Gamification Extended

Late Night Gamer by 2create Louis du Mont

It has been quite a few months since Loren first brought the idea of gamification to my attention, as discussed in the earlier post Gamifying Education.  His enthusiasm and prodding has lead me to plan to rethink my approach to homework over the summer (Radical Revamp … in Small Increments).  But I need to take the time to research this concept.  Hopefully I can then avoid making some basic mistakes in implementation by building on the insights and research of others.  With this in mind, I was intrigued to see the article Study’s the name of the game by Megan Johnston in The Sydney Morning Herald.

The article begins:

Inside a school laboratory, students gather around the bench for today’s lesson: how to create a chemical reaction. Yet instead of turning to their worksheets, these young investigators try some role play. Each budding scientist dons a lab coat and begins to experiment until – voila! – beakers erupt all over the room.

Their reward? Not a mark or score but a handful of special tokens. The student who makes the biggest explosion also wins the title of professor.

Who would not want to be part of that Science class?  Megan continues:

A growing band of teachers and researchers is already using games to boost student motivation and engagement, borrowing the structure of a typical computer game in which users overcome small challenges to collect points. Players – or in this case, students – work through levels of increasing difficulty until they reach their goal.

”Computer games have almost perfected the art form of ‘incentivisation’,” says the director of innovation at Northern Beaches Christian School, Stephen Collis.

From this, my challenge is to figure out how to structure course challenges so students are gaining knowledge, learning to think critically, and developing their mathematical understanding, not just accumulating rewards.  This is the part I need to look into over the summer.  How do I make sure my rewards system has a higher goal?  Though since I am focusing simply on increasing student motivation to do homework appropriately, I might be overstating the outcomes I hope to see.

It is encouraging to know that

Game-based learning is ranked as one of six ”technologies to watch” by international organisations New Media Consortium and Educause Learning Initiative in their annual Horizon Report, citing its potential to foster student collaboration, problem solving and procedural thinking.

This article intrigued me so much that I am tempted to quote the whole thing here, but I will try to resist.  Instead, here are some of the key points that the article brings up.

  • The game system allows differentiation to occur as students’ progress at their own pace.
  • Gamification allows self-directed learning, and helps students manage their time better.
  • Students are motivated by seeing their friends’ progress as well as by the rewards they gain for themselves.
  •  One study showed that students learning through playing a game retained more information than those who read the same content in a book.

My thought:  Retention is not the same as understanding, analyzing or synthesizing.  Does gamification help with these higher-order skills too?

Ok … I admit temporary defeat.  Megan begins to addresses some of my questions, so I need to just quote her:

The theory is that games boost students’ motivation – and thereby their learning – by leveraging cognitive, emotional and social needs. The narrative of a game helps players master difficult intellectual tasks, for example, while also invoking emotions such as pride and frustration and letting students test out new social identities that grant them academic credibility.

”It’s actually much more complicated than just adding points and badges to the classroom,” Lee says.

”There’s nothing inherently wrong with extrinsic motivation but we really need to couple that with trying to cultivate intrinsic motivation – so getting students to love learning and see themselves as successful at what they do.”

Games are especially useful in helping students overcome their fear of failure, Lee says. In fact, many games require players to fail repeatedly until the correct answer is found. And, unlike traditional exams, games give frequent feedback and keep the stakes low.

Too often in schools where I have worked students are no longer allowed to fail.  I, as the teacher, am expected to do everything in my power to ensure they “succeed”, where success is measured in terms of grades rather than in terms of learning.  (I obviously have my own very strong feelings about this, but this is not the place to vent them!!)  I love the idea of allowing students to fail while motivating them to keep trying and proving to them that they can come back from apparent failure, and they come back stronger, smarter, and wiser!

Though this article does not answer the question of how can I restructure my homework grading system, it highlights current thinking and research in the field of gamification, letting me know that this is a worthwhile avenue to pursue.  Not that I ever doubted Loren of course!

My plan to implement a systematic rewards system is barely worthy of being titled as gamification, but I need to start small and see where it leads.  Stay tuned!