Computer gamification in education can hinder learning, warns Johnny Ball

By Peter Gothard
07 Feb 2013 View Comments

Game-like computer programmes dumb down the usefulness of interactive IT-based education, according to veteran television presenter Johnny Ball.

Speaking to Computing at last week's BETT show in London, Ball said the use of gaming techniques in technology-based education can detract from the learning process.

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"A lot of the software we use is game-orientated and game-bent, and the programmers are very clever - sometimes using 3D images," said Ball.

"But the technology gets in the way of what the intention is, and the intention is to educate; gaming very often distracts from the path of education," Ball added.

Ball explained that when children are "exploring and getting used to" the mechanics of an educational game or gamified experience, "they're not necessarily doing anything more; and so the apps, the add-ons we're producing now, need to be cleverer and more focused on actually getting important messages across".

"Strong images" and "stories", such as centuries-old methods of explaining lunar cycles using "obelisks, wells and sunshine" could, said Ball, be represented in stimulating ways using technology.

Ball also criticised the "sensationalist way" television producers handle scientific subjects.

"I like Brian Cox, I think he's smashing, but I don't really think he should be getting all the air time when frankly he's talking about astronomy that's pie in the sky," said Ball.

"He's flavour of the month, though, and it's lovely. I was, Carol Vorderman was, other people were, it's absolutely fine; but are we ruining education in this way? And I worry that we are. And I think television has lost the feeling for what can be done."

Ball criticised the BBC in particular, describing how programme makers had taken educational  material he'd worked on and edited in such a way "so the slow ones can cope with it".

"And I said: 'The teacher is the only one who knows that - you've got to make it at an entertaining pace'.

"I've got two O-levels - nobody saw that I was good at anything at the time!" concluded Ball.

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