Engaging students with Xbox 360

(Last Updated On: March 4, 2014)

Late last year, Southwell School was selected for a Microsoft Innovative Schools Pilot Project. Its winning proposal, Colab, is investigating the potential of online gaming as a way of engaging students in deep learning. Jo Wilson explains how it’s going.

The work of Mark Prensky, Lisa Garlaneau and Ewan MacIntosh highlights how the gaming environment fosters the skills of problem solving, decision making, teamwork, collaboration and communication. We were interested in how we could utilise games to further engage our students in deep learning through the key competencies.

In September, we successfully applied for funding to develop an existing ICT PD collaboration with St Andrews Middle School and Cambridge Middle School. As with any new initiative strategic planning and preparation were essential. This began with the preparation of our application. Although this process was time consuming, it provided us with an opportunity to clearly identify:

  • goals for the project;
  • all stakeholders involved;
  • our trial groups;
  • learning intentions;
  • roles and responsibilities of those involved;
  • what options were available in regard to the technology ;
  • what options were available in regard to the type of game;
  • what resources (equipment, professional development, time, funding) were required; and
  • expectations and guidelines for the project.

What game to choose?

Once identified, these provided a scaffold upon which to build our investigation and, therefore, by the time we were advised our application was successful much of the initial planning and preparation was underway. The planning team (including classroom teachers and senior management) investigated possible game options. We all agreed that the game needed to be suitable for intermediate age students and pose a problem which was relevant and meaningful to the students. We selected the Xbox game ‘Viva Piñata’ because of its focus on environmental sustainability and the opportunity it offers for gamers to connect and collaborate with others online. The teachers began ‘gaming’ to learn the associated skills of gaming and identify how this could be used in a class setting to meaningfully engage learners. They enlisted the help of students who were already familiar with it to assist them with their learning.

Rules for using games in class

The next stage was to identify how we could fully utilise ‘gaming’ in the classroom setting. Again careful planning was required in regard to:

  • how and when the gaming would take place;
  • identifying what prior knowledge the students needed;
  • identifying what skills the students needed;
  • what technology was required;
  • what infrastructure was required to ensure that this technology would run effectively; and
  • how the learning environment needed to be set up.

As a group, we decided that prior to being introduced to the technology all groups needed to establish norms of collaborative practice. In this regard, we focussed on establishing a culture of collaboration through investigating the key competencies of ‘Participating and Contributing’, ‘Relating to Others’, and ‘Managing Self’. Time was spent extrapolating the meaning of these key competencies in regard to the class and online environment. Students were asked to identify, co-construct and then agree to the norms of collaboration. This engaged the students from the onset by providing them with a sense of ownership and independence. Group roles and responsibilities were established and it was agreed that students would rotate through the roles. Learning intentions were shared with them so that they had a clear understanding of the expectations for the project. The main learning intention was that students and teachers recognise and experience the benefit of collaboration in technical problem solving environments with others distant in place. This was underpinned with a deliberate focus on the key competencies and the explicit learning and teaching associated with these.

Once these were established we discussed how the class programme would cater for online and offline involvement to ensure that all students were actively engaged in their learning. Time was allocated to planning to ensure that the offline programme supported and enriched the online learning opportunities.

‘Learning is about working together’

Initially, each class worked in groups to enable the students to build an understanding of the gaming environment and to ensure that the students all had the necessary skills and knowledge to actively participate. With this established the next stage is to create groups of students across the three schools. Again planning and preparation will be required to ensure that the students are set up for success.

To date the project is actively involving the students in their learning. For example one of the participating student groups stated: “Learning is all about compromise, collaboration and working together.”

From our investigations so far, it appears that gaming does engage the learner in deep learning. We believe that the key to this is in the planning and preparation that is done prior to students being introduced to the technology. We’re looking forward to the next stages of this project and will keep you informed of our progress.

Jo Wilson is Deputy Headmaster at Southwell School.


The project’s findings are due to be published in mid 2009. Southwell School’s ICT Coordinator Dave Winter is currently recording progress on a blog. It includes interview excerpts with students talking about what they are learning and why collaborative work is important for their present and future lives.

© INTERFACE May 2009

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Categories: Article, Issue 16