Gamify Your Class. Here’s Why!

  1. the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service.
    “gamification is exciting because it promises to make the hard stuff in life fun”

If you have been a reader of my blog – you will have noticed that its all over the place these days.  Graduate school has had my brain on a super buzz and given me the opportunity to look at several aspects of education that I had not been able to study previously.  One of those issues is why research is not disseminated in a way that benefits teachers.  My goal with this blog post is to do that with Gamification!  The readings for one of my courses this past week took me right into one of my areas of tremendous interest.  Below is a quick sum up of the research that I read and below that are links to the articles.  Some of this research is older – so I wonder what exactly would change…This is something that I want to look into.  As always, I encourage your input here.  Gamification and learning by video games is something that most people will arch an eyebrow at….

Students are not punished for failing 

Every game you play these days gives you multiple opportunities to do something.  A not uncommon strategy for gamers is to go charging into a new area to see what obstacles are there.  After the location is scouted out, a very well thought out plan is put into play.  Gamers have the opportunity to fail and try again an infinite number of times.

How would this look in your classroom?  I know that there are hard fast deadlines – but if the goal is truly to gauge student learning, shouldn’t we give them the opportunity to show it?  How about not penalizing a student for homework that is turned in late.  Or giving the student an opportunity to retake a quiz/test if they scored below a satisfactory level.

Remember the goal is learning.  Promote this.

Social construction of knowledge

Students are social creatures and games promote socializing.  Look no further than one of the most popular games out there: World of Warcraft.  Not only is it popular – the discussion boards are loaded with socially constructed knowledge about how to improve your character or ideas for moving through difficult parts of the storyline.

How does this look in your class?  Let students work together.  Let them “post” learning on a discussion board (either online or in your classroom) and allow all students to share what they know here.  Promote collaboration.  Promote conversation.  Promote sharing ideas.

Its the whole two heads are better than one mode of thinking.  Sometimes all a student needs is a different point of view.  How often have you had someone else look at your work to make sure it was good?  Do the same thing with your students.

When I flipped my classroom, students worked in groups and I worried about this.  I had had a difficult time getting my groups to be collaborative.  When I stopped lecturing the entire period and put the learning firmly into the students hands, 85% (rough guesswork here) of the conversation became very focused on the math.  Students will be students and conversation will wander, but way more conversation will be on target.

Students should be in a state of flow

Games are designed to be just right.  Like Goldilocks and the porridge, she went for the bowl that was not too hot (hard) or too cold (easy).  When you organize your class in this way, students should be in a state of flow.  Class will be just difficult enough that they keep going and learning, yet not so easy that they do nothing at all.

Gamification can help make this easier to do.  Allow students alternative ways to complete homework.  Give them some choices, ones you can live with, about how they go about learning.  Challenge all of your learners by giving each person in a group a specific strategy to use as part of the lesson.

Learning that is inquiry based tends to help this as well.  When students start to investigate a new topic, all of the students in a group bring different experiences and knowledge.  Those who struggle with a topic will take more risks and share more if they know that they are contributing to the construction of this knowledge.  If they have the opportunity to show off the experiences that they have had that will help them on this problem, their confidence will grow.

Promote questioning here – from every student.  Then have the students work together to solve those problems.  Stay out of the way – provide the necessary nudges.  Learning is messy and that mess will show up right here.

Think about a massive multiplayer online game

Lets revisit the social aspect of school – it could almost be compared to a massive multiplayer online game (mmo).  People from a variety of backgrounds and cultures and experiences go to school.  People from a variety of backgrounds and cultures and experiences participate in mmo’s.  How do we pull all of these people from so many different places in the same direction?

Give them quests.  In mmo’s players can play and explore alone and complete quests as individuals.  They may find some cool loot and have fun.  At some point, those individuals want better loot, which will require more difficult quests, which will require groups of people working together for a shared purpose.

These more complicated quests will require high levels of communication and the shared knowledge of how to go about completing the quest.  Think about homework – this could be the simple individual quest.  It could also require small groups.  Now think about quizzes/projects – these could be the more complicated quests.  The ones that deliver the loot that matters!

Some of the most powerful items that can be earned in games comes into play when battling a “boss” character.  In World of Warcraft some of these fights can last hours and require large groups of participants.  Social.  Common goal.  Intense communication.  Sharing experiences.  Maybe you set a class goal for a test, or maybe you let your students work on that test in groups, or maybe you let the entire class work together on a test….

Loot could be whatever will make your class tick.  I have used some of the following in my classes:

  • homework pass
  • quiz pass
  • opportunity to ask the teacher a specific question on a test
  • 2 students can talk for 5 minutes in the hall during a test
  • students can go back in time and redo any test they choose

Students could “level up”

There are some foundational things that must be covered in every teachers’ classroom.  These are the non-negotiable items that students have to learn.  Think about this for a minute….Games are fun because the gamer can level up, become stronger, purchase better equipment, become more independent – yet still following the story line.

Apply this to your classroom – students can learn the same lesson in a variety of ways.  They can show you what they have learned in a variety of ways.  Let them.

All students start off at the same level.  All students will learn x and turn in y.  As the students successfully learn in your class and successfully show you what they learned, let them level up.  Allow them to choose an alternative way to get the lesson.  Let them be creative in showing you what they have learned.

I allowed students to turn in “homework” by creating videos that would teach other students that specific topic.  Students could blog what they were learning and how they were doing.  Students could teach other students.  They did not all start there, some chose to never go there, but the options were available.

Some further reading:

Scientific Habits of Mind in Virtual Worlds – Constance Steinkuehler, Sean Duncan

Immersive Interfaces for Engagement and Learning – Chris Dede

Rethinking Cognition, Representations, and Processes in 3D Online Social Learning Environments – James G. Jones, Stephen C. Bronack (Chapter 5 of the book Digital Literacy: Tools and Methods for Information Society)

Defining Virtual Reality: Dimensions Determining Telepresence – Jonathan Steuer

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