Digital Play by Kyle Mawer and Graham Stanley, DELTA Publishing

Reviewed by Shaun Wilden, IHWO

Digital Play by Graham Stanley and Kyle Mawer is the latest publication in the DELTA publishing teacher development series. In my opinion this series of books is fast becoming a must for all teachers. Like previous publications in the series, Digital Play offers the teacher a set of ideas and activities they can use with their students. As the title suggests, this book looks at the use of computer games in language teaching.

On first reading, I was reminded of resource books I read in the early days of my teaching career, such as CALL (OUP 1989) and The Internet (OUP 2000). These were the books that really instilled into me the beneficial effects of using technology in language teaching to engage learners. With the publication of this book, teachers are brought right up to date with the latest tools available to them. One thing I remember back in the early 2000s was wondering how to get started and this book provides a comprehensive look at a wide range of computer games that can be used.

As is becoming standard in this series, the book is divided into three sections and though the activities make up the main content, there are comprehensive sections on methodology. Beginning with an exploration of what is meant by ‘digital play’, we move on to explore the place of computer games in education and society. Whether this is a new area for a teacher or not, the section provides an excellent overview enhanced by a constant stream of quotes from other sources. The quotes serve to whet the readers’ whistle so they can get stuck into the extensive bibliography provided by the authors. This might make it seem like quite a ‘heavy’ book but everything is provided in a clear and concise way. One feature I particularly like is the comprehensive glossary of game genres and games that can be used.

The activities themselves are divided into three sections and many of the ideas explored do not necessarily require you or the students to be playing the game during the class. In fact, I think this is one of the strong positives of the book. In the age of Web 2.0 it can be easy for a teacher to think that all teaching has to be done online. However this book acknowledges both, that not every classroom is connected, and not every activity has to be done online. Don’t expect a book on ‘digital play’ to be all about using computer games themselves - many times it is simply the topic name that brings the inspiration.

As such, chapter one contains seemingly traditional classroom activities beginning with a quiz (based on computer game facts) through to activities covering such things as key gaming terminology and students surveying each other on their gaming habits. Likewise chapter two deals with a non-connected classroom so we have activities such as question practice based on game characters, description practice by describing game worlds and comparatives dealt with via popular computer game characters. While I do feel that such sections are important and definitely provide a non-daunting introduction for teachers, the experienced teacher in me did at times feel that these sections did state the obvious.

For me, the book’s main attraction comes in chapters three and four, which have some innovative ideas and activities for the connected classroom; be it one or multiple connections. Again though, don’t assume all of them will need access to computer games. You are equally likely to be using YouTube, creating online posters or reading game walkthroughs. Again the core belief being it is the ‘idea’ of the computer game, not the game itself that can be motivating and engaging. Always at the forefront of any activities is what language can be developed, again an important principle in the digital age. The games and resources are the backdrop to language development which is, after all, the reason a teacher chooses any piece of material; digital or not. However, that said, some of the games introduced are a real eye-opener i.e. chore wars. On top of the wealth of activities presented in these chapters, I found them acting as a springboard. The teacher part of my brain, automatically thinking ‘oo I like that, I can adapt it for this context etc etc’.

The final section of the book helps the teacher think about integrating digital play into the syllabus and offers tips on how to develop themselves in this area.

The back covers of the book states “Digital Play is a pioneering book” and I do agree. Like those books that inspired me early in my career, I think Digital play offers an excellent balance of opinion, suggestion and activities. Stanley and Mawer clearly understand and love their chosen topic. This helps bring clarity to an area that might daunt a lot of teachers, providing them with simple stepping-stones to incorporating computer games into their classrooms. As I said at the beginning, I think the DELTA teacher development series is becoming a must for all teachers and Digital Play is an excellent edition to that.