneurial attitudes there has to be sufficient correlation between the method, i.e. gaming, and the learning target, entrepreneurial attitudes. Hence the question is, why should certain games foster these competences and with them entrepreneurial attitudes? A way to answer this question is to show, that there is a didactical relevant parallel between play and particularly playing games on one side and entrepreneurship on the other. This parallel is based on two interlinked features: first there is again the specific form of motivation and second a specific form of cognitive relation to one’s environment.

The general adequacy of game-based methods for teaching attitudes and the similarity between the competitive dimension of games and real-world competition of economic life, and entrepreneurial activity show similarities in the realm of intrinsic motivation. Both dimensions are related to the experience of autonomy and competence, which are major aspects of intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan 2000). Autonomy constitutes a basic condition of the ‘play mode’, also 7 getting into a ‘flow’ (i.e. adequacy of challenge and ability) is a crucial aspect of fun in playing. Accordingly the experience of entrepreneurial independence and of one’s autonomous action in play – in particular if combined with success and achievement – provide similar motivation. The second issue, the specific cognitive relationship to one’s (variable) environment, is based on a certain perception of one’s environment and action within it. Many plays and games are determined by their openness to external effects; e.g. they often systematically include chance into the process (e.g. using a dice, a ball or cards). A game, whose result is certain from the outset, is not a game. So the appeal of playing games often comes from the challenge of acting in undetermined contexts. Respectively a high tolerance in relation to uncertainties in the environment, to take risks and the aptitude to see specific options in it can be attributed to the entrepreneur.


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