Gamification

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A couple of weeks ago I presented to a group of Gaming and Computing students at the college where I work as part of their showcase event.
I decided to talk to them about Gamification…I know teaching and learning they know gaming, it was my attempt to bring the two together and it went something like this:

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I have been inspired by Jane McGonigal of the Institute for the Future and author of “Reality is Broken”. She suggests that we learn more by taking tests than by studying for tests. This is because tests create a structure around which we can input information and receive feedback on whether that is right or not. We can then adjust our input accordingly until we are successful. We consider tests to be boring, but if we follow the example of Mike Skocko and change our language so that tests become opportunities to reach ‘gold’, ‘level up’ or complete ‘quests’ we may start to make them more attractive to learners. Not only will they become keen to complete, but learners will be able to engage in the part if testing that makes it integral to learning: feedback.

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Feedback shouldn’t be just a tick or a cross. It shouldn’t even be a developed written response. For feedback to be useful it needs to become a two way interaction. In its most informal and impactful on learning guise, it is intrinsically tied to multiple attempts at a task. It becomes part of the process. Do – engage in feedback – do better. Reliance is on the opportunity to make multiple attempts at the task, each time doing better until reaching a level of mastery.

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The marvellous thing about gaming is that feedback is instant. Consider the vibrating controller – as soon as the gamer does something wrong, the feedback is instant, multi-sensory and directed exactly where changes need to happen in order for success to follow. If we could re-create this in teaching, we would be on to a winner.

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When teaching 16-19 year olds in FE, especially in Maths, I don’t think of myself as filling an empty vessel with knowledge, but instead identifying the gaps in in a jigsaw and helping the student explore ways to fill them, giving them the tools to finish the jigsaw themselves. The role of initial and continuing assessment is vital, as in any area of study. When playing a game, we learn how to move, jump, explore the platform, intuitive game play is something we expect now. We find ways to fill the gaps in our knowledge of how to play the game. When taking a test and receiving immediate feedback, we identify our knowledge gaps and study those particular areas to fill them. This highly personalised learning takes us all on different learning pathways, it ensures we focus on what we need to learn, rather than spending time covering areas we are already familiar with and it allows for opportunities for stretch and challenge – we get the harder, yet more rewarding bonus levels. We are engaged.

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Games are highly engaging, we would love our students to be as thoroughly engaged with our subjects as they are with GTA, COD etc. And by that I mean engaged solidly, for hours, without a break – the ultimate example of flow, where time disappears and immersion is so consuming that hours pass without anyone noticing. Why are they so engaging? Simply put, games are rewarding and allow the gamer to take risks not possible in every day life. We need to replicate this in teaching and learning, to make the process intrinsically rewarding  and encourage risk taking, to create safe environments where risks are encouraged and students (and teachers) learn from their mistakes.

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What sort of learners will we have if we ‘gamify’ teaching and learning? McGonigal talks about gamers being curious, optimistic, determined, resilient and able to learn faster. Surely these are admirable and desirable qualities? In the ever more competitive arena of entry to HE and/or employment, our students need to be able to demonstrate these enterprising characteristics. Rather than sending them to employability lessons or encouraging them to engage in enterprise clubs, how about we just embed this stuff in our day to day teaching. It’s like hiding the vegetables inside a sauce – they get the right stuff but in a palatable and enjoyable way…it isn’t force fed.

I am not saying that we turn all assessment opportunities into games, or that we install XBoxes into every classroom. I just think that we could learn a lot from the science and psychology of gaming and embed it into teaching practice to support learners in a way that brings out the best in them. With cuts to funding and a squeeze on resources, online learning will only become more important, as will e-learning design. If we can take what we know works (the gaming sauce) and use it to deliver our content (curriculum vegetables), not only will students have the skills and knowledge they need, they will also get a whole heap of other qualities (secret ingredients) that will culminate in a winning recipe.

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