Tim Rylands: "The most important is the enthusiasm generated by games"
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With over 25 years of classroom experience, in the UK, and beyond, including 4 years in West Africa, Tim Rylands has received notable recognition for using computer games, and Web 2 technologies to inspire children’s creative confidence in many areas of the curriculum - writing, speaking and listening, music, thinking skills, collaboration, interaction and much more.
Elearning Europa had the opportunity to talking with him during the last ICERI2012 Conference.
What is your main activity?
I have been a teacher for 27 years. I taught in very challenging areas in England, in West Africa. Conferences are a small part of what we do. What we normally do is a full day or two days of training with teachers and students. I also do demo teaching and people watch me teaching.
How do you teach?
When you do demo sessions, it’s on a much larger scale than a class. If you came to one of my sessions, you wouldn’t see me first, you would see the children and the teachers looking at a beautiful virtual world. We slip into the learning. They don’t even notice that we’ve started. When I was nominated for an award, the judges said I was a creative teacher with a warm affinity with his class. I think this is the most important part, whether it’s technology or not. Lots of children with scribble sticks, pencils, because we do a lot of analogue responses to digital stimulus. The idea is that children pick words up and juggle with them. A lot of children are sharing ideas with each other as much as with me.
It’s a way of teaching rather than a resource. It’s about how you get children talking. We encourage children and teachers to write together because sometimes writing is something we inflict upon children, so I think it’s good to be sitting down writing with them. Some children have never seen what enjoying writing looks like.
The other element is how we build silence. To me, the best teacher has bite marks on his tongue, he gives the opportunity to let the children have the feeling that they’re leading it.
He knows where he’s going but hopefully, the students don’t notice that.
You said that the tools you use are not as important as the dialogue that is happening.
When the people are working, they don’t see the technology, it is about what is said. I don’t necessarily mean just talking, I mean what is communicated, rather than what is used.
What are the benefits of using these virtual worlds in opposition to traditional learning?
I would say that these two methods are rather complementary. Games are not the only thing we do. In many respects, it's old-style teaching. It’s about moving students forward in essential skills: the ability to communicate, writing. Talking leads to writing but writing is the way we communicate when people are not there, so it has to be very gripping and engaging. This is not in contrast to traditional learning. I do find the worlds and tools that we use motivate and inspire the most reluctant writers.
Are all the kids involved in the same way?
It goes right the way through, from the less able to the more able. All of them, at different paces, take off and fly. Who would you say goes the fastest? Very often, it’s the less able. The gifted and talented children are not necessarily the most able. Sometimes they know how to tick the boxes but they don’t necessarily know how to take off and fly. When we come to these things where there’s no right or wrong idea, and we tell the children not to worry about their spelling, then the less able suddenly find themselves in a position where they can. Not worrying about spelling doesn't mean it isn't important. It most definitely is but there is a time and a place for written (and verbal) jazz: making it up, experimenting, exploring and surprising ourselves. What we encourage pupils to do is not to worry about their spellings, to get their thoughts down on paper in inventive, creative ways.
Why do you use purely recreational games such as Myst instead of serious games?
I don’t purely use recreational games, we do a huge amount of other things. It’s a challenge for me to find something new everyday, occasionally there are educational games and serious games, or web-based opportunities.
Are these games a one-time experience or are you working towards incorporating this into the curriculum?
Yes, it can be part of a broader strategy. If I were to use only games, it would be a shallow diet for my pupils but as a starter they’re remarkably engaging, they really do grab attention and focus. But they’re not the reason why you come to school, although the children forget that. Some schools have written us to say ‘thank you’ because their attendance rates have gone up, as well as their standards in writing and use of ICT. The most important is what’s generated because of enthusiasm.
Game-based learning is expensive for schools. Is the additional benefit sufficient in relation with its cost?
I understand your concern about the cost but it isn’t that expensive because you don’t need a vast amount of technical equipment, you just need a projector and a pretty basic computer. However, you have to choose wisely for a start. For example, if I was to use even the most peaceful part of Grand Theft Auto in a mainstream school, I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if somebody came and complained. I think the benefits could be worth going through the difficulties of finding the right tools. The most important is how the teacher uses the tool.
What kind of skills can be developed by the use of games?
The number 1 would be confidence for children. It changes the perception of children who don’t think they are writers. It changes the perception of themselves into being someone who can and wants to learn. Also social skills: the ability to share. The outcomes are huge and endless. We work with schools that have perhaps challenges getting children to write or are asking themselves how to use technology in a creative, inventive way that can have an impact in classrooms. We’re also invited in schools that are already doing remarkable things.
What are the challenges that face educational games?
Money to come up with the quality that normal recreational games have. Most of the time, they’re using primary colours, it’s games where you have to tick the right answer. There is also the problem of the image, some people say: “How can the learning come from a game?” But in 12 years of using games, I’ve never had a negative comment from children, teachers, governors or parents. An incredible, valuable, shared learning journey.