Games-based learning is an integral part of David Renton’s program at Reid Kerr College. But, even for this former software developer, it wasn’t always that way. “It began when I was playing the movie quiz game ‘SceneIT?’ on the XBOX 360 with my family,” says Renton. “I wished I could do the same type of thing with my students at college, but with me setting the questions. Within a month, I had created a basic version of the game using XNA and XBOX 360 controllers connected wirelessly to a Windows PC as buzzers.”
Renton’s game was noticed by the right people – not only the head of IT at his college, but also by JISC. JISC then funded Renton’s project – the xGames Project – for almost two years. Renton created four separate educational quiz games that made use of XBOX 360 controllers, but allowed teachers to create multiple-choice questions for any topic. The games won an ITECH JISC RSC Scotland award and Renton was runner up as the ALT Learning Technologist of the Year award for the UK. “I use the games in my daily teaching practice with a wide range of learners of all different ages, and they are now used throughout the college in all departments,” adds Renton. And Renton’s blog, Games4Learning, provides a wealth of information about using games and gaming technology in all areas of education.
Most recently, Renton was one of 21 teachers who participated in the Windows 8 Appathon, a two-day boot camp where educators competed to turn their ideas for Windows 8 education apps into reality. “I created a Windows Phone version of my Kinect Math Mage game, which took me from about 11 a.m. to 5 a.m.,” says Renton. “I am really excited about this platform and I am already planning to start using it with my students in a few weeks. I will be adding it to the list of games development tools that I cover in my workshops for future CPD teacher training events.”
Today, we are fortunate that Renton developed a short video blog for Daily Edventures, using his Math Mage game and Kinect. Take a look, and perhaps one of Renton’s games will work well for your students, too.
What drew you to the field of education? Why is it important to you?
I really just fell into education, I had started my own company developing bespoke applications, and during a slow period I took on a part-time ICT teaching job at a local college. Six years on I was a full-time lecturer, with a post-graduate teaching degree, primarily teaching games development. I had stopped running my own company as I felt I had found my true calling. I was five years into the job before I did my teaching degree, so learning theory and pedagogy were alien concepts to me. However, I had spent the last 10 years in my spare time running various youth groups and summer camps, so I had a lot of experience working with young people, an experience that was invaluable to me when I came into teaching. The training I received as a youth worker applied to teaching, and I still feel the most important thing in education is to build a good relationship with your students, as they will then listen to what you have to say.
Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?
I honestly can’t remember a favorite teacher from school or university, but what I do remember is a favorite youth leader from summer camp when I was a young teenager. We called him Mr. Pete, and he had the knack of connecting with young people at their level. He inspired me to go on and do great things with my life.
Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education. What has changed as a result of your work?
About a year and a half ago I was introduced to Ray Chambers via the Microsoft Partners in Learning network at an event where I was doing a demonstration of my xGames. He showed me some great work he was doing in creating Kinect applications for the classroom. This inspired me to create some educational games that make use of Kinect for Windows. At present, I have created four separate games, all of which can be downloaded free from my blog. All my games make use of a multi-sensory active methodology as they use the Kinect motion sensing and the video feed from Kinect to show the students in an augmented reality fashion in the games.
Kinect Angles consolidates knowledge of angles, decimals, fractions, bearings and percentages by calculating and drawing the angle between the player’s elbow and wrist. Kinect Time uses a similar technique to allow the players to set the hands of the clock by using their arms. Math Mage uses “Fruit Ninja” style gameplay to consolidate knowledge of numbers such as odd, even, prime and multiples of three through to 12, where they must swipe through the correct answers with their arms. Word Mage uses the same style of gameplay for nouns, verbs, adverbs and adjectives.
In the last year I have been taking the games to local primary schools in Renfrewshire where young pupils aged eight to 12 have been truly engaged in their learning through the games. The games have been downloaded via my blog and used by teachers all over the UK and abroad. I love to hear stories of the countries and subject areas they are being used in.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
In the last couple years, games development has become a big thing in Scottish schools, at all stages, as a way of teaching Computer Science. This has given me the opportunity to become more and more involved in CPD training for teachers in this area. I have carried out training in Kodu, Scratch and XNA for teachers from all over Scotland.
I recently attended the 24-hour Windows 8 Appathon in London, which made use of the new TouchDevelop platform from Microsoft that allows students to create games for mobile devices on mobile devices.
I’ve also used the opportunity during workshops on games development to spread the word about making use of games-based learning in the classroom, with my xGames quiz games and my Kinect Games proving very popular with teachers from all sectors.
In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?
BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). The traditional model of schools providing tightly monitored technology for students to learn on must change to an environment where they are allowed to take the superior technology sitting in their bags out and make use of it in the classroom. This will involve a massive shift in attitudes and will need free Wi-Fi to become the norm in schools.
Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?
I think we must encourage today’s learners to become independent learners, but also encourage innovation and creativity, which is where most of the big innovations – especially in the area of technology – come from. This should be combined with a focus on group work, as this is an important life skill, which is a vital part of so many industries where you really must be able to work as part of a team.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
In an ideal world a tablet PC such as Surface, but with unlimited free mobile Internet access. This type of device would be a truly multi-purpose device, which would have so many educational uses, such as communication, collaboration, e-books, video tutorials, virtual learning environments and more — all in a single device.
What is your country doing well currently to support education?
In Scotland, we have “Curriculum for Excellence” which includes games development as an experience and outcome at all stages of development. It also includes the principle of cross-curricular topics, which ties in well with games development. I have been trying to encourage this and the principle that games development is an ideal cross-curricular topic which engages students and can encompass all sorts of subjects, such as ICT, Computer Science, Math, Physics, Art, Music, English, etc.
How must education change in your country to ensure that students are equipped to thrive in the 21st century?
We must change the ICT policy in schools so that it is not all about what they are not allowed to do, but more about what they can do. BYOD and free school Wi-Fi for students and teachers should be provided. Cloud computing should be embraced and tied into virtual learning environments, enabling students to work on the same projects in and out of the classroom.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
Low self-esteem of students, who have disengaged with their learning. Many of our college students come to us from high school with a low expectation of their own potential and are often lacking in confidence. This is something we have to work with them to change, by motivating them to engage with learning and showing that they can succeed in a different learning environment.
How can teachers or school leaders facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
Consider alternative approaches to learning and assessment. Encourage the hidden creativity and talents they have. It is important that they trust you; so building a good relationship with them is a vital part of the process.
About David Renton
- Birthplace: Greenock, Scotland, United Kingdom.
- Current residence: Paisley, Scotland, United Kingdom.
- Education: Strathclyde University BEng Honours in Computers and Electronic Systems. TQFE Teaching Qualification from the University of Aberdeen.
- Website I check every day: Facebook, Twitter and the BBC
- Person who inspires me most: I can’t pick one out, so I would say my family. My father is Scottish and my mother is American and they made that work and have now been married and living in Scotland for over 40 years. My American grandfather, who was a second generation American, served in the Navy during WW2. My Scottish grandfather who maintained fighter planes for Rolls Royce during WW2 and who went on to be a car mechanic and an ordained minister. Finally, my wife, who inspires me by giving me a prod in the right direction when I need it.
- Favorite childhood memory: Summer camp
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Delhi, India to help develop courses based around games development.
- When was the last time you laughed? Why? I laughed a lot today as two of my students beat me 4-1 at FIFA on the XBOX360 during lunchtime.
- Favorite book: The Bible
- Favorite music: I like Rock, Pop, Country and Gospel, my current favorite artist is Ed Sheeran.
- What is the best advice you have ever received? If you want something done right do it yourself.
- Your favorite quote or motto: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”