Kinect in the Classroom: Integrating Gesture-Based Gaming into the Ontario Classroom

With the launch of the Xbox Kinect in 2010, Microsoft sought to assert its position in the console gaming market. With a history of bringing innovative products to market, the Xbox Kinect would serve to highlight Microsoft’s continued leadership in the gaming industry. What many may not have initially realized was that in addition to revolutionizing gesture-based gaming, the Kinect has the potential to transform student engagement and classroom learning.

With support from the Microsoft Partners in Learning Network, educators in Ontario have had the opportunity to investigate the benefits and challenges of using the Xbox Kinect to enhance student engagement and support 21st century teaching and learning. In addition to the hundreds of educators that have had the opportunity to participate in a variety of Kinect in the Classroom and Gamification of Learning workshops delivered by Brock University, Teacher Candidates, a number of Ontario educators were provided with access to an Xbox Kinect and a variety of games so that they could explore ways to integrate the Kinect into their classroom practice.

Following participation in a Gamification of Learning workshop that demonstrated ways to use the Kinect to support classroom instruction, educators were asked to describe what they considered to be the benefits and challenges to using the Kinect in the classroom. The 82 comments that were captured noted some common themes (full listing of comments). The key benefits to using the Kinect in the classroom were the ability to engage students, the interactive nature of the learning activities, and the opportunity to have students participate in physical activity. The greatest challenges to using this gaming system in the classroom were identified as the limited opportunities for large group or whole-class participation, the cost of acquiring the game system, and a lack of curricular focus.

Key Benefits
The participants of the Kinect in the Classroom workshop identified student engagement as one the key benefits to using the Kinect. This finding supports the research literature that indicates that gaming in the classroom can have a positive impact on student engagement. A meta-analysis of over 300 research articles related to gaming for education found that playing video games as part of the classroom learning often resulted in increased levels of student engagement (Young et al., 2012). Additional research has also noted that Kinect-based learning activities support multiple physical engagement patterns, and allows students to use a larger spectrum of the their multiple intelligences (Hsu, 2010). Consequently, the Kinect’s success in engaging student may be a consequence of its ability to simultaneously address multiple intelligences, by taping into the visual, auditory and kinesthetic abilities of students (Hsu, 2010).

In contrast to teacher-directed lessons where students can remain inactive and passive for significant periods of time, learning opportunities that stress student interactivity have been identified as contributing to successful teaching and learning (Angotti & Bayo 2012; Hsu, 2010). Being able to physically interact with educational content can make learning some concepts easier for the 15% of students that are kinesthetic learners (Hsu, 2010). Thus, it is not surprising that a number of the Kinect in the Classroom responses identified the interactive nature of the Kinect as being one of its key benefits.

A number of the respondents noted that they considered the ability to use the Kinect to get students physically active and support the provincial mandate of daily physical activity (DPA) as being one of the benefits of using the Kinect in the classroom.

Key Challenges
A large number of the responses noted that they considered the limited opportunities for large group or whole-class participation when using the Kinect to being a challenge to using this resource in the classroom. A repeated theme noted in the responses was that educators had concerns about only a few students being able to use the Kinect system, while the majority of the class would be left to watch. While it is understandable that teachers would want to ensure that all students are engaged, what they may not have considered is that every student does not need to have their individual gestures captured by the Kinect camera for them to be actively engaged in game play. A number of the educators that had the opportunity to utilize the Kinect system in their classrooms reported that even though a student’s gestures were not captured on the screen, many students were happy to play alongside the “active” players, provide instructions to the players or study the active players as a means to learn from their actions and improve their chances of success when it was their turn.

Although there are significant space limitations as to how many students can be moving their limbs while mimicking game play, educators have noted that moving the Kinect system to the gymnasium and using a LCD projector will enable large numbers of students to participate simultaneously. One educator noted that were able to have the entire school, over 200 students, participate in a Kinect dance game as part of a school-wide rainy day DPA initiative.

It is interesting to note that a number of educators considered the cost of the Kinect system as being a concern, as the price of acquiring the gaming console was not part of any of the workshop presentations. Regardless, the Xbox Kinect bundle, which includes the Kinect Adventures game, can be acquired for $300. For anyone that may already have an Xbox 360, the Kinect camera and Kinect Adventures game can be purchased for less that $120. While spending $300 to play games in the classroom may seem like a frivolous purchase, it is important to acknowledge that the Xbox Kinect can also be used to as DVD player, media (photos, music and video) storage system, Internet browser, and video conferencing system with the addition of the Skype app.

To alleviate the financial challenges to using the Kinect in the classroom, a number of teachers in the Niagara, Hamilton, London Catholic, Toronto and Toronto Catholic school districts have benefitted from the opportunity to borrow an Xbox Kinect system via a partnership between the Teacher Education Department at Brock University and Microsoft Canada. The loan program increased the number of educators that have had an opportunity to experiment with Kinect in the classroom and find innovative ways to use the gaming system to support the Ontario curriculum.

Despite the number of responses that indicated a concern about a lack of curricular connection, educators that have had an opportunity to participate in the Kinect loan program report that they have found a number of interesting ways to use the gaming system to support specific learning expectations in variety of subject areas.

By far, the easiest way to integrate the Kinect into the classroom is to use active games such as Dance Central, Just Dance, Just Dance Kids, Kinect Sports, and Your Shape: Fitness Evolved to address the Ontario Ministry of Education’s daily physical activity (DPA) requirement.  Moving beyond the provincial DPA requirement, the next most obvious opportunity to integrate the Kinect into the classroom is to use the Body & Brain Connection game as part math class. This game provides students with an engaging way to develop their mathematical reasoning while supporting kinesthetic learning. Educators also noted that compiling the results from a number of the sporting activities that are part of Kinect Sports game, allowed students to engage in data management as they analyzed and documented the game results. Adjusting the angle of ones limbs, changing the force applied or varying timing of movements and then calculating the changes in gaming performance can also provide students with an opportunity to address some of the ministry’s geometry and science expectations.

Some of most innovative ways to integrate the Kinect into the classroom came from educators using the non-fitness games to address the language arts curriculum. Procedural writing is an expectation that is addressed at all elementary grade levels. Consequently, requiring students to write out the steps or procedures to successfully complete any Kinect game or activity challenges them to be clear and precise in their written directions. Evaluating the accuracy of the directions can be completed by having another student implement the written directions to determine if they will result in successful completion of the game.

Oral communication is also a curriculum area that is address at all elementary levels. One innovative teacher noted that blindfolding a student, while another student provide oral directions to complete the Kinect activity challenged their students to be direct and concise when providing oral directions.

While completing any Kinect partner game can challenge student communication and interpersonal skills, teachers in the London Catholic board have reported great success is having students with Autism engage in Kinect partnered game play to develop the communication skills of their special needs students.

These example of using the Kinect to address oral or written communication expectations highlights the innovative ways that the Kinect can be integrated into the classroom to support the Ontario curriculum expectations.  These findings pleasantly contradict concerns related to a lack of curricular focus. The ability to use the Kinect in the classroom to support student learning is limited only by imagination of educators as they seek innovative ways to engage students and support learning.

Angotti, R., & Bayo, I. (2012). Making Kinections: Using video game technology to teach math. Prato CIRN Community Informatics Conference (pp. 1–5).

Hsu, H. J. (2011). The Potential of Kinect in Education. International Journal of Information and Education Technology, 1(5), 365–370.

Young, M. F., Slota, S., Cutter, a. B., Jalette, G., Mullin, G., Lai, B., Simeoni, Z., et al. (2012). Our Princess Is in Another Castle: A Review of Trends in Serious Gaming for Education. Review of Educational Research, 82(1), 61–89.

*PDF version of Kinect in the Classroom: Integrating Gesture-Based Gaming into the Ontario Classroom with charts and response comments