Should I Gamify My Class?

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Denise Krebs

Just a week before week 2 of course 4, I watched a video posted on Google+ on how Paul Anderson of BOZEMANSCIENCE is using game design in his AP Biology class.

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The video really stuck with me and I was questioning whether I could apply some of the same game design techniques into my own classes.  I really was intrigued and joined Gamification in Education and Gamification 4 Teachers by Teachers Google+ Communities.  I am still a lurker on these communities but watching the conversations has been very interesting.

As week 2 began I was stoked to find out our topic and I really started researching gamification and looked back at the communities I had joined the previous week.  A few themes always stood out in my research.  Gamification is a way to transform teaching by increasing engagement and motivation.  As Adrian Camm said during his Learning 2 speech, “the moment we invite kids to see the world in a pleasurable way, it connects pleasurable moments with learning.” Who wouldn’t want to add pleasurable moments to one’s class where student motivation and engagement are increased?

I know I would but the actual integration of gamification within my business classes is something I am still trying to wrap my head around. Reading Andrew Miller’s article confirmed my main question about gamification, where am I going with this? We need to “begin with the end in mind” which has become standard practice when applying UbD. It wasn’t about what I would need to do to gamify my classes but rather why I would do it and how does it really meet the learning outcomes expected of my students. Increased engagement and motivation are great but are they running parallel to goals I have for my students.

According to Karl Kapp’s book, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education:

“On its surface, gamification is simply the use of game mechanics to make learning and instruction more fun.  It seems “fake” artificial or like a shortcut.  It’s not.  Underneath the surface is the idea of engagement, story, autonomy, and meaning.  Games give experience meaning, they provide a set of boundaries within a “safe” environment to explore, think and “try things out.”  Games Provide motivation to succeed and reduce the sting of failure.”

Theoretically I believe Kapp’s points are true.  In a game if one doesn’t pass a level, you try again and again all the while improving and eventually obtain the necessary mastery to pass the level.  This is very different than most formative assessments where typically everyone is on the same level and progress at the same pace and eventually continue to the next level whether they are ready or not.

This potential for increased autonomy seems very powerful but could also lead to unhealthy fragmentation within the class. How would one feel if they are always three levels behind their peers? If their score never reaches the leaderboard, how will they react? Also, how does this differ than the current system my students are in where they may not be an official leaderboard but in reality many students do share and compare marks and some feel it impossible to move up that leaderboard. I really don’t know how my students would react to this but it all comes down to motivation.

Perhaps gamification will be the trigger that increases student motivation. One of the most influential books on motivation is DRiVE by Daniel Pink. In his book he pushes away from the conventional extrinsic motivators (carrot and sticks which are grades for my students) and instead focuses on intrinsic motivation.  Pink breaks down the most important intrinsic motivators as:

  • Autonomy — the desire to direct our own lives
  • Mastery — the urge to get better and better at something that matters
  • Purpose — the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

Can gamification authentically meet these intrinsic motivators? Can I really apply gamification that provides purpose?  Perhaps competition, (something I am wary of) where the focal point is bringing a team up instead of just oneself will be enough? Will students just game the system in order to meet their extrinsic motivator of good grades? A motivator that does deserves to be validated due to the current system in which students are accepted into university.

These are questions I struggle with and in the end I feel it all comes to game design. I do feel that gamifying one’s class has real potential but I also can see it blowing up in my face. I have flipped a unit before and though I found it to be relatively successful, I also found the necessary preparation time to be quite extensive and believe gamifying would just add another exponent.  I already had a hard time keeping up with my flipped unit and ended up taking a break. However, I plan on building up my flipped resources and believe gamification and a flipped classroom model would work quite well together. I feel gamification can enhance the flipped model as it can extend the potential autonomy for students while also providing more purpose.

I keep thinking back to learning outcomes and whether gamifying really can meet them. Is it possible to meet higher order skills when considering Bloom’s taxonomy within a gamified setting? Will students be able to analyze, evaluate, explain, discuss, distinguish, examine and evaluate (most commonly used command terms for IB Business) within a gamified class? Once again it comes down to game design and as the creator of the game, I do believe I could accomplish these goals but every aspect of the game would need to be purposeful.

In the process of writing this blog post I do feel I have convinced myself the “why” to gamify my class. Next I need to focus on the “how” and then “what” which seems overwhelming. These are extremely important though as I can’t meet my objectives of “why” if the “how” and “what” aren’t well thought out and executed properly.

In order to succeed in gamifying my class, I feel I need two things. Time and someone to collaborate with. Potentially course 5 will be the opportunity for this so if you know of any business teachers (doesn’t need to be a COETAILer) interested in gamifying a unit, please have them contact me.

Note that this doesn’t mean I believe gamifying will define how teach and in the process of creating a unit I may even abandon it.  However, I do believe it is worth looking into.

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One Response to Should I Gamify My Class?

  1. Dan, just read your recent post on gamification and found this one via your G+ page. I would strongly recommend you drop by the GameOn community group page at Adobe’s Education Exchange. We’re having an ongoing discussion about AMP (autonomy, mastery, purpose) also directly derived from Pink. I think your thoughts and observations as you gamify would be a valuable addition for our conversation.


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