Remember to cover your eggs with rocks
I am a gamer, and I have been since I was able to use my parents’ BBC Microcomputer. I mostly played a game called Repton. Unlike video games nowadays, produced by teams of (sometimes) hundreds of software engineers over the course of several years, Repton was written by one person in their house over one month. This meant that it did lack a certain depth. Another game which differentiated little in terms of game play was Sonic the Hedgehog. The game play elements in both of these games were simple. You moved around collecting things, and if you collected enough without dying you got to move on to the next level. There were other little things also to test you, such as in Sonic where you would battle Dr Robotnik at the end of the level – utilizing your skills more precisely. In Repton there were stones and eggs which would fall under gravity, if the eggs fell they hatched a monster so you had to be careful to place stones over eggs so as to kill the monster when it fell. This taught me about consequences. When I did something, another thing happened as a result. If I didn’t deal with that consequence appropriately I will die. Perhaps a bit of a brutal welcome to the world for a five year old! I may also have learned that some things were born from eggs…
Gamification takes these ideas found in games and integrates them into a classroom with the goal of enriching a lesson in a way that our students are familiar with and enjoy. Gamification has been shown to have benefits to teaching and learning, such as helping low achieving students access the curriculum more easily, or naturally building scaffolding into the content you want students to learn due to the stages nature of video games (you start with a fist to punch and end with a BFG 9000).
This is an area in which I have some specific expertise. I first thought about using games to aid learning when I did my masters project, one year into my teaching practice. Reading the literature on the matter it seemed like using gamification techniques could help boost intrinsic motivation. The outcome of that project (sans the thesis) was Lets Physics That, called achievements at the time as it was based upon achievements found in World of Warcraft. This was mostly an attempt to get students doing more Physics in their own time of their own accord. It was not homework, and I did not encourage its use. It was simply there for them to use if they wanted. The gaming mechanics built in to ‘Lets Physics That’ are:
- Use of points and levels to show progress. Students would complete tasks and I would input this into the system. This would give the students points. As students move past point thresholds they level up. For example level 10 students are ‘Nikola Tesla’, and level 13 students are ‘Super strings’. There are also physical badges for levels 4, 7, 10 and 13!
- Students have access to daily tasks. These are repeatable tasks which give points every day. This is to encourage practice for specific content.
- Tasks are generally based on doing something. Students rarely have to complete these tasks at the computer (the quest giver!).
- Initial versions also had prerequisites, so to get all the tasks you had to complete some before. This was removed however as it became monotonous for more advanced students to have to do the easy tasks to get to the real learning for them.
- Leaderboards were posted weekly with the top ten students in the school. These are now continually updated on the site itself.
The outcomes were mixed. Many students used it at first but quickly petered off. Those students who did stick with it though did particularly well in their achievement, some of whom moved up into the top set. Collecting data on this a few years ago (I use it very heavily in my teaching now) students expressed that the gamified elements (points, badges and daily tasks) were their favorite parts of it.
When I have talked about ‘Lets Physics That’ to other teachers however, many find it hard to see how video games can be applicable to their subject. In 2015 I went to a day long session at Learning 2.0 ASIA run by Robert Appino which had a focus of gaming in the classroom. He gave a few good examples of how we can use games to help add something to our lessons. One example was using a game called Robot Unicorn Attack to stimulate ideas for a fictional story. Why is the unicorn running? What is it running towards (or from)? Why is it a robot? To some in the room this seemed like grasping at straws for ways to use games, but think of it from a students perspective. You play a game, you dream up a story, and then you put that knowledge down somewhere. Maybe you make a movie trailer using footage from the game or a short story. Robert also pointed out something I hadn’t considered before: Young gamers aim for three stars, they aim for mastery. So games might be helping our students become more mastery based in their learning.
Gamification is not just something being adopted in the classroom either. A group in the US called The Institute for the Future have produced several full scale games designed both to educate and to make a difference in the world. A member of this group, Jane McGonigal gave a TED Talk in 2010 which outlined some of the work they were doing to make games an integral part of the solutions to real world problems. She identifies how gamers have particular positive traits associated with them, things like teamwork and an undeterred optimism. Their ability to solve problems is very great and they work well together to solve them, often through multiple failures. If we could harness this in real life, to solve real life problems, what could we achieve?
The video got me thinking about how I could use this same idea in school to solve a problem that we have. Currently, students around the world are becoming more anxious. We see this at my school too. Part of my job is to look after the wellness of our students, and so for my final project maybe I could create an epic game for the high school to try and alleviate this.
This could bring the issues of wellness to the front of students minds, and at the same time make it fun and educational. It would need some sort of dramatic opening (in Jane McGonigals TED talk they used ‘the world has run out of oil’ as their dramatic preamble) to really get the kids invested. This could be some sort of fantasy world where the world has become so anxious productivity is taking a nose dive… I would probably consult with the school counselors for something better 🙂
Gamification is an emerging method of how we can use digital technology to teach. I predict the main trouble gamification will have is the lack of awareness of what games do to keep the player engaged (the mechanics) and an active participator. The great news is that there are some really good examples already out there which demonstrate these techniques, such as Khan Acdemy which gives points and trophies for doing things. Working with teachers to help integrate these into the classroom to make it more meaningful to learning is the next big challenge, but I think when teachers do start to gamify their classroom, they will find it a very effective and fun way for students to learn. Students will very quickly start learning to cover their eggs with rocks.
Bibliography (Read more!)
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If you’re good at video games, it means you’re really smart. (2017, November 15). Retrieved November 25, 2017, from http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/gaming/video-games-computer-intelligence-iq-test-league-legends-dota-2-defence-ancients-a8057176.html
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McGonigal, J. (n.d.). Gaming can make a better world. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world
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Superior Interactive – Free Downloads of Quality PC and Android Software, including Repton. (n.d.). Retrieved November 25, 2017, from http://www.superiorinteractive.com/