Here’s a brief description of ten things to watch out for when you are using an online game with a class. No doubt there are more things to watch out for that are concerned directly with the game but these are for when you present the game to the class. We’ll be doing more things to watch out for at a later date.
1 You may be able to access the game at home or in the staffroom but can you access it multiple times in the connected classroom/ computer room as well? You may find that you need to upload the latest version of flash or shockwave or even try using a different browser before you can access the game.
2 Be careful of the images and language content bordering the game. Sometimes, when you are focused on the game itself it’s difficult to remember that you need to look at the webpage it’s on as well. If there are inappropriate images or possibly live chat that contains inappropriate language then you may find yourself reconsidering using that game. Remember though that the same game may be present on a different website that is more appropriate.
3. Check out links that are on the same page as the game. This can include links bordering the game or even in the space where the game will appear. Be sure you know where learners need to click to “Play Game” and at what moment. You don’t want learners to open new pages or follow a link that takes them away from the game.
4. Online games are very popular these days and more and more game sites have advertising before a game starts. Be careful as you may have played the game once and there was what you judged to be an innocent advert but you need to check before you play with a class as these adverts change regularly and you don’t want to be caught unawares. The other option is to set up a game before hand and run through the advert and get to the start of the game on each computer so it’s ready for learners to start playing.
5. Games take a moment to load and the space where you are due to play a game might contain a frozen advert for other games. This advert may include words similar or the same as ‘Play game’. You need to know what not to click on, if you need to wait for a certain amount of time before the right button to click appears and where that will be and what it looks like.
6. Some games take a certain amount of time to load and you have to take this into account. In a connected classroom it may just mean making sure your learners are engaged in an activity while you get a game ready. It may mean you setting up the game yourself before class on multiple computers. For this reason it’s a good idea to have played the game before and to remember the process involved in setting it up.
7. Some games or digital play sites require some time before actually playing in order to register with a name and an email. It’s good practice if this is so to have learners ready and trained to write in a name that is not their own and reveals as little personal information about them as possible. With very young learners you also have to be aware that they may not have an email of their own, remember how to access it or have to have their parent’s permission to use it. If this is the case then be aware that in order to play a game you may have to follow a lengthy process (possibly spanning a few classes) before you can actually play it.
8. A game needs to be easy to find both for you and your learners. How are you going to guide a class to the game? You could give them the site address, talk them through finding it on a search engine (say google) or have a document saved and accessible which has a direct hyperlink. Another way is to save it as a favourite on the computer, have your own class wiki or blog set up with it on or, easiest of all, get it all ready and set up for them.
9. If you need passwords and user names to access a site then make sure of two things. 1 – that you have this information written down and accessible both for you and by your learners and 2 – that the account can be accessed multiple times. Some sites its just a matter of having a unique password and user name for each learner (say a virtual world) but others may mean multiple people are accessing a single account. If the latter is the case then you have to be sure that a single account with a single password and username can be accessed on several computers at the same time and that different work can then be accessed and saved at the same time.
10. Have it clear in your mind what you are asking your learners to do. Finding your way to digital play may be easy but there is and always should be a language aim. If you are asking them to do other things while they play the game (take notes, have an online dictionary, walkthrough or a word document open in another window) then make sure your learners are aware of this before you play the game and while they play the game. Don’t let them simply be playing a fun activity without clear language aims. I always say to myself if my boss and a learners parent were here would they be happy with what their child and their teacher was doing. The answer should be ‘yes’.