I am not a big fan of an over-emphasis on technology. There is a place for it and a way to integrate it, but just making it “tech”, doesn’t really have a big impact on learning. At best, the sense of “novelty” when dealing with technology increases engagement/motivation… until the novelty wears off.
The term “gamification” is new to the scene. “If you want to be a tech savvy teacher, then you better be using gamification”, right? Not necessarily! The term seems to be following the pattern of most education-related words… it’s getting dumbed down and lost in the jargon stew. Here is a great short summary of the differences between gamification, game-based learning. The basic difference is that gamification occurs when teachers use different motivational strategies found in gaming (leveling up for example) and game-based learning is simply when teachers use video game based activity to learn (Oregon Trail for example). Okay, Oregon Trail is a bit of a jab! But, you get the main idea.
Now, let me blow your mind! REAL GAMIFICATION is WAY DEEPER than just using “game style” incentives/organization to teach the same content in the same way, and it can be done without using ANY technology. Impossible, you say? Let’s take gamification to the source – student learning and what that looks like in a video game environment. I believe that “kids today” are truly learning in a different way than they had previously. I’m not saying that this is a 100% change of learning style, but the changing entertainment landscape has created some learning short cuts that students are developing (where they had not been as widely developed in the past). We could digress into a whole discussion about technology, the smart phone, television, youtube, and the new “on demand” culture – but I am going to stick with game playing and learning.
Watch a young person play a video game when it is brand new. Observe how they learn and deal with the challenges. A young person might take the game straight out of the wrapper and throw it in their gaming console. They don’t read any directions. As a matter of fact, game designers aren’t even including the old booklets with long instructions anymore. Now, they send a simple basic start up sheet and let the kids play away. Students wait for the startup screen and get busy working on the game. They click buttons and try to determine the cause/effect relationship of each button or combination of moves. As this is happening, they are comparing the way this new game behaves to other games they have played before. Along the way, there may be a very purpose driven prompt during the game – this is a pre-planned learning/training experience. From this point, kids are pretty much on their own – moving forward in a highly motivated way towards the unknown. They have very little prior knowledge about how this particular game will operate, but they may be familiar with the genre. They do not read any training manual and the basic things they need to learn are embedded into the experience along the way. In rare cases where a child “gets stuck” in a game or on a level, they can consult the developer’s website, look up hints/cheats for the game, or even collaborate with someone else online (YouTube or blog) to overcome the obstacle (to learn). This is what I imagine when I hear the term, “gamification”.
Gamification has nothing to do with technology – it has everything to do with how kids problem solve, begin a project/experience, and learn along the way. Think about the implications for your classroom! They can’t wait to get started (impatience). They don’t went to wait for instructions (not rule followers). They want to get started and see how well they can do (even if they make some obvious mistakes in the early stages of the learning process). Picture how this “feels” to students… They are given a task, given at least a day or two of instruction before they even get to “play with it” and thy are usually only given a limited amount of supplies to create this finished project – so they can’t learn by making mistakes or they won’t have any supplies left. Picture how frustrating this can be to adults!
What does this tell us about including “gamification” in our classrooms? We should shift our instructional approach to blend better with the way our students learn in their natural technology rich environment. Give them a high interest, open ended, creative large project and let them get started right away. Plan for them to get stuck a little. They might have great ideas or no ideas. They might know what to do, but need to “get organized”. They might want resources or want to know where to look for answers. This is great stuff – let them fumble forward. Our biggest challenge is that we need to put our “hang ups” about how students learn (pre-loading everything, limiting their “play” with the concept, expecting things to be step by step “perfect”) on hold. This is the new teaching and learning in a gamer’s world! This is what gamification (and even 21st Century skills) means to me!