Jul 1, 2014

Gamification and Learning

In the past several weeks, I have been working with a team of teachers to discuss the concept of gamification. Basically, the idea is that rather than stick to the traditional design of a classroom, you 'gamify' your classroom by creating challenges, choice, and rewards. This may sound like a monumental undertaking, but it really isn't. Some people hear the term and assume that they would need to create an app or computer software and turn their entire course into a game. Don't think that teachers/software companies/designers have not already done this. Its a concept that has been around for a while. But there are subtle ways that your syllabus and classroom can be tweaked to instill motivation in your student by turning your lessons into quests or challenges.

As I have already said, gamification can be simple...if you start small. Douglas Kiang, a teacher from the Punahou School in Honolulu Hawaii (http://kiang.net) points out that you first need to know your learners. He suggests using the Bartle Test App to determine what kind of gamers your students are. Once you know this, it will help tremendously in understanding where their strengths lie as workers/learners/gamers. (See my notes from his session at #iste2014). From here you can better understand how to group your students for class projects. But I am getting ahead of myself, as you wouldn't really want to call them projects.

The next thing you would want to do is to create a climate shift in your classroom. No longer will you think of your class as one of assignments, quizzes, tests, and projects. Change the mentality to one in which there is a path of quests students need to achieve in order to reach the outcome or goal of your class. The ultimate outcome is learning, but we will call it their reward. Some assignments (quests) will be required paths to the desired outcome (winning the game), but others will be challenges that can be rewarded through extra credit or badges. Grades can still be awarded, but once this shift in mentality occurs, and you realign their thinking about the class, motivation changes - achievement becomes a competition.

Beyond this though, there are several other aspects to gamification that were mentioned throughout the conference that are worth bringing up. One is that while you can create required quests, and additional extra credit challenges, your kids should be able to choose their own path to learning. This was a concept mentioned by Kiang, as well as another attendee I met named Alice Keeler, a Professor of Teacher Education at Fresno State. Both mention the 'choose your own path' concept, but in different ways. For instance, Kiang mentions setting up different career major paths that students could follow through the learning process. Each student may have a different focus due to their career pathway, but each would learn the same basic concepts required to achieve the goal of the game (class). Keeler states that her syllabus for her course is structured in the sense that students must achieve a specific set of outcomes, but open ended in the sense that each student may take a different path to reach that desired outcome.

Think of the above paragraph this way - in games like Skyrim and World of Warcraft, gamers take on different roles with different strengths. Each role requires that the gamer approach the game in a different way.

While all this may seem like a lot to swallow, it is definitely an approach to learning that is worth looking at. While listening to each of these educators talk, I could tell that each is passionate about what they do, and their students are motivated to succeed. How do I digest all this? I see it this way. The next move for any educator in gamifying the classroom is to do as Keeler says, which is to start small. Pick one aspect of gamification and implement it in your classroom. Here are a few tips to start:

1. Choice - give your students more choice in how they achieve outcomes. Give them the ability to create through different modalities - videos, game simulations, posters, plays, speeches, comic strips - but dont limit them. Just grade them on a rubric, lying out specific objectives with badges or rewards for achieving those objectives.

2. Terminology - alter the climate of your class by changing the terminology associated with learning. Assignments become quests, extra credit becomes a challenge, and grades are now badges or rewards.

3. Flipped Back Chat - this is for all you flipped classroom people and it is a suggestion given by Kiang in his presentation. Games will often use a program or channel on the internet to chat with one another while gaming. If you are flipping your classroom, tell your students that they must watch the videos you post as homework, but challenge them to login at the same time and create a chat room of sorts using a website such as Today's Meet to create a backchannel where students can ask questions as they watch. It makes the learning process more interactive and extends learning beyond the walls of the school in a new way.

Like I said, I am just in the beginning stages of discussing this with our Gamification team, so I am as new to this as anyone. But if you're like me, you welcome any discussion or group of resources to help you find the answers. That being said, thanks for reading this, good luck, and don't forget to check out my notes from the ISTE session I attended with Kiang and the link to Keeler's website.

Google Docs - Notes from Kiang Session

Alice Keeler

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