Game Based Learning or Gamification?
My initial problem with games in my maths class was that it sucks to lose and it also sucks to feel like you are bad at math. So what why would I want to create a scenario that had kids who already felt sucky for being bad at math feel even suckier for losing the game as a direct result? But I didn’t really have a clear idea about what gamification in my class would look like. I was confusing game based learning (GBL) and the gamification of learning (the thing that has ed types going crazy with excitement).
GBL is using game playing to learn something. You might play Buzz to learn your multiplication tables or Angry Birds to study the symmetry of parabolas. In both cases you are learning/practising/exploring a learning objective while playing a game. There is a place for this in classrooms. But it isn’t the same as gamifying your classroom.
I was at a terrible maths conference in Denver one year and went to a not-so-terrible session about gamification. The hour long presentation didn’t allow time to really get to gamification in education but it did break down the essential elements of gamification.
Google defines it as “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.” Take a look at the apps on your phone – do any of them reel you in with gamification techniques? I use Waze to map my route home everyday so that I get more points, LindkedIn is always offering me something so that I’ll add more info to my account and my biggest weakness is the Untapped app. My beer app that rewards me with badges for seeking out different kinds of beers (I am on an IPA hiatus because I maxed out the badges!)
So if I can be motivated by badges to drink more beer, perhaps I can motivate students to dig into Integration by Parts with a badge too? Hang on. Bad example. Ignore.
It doesn’t matter where you get your definition, gamification is all about digging into that intrinsic competitive spirit to engage students, not just reward them. So you use the principles of game design (rewards, levels, feedback, leaderboards etc) and apply them to a project or a lesson or an entire unit to motivate your students.
I remember thinking (not that long ago) that gamification was a terrible idea and the new edubabble word of the year. I haven’t completely done a 180 on that, but maybe I’ve done a 90? A HS Biology teacher at ASB in India came to a conference and Graded and gave a pretty convincing presentation about what gamification looks like to her. Rory Newcomb is her name (follow her on twitter) and she gave some really solid resources to get started with gamifying your classroom. (She’s very open source with her methods and ideas) What is clear is that this takes a lot of time but the rewards can make it worthwhile.
In the maths classroom we tend to think of Sal Kahn’s approach as it follows the gamification idea well (students are engaged and motivated by the bells and whistles) but I’m not convinced that the learning is great. Not much room for critical thinking or problem solving – Dan Meyer has been ranting about this recently. Our school is currently trialling Mangahigh and many of the students are enjoying the competitiveness of the rewards system. As a teacher I’ve noticed that the site creates an even playing field in the way that it rewards all math abilities equally. My lower level maths students can be earning more rewards than my higher level maths students so there isn’t the positive correlation between math ability and leaderboard position. On the flip side the correlation seems to be between time spent on task and leaderboard position. Even though the lessons are adaptive – they get harder as the students demonstrate mastery – I am not sure that a gamified classroom is designed to encourage students to just spend more time on task. There needs to be a stronger connection between the reward system and the mastery of the learning objectives. And, there is little room for deep problem solving on Manga High so for me it will continue to serve as a tool for practice or review.
Sherry Jones’ slideshare (above) really helped me reflect on the ideas of gamification and GBL and get to the heart of the difference between the two. I think the most difficult task in gamifying your classroom must be in the designing of the game itself. If the story of the game is not fun or interesting will students really be excited to play (and then learn as a result)? I gave up on Foursquare, my LinkedIn mail goes to spam – what can I learn from these app gamifications that are failing to keep me engaged?
I can’t give my students beer badges.