19/03/2013 11:58 GMT | Updated 18/05/2013 06:12 BST

Video Gaming in Schools to Engage Hard-to-Reach Youngsters

Video gaming classes could be the key to keeping disengaged youngsters in education and interested in learning, research by Lancaster University has shown.

The investigation, carried out by the university's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and produced by their senior research fellow Dr Don Passey, found how basing teaching projects around video games can engage hard-to-reach youngsters.

The report was commissioned by Wolverhampton Local Education Partnership who brought the initiative to the attention of schools and managed their involvement.

The pilot scheme encouraged teachers to bring together teams of young people, mostly in after school clubs, to use the PlayStation 3 game 'Little Big Planet 2' and create new levels. The teachers' role was to support the teams, facilitate work, provide a working environment and offer advice.

The schools included two pupil referral units, which cater for students who are disengaged from mainstream schools. Teachers included some groups of students that were known to be disengaged or were having difficulties in engaging with learning.

The project required the young people to use and develop soft skills in parallel with technical skills. It was found to improve their communication skills, team work and problem-solving abilities.

According to Dr Passey, the project has been useful for widening learning opportunities for the majority of teachers and has given them more ideas and the chance to explore topics in a new way.

Feedback from teachers involved in the project was overwhelmingly positive.

One teacher found that during the session two student ambassadors who both had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) had been more focused than ever before. As a result both boys were looking forward to going to school, for the first time ever.

He said: "It has allowed the children an opportunity to be creative in a media form they might otherwise never have been able to and work in groups they do not usually work with."

Although discussion among students could often be difficult, teachers observed that the discussions involved here were at a very high level. It was also noted that less confident children were more communicative and self- esteem was noticeably improved over the weeks.

Project involvement was reported by teachers to improve attendance at school and to improve engagement in lessons. Many met up at lunchtimes specifically to work on storyboards together.

Maths teacher and founder of game-based learning company 'We Want to Know' Jean Baptist Huynh said: "By bringing this game-based format into the classroom, children of all abilities are presented with a system that they can identify with and that they enjoy.

"The game-based format is particularly valuable to teachers trying to connect with children who are disengaged or have trouble focussing on school work.

"It provides a fantastic opportunity to capture their attention and channel their enthusiasm for games into learning."

David Alsopp Headmaster of Queen Elizabeth's High School, Gainsborough said that his students already use some online games tools, such as Snackville and My Maths - he considers them to be highly engaging for the students.

However, he believes that one problem schools might have in bringing video-gaming into classrooms is overcoming the negative connotations some teachers may hold.

Sandi Mann, Project Lead on Your Future, Your Life at University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), said: "UCLan IS looking at the young person as a whole - their learning styles, their ability to cope with stress, their boredom proneness, their relationships with teachers and others.

"My concerns with this programme are that whilst it might develop teamwork/communication skills as described, it might not do much to actually motivate young people to aim higher and achieve at traditional subjects at school.

"The danger could be that all they learn is that video-gaming - which they tend to already be very skilled at - is a useful alternative to the traditional academic subjects'

Prospects, an educational service provider which runs six Academies and provides careers support for 25 local education authorities, want to integrate the findings of the research into future curriculum and careers development.

Dr Passey considers one of the next steps for the research is to look at how these findings might help to develop existing practices and create new curriculum models.

He suggests three main areas that schools and teachers need to consider if the concept is taken further are that schools need access to the technologies which might incur costs, teachers will need to dedicate extra time to run extra classes and a suitable framework and structure needs to be provided with access to advice and technical support for teachers as required.

According to the report, it was noticeable that students were making 3D and colour notes in their storyboards when creating levels for the game - these were in audio, colour and moving forms. Dr Passey believes this form of technology could be used in the future to create notes and presentations that would serve some students better.

For Dr Passey this project raised some key questions about what is meant by learning and how we learn. Through texts and on pages, traditional education has tended to make the world more static and non-moving. It is the individual mind or imagination that perhaps puts them into colour, with moving and audio forms.