Introducing games-based learning: an interview with Ron BarassiRecently, we highlighted the importance of collecting data from students and the useful insights that teachers can gain from this process. Today we want to explore one source of data that teachers can take advantage of: online educational games. Jacaranda is proud to be a pioneer in this field, with offerings in English (Knowledge Quest) and Mathematics.

To learn more about how online games can be used in the classroom, we sat down with Ron Barassi, creator of education professional for more than 25 years. The highlights from our discussion will be shared in a two-part blog series, starting with a look back at Ron’s journey.

Getting started in online games

A teacher since 1989, Ron’s interest in computers and digital education began when he started teaching at the Distance Education Centre of Victoria (DECV) in 1998. A year after joining, he was asked by the Principal to look into turning their Mathematics and English content into a multimedia and online course. After a successful pilot, the school – seeing this area as the future of education – applied for and received a grant for $250,000 to further research and develop the idea. This resulted in the development of various online interactives.

By the end of 2000, Ron learned to code and taught himself Flash programming. Together these skills enabled to him to create a series of Mathematics ‘interactives’ which proved to be extremely popular among Mathematics teachers.

The importance of storytelling

As Ron continued his work, he began to think of ways to incorporate elements of a story that would link the interactivities and tasks together to create a more cohesive and engaging education tool.

Student engagement became a huge focus for Ron, who believed that it was a key factor in the success of online educational games and that without engagement, games-based learning wouldn’t work in schools as intended. When asked to elaborate, Ron had this to say: “I see gaming as an alternative way to learn, rather than merely an additional resource for teachers to use with their class. Games have the power to capture the attention of students where other methods fail to do so, largely due to their power to enable self-discovery of concepts by students.“

An unlikely source of inspiration

Ron’s quest for storytelling came to a head when he came up with the idea to combine learning Mathematics and teenage spy novels, inspired by those written by British author Anthony Horowitz. When asked why he chose spies, Ron explains: “The key elements of a spy story (mystery, problem-solving and drama) aligned nicely with some of the Maths content that I already had so I began to search for a story arc that would fit perfectly.”

Since Anthony’s novels sparked the original idea, Ron started there but failed to contact the author. Luckily, a fellow English teacher happened to be writing a novel at the same time, which was exactly what Ron was looking for. Together they came up with the comic book concept and created a Year 9 pilot, which they shared with the team at Jacaranda. The rest, as they say, is history.

To be continued…

That’s it for today’s post! Stay tuned for our next post about how to use online games in the classroom. If you’re interested in hearing more about Ron’s work, he will be presenting at this year’s Screen Futures Summit and Youth Media Festival on Saturday July 2nd at 2:45pm at RMIT.