THU: Edutainment: The use of informal games in the formal education of Autistic students. (Lucy Spalding)

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Dr Simon Ball
1 February 2014

The aim of the project is to develop a methodology to successfully include autistic secondary school students in learning via the use of games whilst also being suitable for their neurotypical peers. I work for an online school which has a high number of autistic learners mixed in with neurotypical students so any approach taken needs to be suitable for all students. Students with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) have been shown to learn more effectively by visual means (Christinaki et al., 2013) and learn more readily on a computer than from standard books (Williams et al., 2002). ASD individuals are also more likely to play and engage with video games than their neurotypical peers (Mazurek & Engelhardt, 2013). A survey of my students indicated that the vast majority of them engage in video games for a significant number of hours per week and therefore the games-based learning approach is likely to appeal to all learners.
It was decided to target history and a number of open-source history games were evaluated for interest and educational content but all fell short. From here three distinctive routes were taken.
Firstly a literature search suggested that games-based learning is currently mainly used for skill acquisition instead of knowledge(Carter, 2001; Christinaki et al., 2013; Pierce et al., 2002) and this was confirmed by my own survey results. It was therefore decided to investigate the application of game mechanics to make ‘standard’ education more fun. A number of gamification strategies were examined, however the literature on gamification shows many negatives to such systems (Werbach, 2013) as not all student respond to games in the same manner. For example, some may respond well to leader-boards whereas others may be de-motivated by competition.
The second approach was inspired by a student who decided to attempt to recreate buildings studied in a lesson on medieval architecture in the sand-box game, Minecraft, leading to the investigation what else could be taught in Minecraft. There is an educational version and an autism-friendly version of Minecraft also available suggesting it may be of significant use. Students expectation of games are high and the cost of producing engaging games is time consuming and expensive. However is possible to utilise existing games such as Minecraft for educational purposes.  Although the use of Minecraft in the classroom has not been tested within the scope of this project there are a number of pilot projects hoped to be tried out in the coming months.
The last approach was to try and address the practical gap; students who study online can miss out on the practical work that takes place in a standard classroom environment so ideas have been postulated to create an interactive field trip for students to use to practice data collection. The problem of engagement with this type of media has been addressed and it is planned to develop this in a longer term project.
Carter, Cynthia M (2001) “using choice with game play to increase language skills and interactive behaviours in children with autism.pdf,”Journal of Positive Behaviour Interventions, 3(3), pp. 131–151.
Christinaki, Eirini, Triantafyllidis, Georgios and Vidakis, Nikolaos (2013) “A gesture-controlled Serious Game for teaching emotion recognition skills to preschoolers with autism,” In Foundation of Digital Games (FDG) 2013, pp. 11–12.
Mazurek, Micah O and Engelhardt, Christopher R (2013) “Video game use in boys with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, or typical development.,” Pediatrics, 132(2), pp. 260–6, [online] Available from: (Accessed 2 November 2013).
Pierce, T., Terpstra, J. E. and Higgins, K. (2002) “Can I Play?: Classroom-Based Interventions for Teaching Play Skills to Children With Autism,”Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 17(2), pp. 119–127, [online] Available from:
Werbach, Kevin (2013) 'Gamification | Coursera', [online] Available at: (Accessed 5 January 2014)
Williams, Christine, Wright, Barry, Callaghan, Gillian and Coughlan, Brian (2002) “Do Children with Autism Learn to Read more Readily by Computer Assisted Instruction or Traditional Book Methods?: A Pilot Study,” Autism, 6(1), pp. 71–91, [online] Available from: (Accessed 2 November 2013).

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