"In every job that must be done there is an element of fun."
- Mary Poppins
Gamification (also referred to, sometimes interchangeably, as game-based, game-inspired, or game-centered learning) is something that I have written about in the past (such as this article) but not something that I have ever invested time into exploring or implementing. I refer to myself as a gamer, but a casual gamer rather than a hard-core gamer. I will happily escape into (at the moment) the Uncharted world and pretend that I am a treasure hunter, relax into some low-cognitive load FIFA18, or watch my wife play the incredibly beautifully written Final Fantasy series and marvel at how far computer graphics have come in the last thirty years. Take ninety seconds and watch the below video which shows the original Final Fantasy released in 1987 and reminisce about how amazed we were at the time to see these little pixels moving about the screen controlled by us, and then compare it to Final Fantasy 15 released in 2016 and marvel at how photorealistic much of the scenery is, the change in the music quality etc.
However, gamification is not something that I have ever explored more deeply. I had my hands full on developing my pedagogy and classroom management. It was exciting to see that someone I know, Pete Whiting, was facilitating the gamification component of the Flipped Learning Certification Level II course.
Flipped learning is the meta-strategy that supports other pedagogical approaches and Pete makes a very interesting comment early on that he could not see how they could get to gamification without using flipped learning as the backbone as flipped learning allows for the decentralisation of the classroom (i.e. the teacher does not need to be at the front of the class) that is needed for gamification to be implemented.
Gamification, implementation of game mechanics, is also more familiar to us and students than we realise and this makes it easy to implement from an explanatory perspective. Think about your loyalty and rewards cards; buy nine coffees and get the tenth or similar. That is gamification of commerce.
It is important to note that merely changing the mechanics from do this for an A to do this for 10XP is not in itself gamification. Gamification requires more thought than that and needs to be implemented well for it to be effective, both as a tool to generate engagement and as a tool for learning. This comes across in Yu-kai Chou's TEDx talk above when he comments that all games have some form of points, badges or leaderboards, yet not all games are engaging. Gamification should be about changing the focus from academic ability to academic effort.
When students can see that if they put in the effort to complete the mission and therefore get the loot and the associated XP, thus leveling up for the next mission or quest, that changes the way they think about learning. This has ramifications for the I'm no good at [insert subject] so I don't bother trying. When genuinely implemented, it changes that mindset to being about effort, not about how good they are at something. By engaging in the missions and learning through them those students will potentially become more comfortable with the topics and thus change their mindset and openness to further learning.
It is witnessing the eureka! moment that makes, in some ways, teaching such a joy. Paul Andersen says in the below TEDx Talk that it is "[t]hat look of learning, trying something new and failing and trying it again is something that we aspire to see in the eyes of our kids" and I think it is interesting, and somewhat disheartening that when it comes to video games, children are happy to fail and try again over and over until they achieve success, but in the classroom, when it comes to academic learning, our children are often defeated and want the answer when they fail the first time. What has happened that this is so?
One thing that really came through is how the feedback to students and the application of different expectations is critical. This is not particularly revelatory, however, the way in which it is implemented is tweaked. The explicit expectations around students success criteria for the missions, the effort required, is different. Rather than have one expectation for all students and when you complete the mission you get the XP, there are, if you will, different difficulty levels. Those who could be referred to as being good at the game of school might be put on the hard difficulty level and have different expectations to achieve the XP than the student who struggles with a concept. This helps, as Pete remarks, with rewarding effort rather than the genetics and home life.
Jon and Pete are both quite clear that the pedagogy behind gamification is much deeper and broader than the scope for the gamification unit of the flipped learning certification allowed for and that to get a true understanding, more time an exploration through other sources would be needed. One which they recommended was Goblin.Education, an online professional learning course which goes through the elements of gamification in education through game-based learning.
Pete's unit was a little bit more in depth and practical than what I had been exposed to on gamification in the past and is something that I now feel a bit more comfortable with using in the classroom than previously. If you wanted to hear what Pete had to say, then I would encourage you to click on the button above to register for the Level II flipped learning certification (after you have completed the level I certification). I have added Goblin to my list of courses to look at but for now, gamification is something that I do believe has a solid place in the classroom, when it is implemented well.
As always, thank you for reading.