The Brainary has its origins in producing educational games and books designed to support students in both their academic and social development, across a broad range of neurodiversity and needs. So we’re always excited when the latest research comes across our desks to share with you! This term, we’re introducing you to Dr Matt Harrison, author of a pioneering text that highlights the ways in which gaming can be used to bolster inclusivity and affirmation in the classroom, particularly of neurodivergent students.
When looking back at my childhood, I often reflect on the important role played by gaming and gamer culture in my social and personal development.
Long before mainstream online play came to revolutionise the ways in which people played together, local couch co-op on a Super Nintendo or sharing a single keyboard on a 286 computer provided rich, inherently social experiences. No headsets were required. Yet social gaming was more than just playing with friends and family. We collectively developed an understanding of our shared gaming experiences, discussing strategies to solve complex puzzles, debating diverse in-game character choices and co-imaging hypothetical sequels and expansion packs.
I connected with my friends and siblings through the time spent in front of a screen, interacting through and around the virtual worlds designed by people who we would likely never meet. Now as a teacher working to change the norms around social capacity building programs, I use cooperative video games to provide the same types of rich social experiences for autistic and other neurodivergent children and young adults. Through gaming, I want all players to not only develop collaborative skills, but also feel valued and connected within their school communities.
As a teacher working in mainstream and specialist schools, I identified that many of my students loved gaming but were also at risk of becoming socially excluded because they didn’t conform to expected social norms of neurotypical children and adults. I have successfully run programs with students who are autistic, students with ADHD and individuals with experiences of trauma. Some of my colleagues saw gaming as a social ill or a problem to be solved, and were concerned by the idea of using this area of strength and interest to re-engage these young learners.
Positive social gaming programs celebrate the differences of our students, and position multiplayer gaming as a legitimate social space where gamers can bond and build relationships through common interests.
It was because of my professional experiences I wrote Using Video Games to Level Up Collaboration for Students, an evidence-informed social capacity building program that uses cooperative video games as tools for teaching teamwork skills and to establish friendships.
The teachers running these programs in their schools can help all students feel valued and engaged in their local communities, and make a vital contribution in working towards a more inclusive society.
Dr Matthew Harrison
Senior lecturer/researcher in autism at University of Melbourne
Dr Matthew Harrison is the Vice President of Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria, Co-Director of Student Experience at the University of Melbourne Graduate School of Education and coordinates Autism Intervention within the Master of Learning Intervention.
An experienced teacher, researcher and digital creator, his research primarily focuses on neurodiversity, inclusive education and the effective use of digital technologies as teaching and learning tools.
Matthew is the author of Using Video Games To Level Up Collaboration For Students, available from The Brainary’s bookstore at https://thebrainary.com/product/using-video-games-to-level-up-collaboration-for-students/.