Gamer Spotting For Teachers

wasdThis post was originally posted on the #teachICHK site at ICHK.

As in any school, our students do sometimes get distracted in class. However, rather than traditional distractions of days gone by (passing notes, firing spit balls), we see that distraction often takes the form of off-task laptop use (chatting online, checking social media, gaming). In particular, gaming is a temptation that certain students find it hard to resist.

In the past we had a system of being able to monitor student screens remotely (at least in the Secondary school), but this proved incompatible with building trust and forming adult-adult interactions, and was fairly useless at any rate (those kids who wanted to game worked out how to disable it).

A much more effective way to spotting students gaming in class is to look out for the following tells that students produce subconsciously. These often apply to non-gaming off-task activities as well, although they are more obvious during gaming. Try to keep an eye out for these, and approach students who you suspect of gaming, so you can discuss the issue.

  • Keyboard & Mouse Use – different activities produce different patterns of keyboard and mouse use. For example, during a typing activity, we would expect students to use the full range of keys. If they are focusing on one part of the keyboard particularly (see image below for common gaming keys), or predominantly on the trackpad/mouse, they are most likely not typing.
  • Body Language – students busy gaming often becoming really immersed in their game world, and seemingly forgetting where they are IRL. You might see students leaning in close to their screen, getting physically worked up, or suppressing the urge to call out.
  • Screen Hiding – often students will try and sit in a position where their screens are out of sight, perhaps against a wall or under a desk. Sometimes this is innocent (just students getting comfortable), other times it is not.
  • Three Finger Swipe – by keeping a game on a separate virtual desktop on their Mac, students can quickly swipe back to work. This three-finger swipe is a good sign that something is being hidden.
  • The Guilty Look – a three finger swipe is often preceded by a quick look up, if a student suspects you are heading their way.

With any luck you can put these tells to use to signal to your students know that you are aware of what they are doing, making them less likely to try it on. At the same time, consider why your students are distracted, and find ways to get them more engaged through curriculum appeal, active group work, non-laptop based learning, etc.

2 thoughts on “Gamer Spotting For Teachers”

  1. Hi, I am a student in the international school and I came across this website. Being a video game player I know some tricks to help you spot them. Your W A S P statement can be correct at times but now-a-days is almost rendered inaccurate. Most games have options to change key bindings. Certain games use the whole keyboard instead of just a few keys. Also the trackpad/mouse is being used more often in games (If you see someone with irregular mouse patterns and no typing usually means they are off topic). Also one really good trick is to move around in the class room randomly. This will cause the distracted student to focus on you because of his fear. Inform the class to keep on working and keep an eye out for students he still have persistant glances or peeks at you. Actually I have seen many of my peers get caught this way!

    1. Tiago, thanks for taking the time to leave such a detailed comment. This site is more often frequented by teachers, so it is nice to have a student share some ideas. To be honest, whilst I knew that key bindings can be changed, I never thought about it in this context. Thanks for adding a new dimension for me: it is definitely worth keeping this in mind. As you comment on mouse patterns, so the same would apply to the keyboard: it might be less a particular set of keys that are the clue, but rather than way that they are used. In times past, a Morse code operator could sometimes be identified by their “fist”, which was the unique way they signaled out a message (this was, I believe, one of the ways that the German Enigma was defeated, as it narrowed down the content options to decrypt). I guess the same could be said to apply here.

      In one-to-one device schools, we do place students in a difficult spot, as we give them a dangerously tempting combination of a) dull lessons b) a lack of choice and c) a highly compelling gaming machine. That is why, as a teacher, I am really trying to push Free Learning as a way to make the curriculum more interesting. It is a real shame to see students throw away potentially profound and meaningful learning because they are bored.

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