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Making Games in Schools

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Who: Dr Judy Robertson, Senior lecturer in Computer Science, Heriot-Watt University, Cathrin Howells, Heriot-Watt University & Creative Contexts

What: Promotion of using computer game design in education, including residential teacher training courses and game-making software, applications and teaching resources for 12–14 year old school children

Why: To inspire and interest 12–14 year old school pupils in computer science by giving them opportunities to make computer games in the classroom

Where: Scotland, local areas to Edinburgh and beyond

When: May 2009–October 2010

Project description

The project equipped and encouraged teachers to inspire their students to engage with computing whilst also contributing to academic research.

Teachers were supported to incorporate game-making with Adventure Author software into their classes. Adventure Author was developed and piloted by Judy through EPSRC funding. 

In order to ensure that the project was sustainable, Judy focussed on providing resources and training to teachers, to enable them to incorporate this work into their lessons.

The project delivered

  • residential teacher training courses

  • provided PhD student assistance in some classrooms

  • resources and software for classroom use. 

The initiative was especially timely as the features of ‘Adventure Author’ closely linked with the new Scottish ‘Curriculum for Excellence’. For example, it facilitated student peer review with ‘comment cards’ and embraced cross-disciplinarity through its storytelling element (which linked to literacy development). 

Evaluation data was collected through the teachers via questionnaires, blogs on their experience and classroom observations made by Cathrin Howells. The desired downstream impact of the project was measured through evaluating the children’s attitudes to computing before and after the project, as well as their programming and computational thinking abilities.


  • To improve the quality of teaching of Computer Science in Scotland to 12–14 year old school students
  • To improve the future recruitment into Computer Science courses of study and jobs through training teachers to inspire their students with game making software in the hope that the necessary attitude change towards Computer Science will occur

  • To evaluate the effect of the project on children’s attitude to computing as well as their ‘computational thinking’ ability

Results and outcomes

What worked well

  • Having experienced partner and education specialist, Cathrin Howells, to advise on all the educational perspectives of the project – especially direct interaction with teachers themselves and content compatibility with the new Scottish Curriculum For Excellence

  • Having formal backing as a curriculum-tied resource by Education organisations (LTS) and HEI (Heriot-Watt University) gave the teachers the confidence they needed in committing to the project

  • Producing school resources with cross-curricular applications – allowing take up by teachers from multiple disciplines. In this project we linked to English as there was a strong ‘storytelling’ component of the game’s design

What didn't work well

  • After training was completed, the team had a disappointingly low return rate when collecting project essential post-test data from teachers.  In future, the team proposes to introduce some kind of deposit system to ensure teacher compliance continues after the training (the teacher’s main involvement incentive) has been delivered

  • It was also a further problem finding schools with the necessary hardware. In some they encountered the problem of training up schools only to find that they don’t have what they said they did or hadn’t installed it yet

Resources required

  • Edinburgh Beltane Beacon for Public Engagement
  • Survey Monkey. We realised that we did not have enough money to do the data entry ourselves to process all the questionnaires - but Survey Monkey saved us this time
  • Educational specialist to advise on curriculum matters as well as interacting and working with teachers successfully
  • Basic statistics textbook of your choice or even an educational or psychology for research textbook

Top tips

The organisers offer the following tips for anyone contemplating putting on or becoming involved with similar activity

  • Hire the right person (if you have a project Research Assistant). This project worked because I hired Cathrin who had the credibility as a teacher and had the experience that I didn’t, allowing her to really manage what she was doing, so it made it a lot easier

  • Have a deposit or final incentive for compliance with teacher feedback after delivery of training or event

  • Make sure that you can do events organisation – even if you’ve got the best material in the world a project can fail if you don’t get it right. Not all, but much of outreach involves this skill and if you can’t do it then you need to hire someone who can. You can spend so much time and effort on these things and then it’s just organisational details that put people off; if your sandwiches are horrible, people will moan about it for years from now. They don’t know how much effort you have put into it. All they see is  'Did I get my money’s worth or is it worth missing a day at school for?'

  • Apprentice or shadow yourself to an experienced person that’s really good. The way I’ve learned most of my classroom skills or outreach skills was by going on storytelling sessions with a friend of mine who is a teacher who visited schools and told children stories. I learned so much from watching an experienced teacher work with a class full of kids and I still use it today.

Top quotes

Mission Statement: "To improve the standard of computer education in this country"

"I think the main impact of this activity is empowering teachers to improve their practice."

"I found it incredibly interesting and rewarding – especially the hands-on stuff. Seeing the methods really flourish with teachers and potentially influencing the way they educate their classes – it's that lasting impact that interests me."

"I suppose my research is actually very close to PE anyway because working with schools and teachers is a core part of the research – it fits in quite easily with what I do anyway." 


Name: Dr Judy Robertson, Senior lecturer in Computer Science

Name of organisation: Heriot-Watt University


Telephone: 0131 451 8223