Contextual hubs for learning–gaming in education

Taken from our Playful Learning: Computer Games in Education eBook by Ollie Bray (available to view and download below)

What are contextual hubs?

I like science fiction but I have to admit never really been into Star Trek. However, I do once remember watching a television program on the history of the original Star Trek series. I found it really interesting because the program inferred that although it was a Star Trek series about space travel its equal purpose was to help its viewers understand moral issues. For example, I found it fascinating that the first ever-televised inter-racial kiss took place on an original episode of Star Trek.

You’re probably wondering what my point is here. But I think that this basic idea of the ‘Star Trek Principle,’ which I often refer to when working with teachers is an important one. Basically, you are watching / doing one thing but learning about something else.

Computer games can be used in the classroom with similar principles. The learning does not come from the game itself but the game becomes a context for what the learning will be about. The gaming environment becomes a stimulating contextual hub.

Contextual hubs are sometimes described as types of thematic learning tasks. While this is true in part, contextual hub learning activities normally involve recurring game play throughout the unit of work and the learners often adopt roles as the characters of the game to create a more immersive and contextual experience.

The important thing is that the game provides the engagement and the ‘hook for learning’ but the teacher provides the direction, the coaching and the structure where required. In a similar way that the original series of Star Trek ‘hooked’ many with the romance of space travel but the actual learning was provided by the scriptwriter and producer.

Professor James Paul Gee’s explanation on Learning in Semiotic Domains9 provides a more academically robust description as to why this type of learning is so powerful.

Kinect™ Adventures!

Kinect Adventures is a good example of a game for Kinect for Xbox 360® that can be used as a contextual hub. The key here is thinking about what the game is about, rather than what the game does. The game is about adventure, exploration, teamwork and discovery.

Your class project / unit of work will therefore be about adventure, exploration, teamwork and discovery. Remember, when using games in this context, the game is the ‘hook’ and provides the stimulus for the learning. How could you link your standardised curriculum to these four words?

The diagram below shows some of the possible ways that Kinect Adventures(adventure, exploration, teamwork and discovery) could be linked to some curriculum activities.


The secret of contextual hub projects is that there should be no specific pathway through the learning activities. Although, obviously, some activities and tasks will be progressive.

Teachers in collaboration with their students can decide on the content of the scheme of work by picking from lists of possible activities and adding their own ideas to create a rich learning experience that is unique and appropriate for their individual needs, class and school.

You can view and download the full eBook below.

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