The Gamification of Education
Today’s kids are more plugged in than ever before. For many, adolescent life is increasingly centered around electronic devices, the internet, and video games. As parents, educators, and tutors, it is not only important to acknowledge this trend but to also take advantage of it as a way to connect with students and enhance the learning process. The gamification of education is an ever-evolving, modern educational movement that exists as a direct response to the changing nature of children’s attention spans and interests.
The modern video game is not a far cry from the quarter-munching arcades of the 1980s and 1990s. Early video games were designed to allow the player a short burst of enjoyment, and then block progress with an increase in difficulty so that the player would have to pay an extra quarter to either continue their progress or try again for a higher score. Comparatively, the goal of modern video games is typically focused on grabbing and holding attention more so than grabbing and demanding more quarters.
One of the ways modern video games have succeed at this aim is by offering an array of incremental and attainable goals. Designers purposefully do what they can to bring on the feeling of being on the precipice of achieving the next goal (be it “leveling up” or unlocking a new feature in the game). The aim is for the player to develop an increasing drive to play for just a little bit longer so that they can feel the dopamine burst that comes with success. At that point, the player (hopefully) wants to relish in the positive feelings associated with the accomplishment by playing even longer. Just before boredom or frustration sets in and the game is turned off, the next goal or level becomes just within reach and the process repeats.
Basic Gamification – Using Games as Teaching Tools
Educational video games have been in existence as long as video games themselves. It is far from a new idea that students can be drawn into fun game experiences while having to practice and learn skills. While not typically the most exciting or engrossing games, there are classics like The Oregon Trail, Word Munchers, Math Blaster, Reader Rabbit, Carmen Sandiego, and even Sim City that can still elicit fond memories of school computer labs from the 1980s and 1990s. These “edutainment” titles were some of the better offerings in the genre and were used to give students conceptual practice in their core academic subjects. Surprisingly, many of these games still hold up (and can even be played online in a web browser thanks to the work of archive.org).
These types of games were successful because they utilized the same cycle of challenge and incremental, yet achievable rewards that made their entertainment-focused counterparts work. Students played to reach the next goal, had their successes rewarded by access to a new feature, a new level, or a new animation; students would then (as their teachers would hope) strive to repeat the routine. For the educator, these types of games served to replace some of the rote practice usually reserved for worksheets or book-work. Ideally, if the game was entertaining enough, the student would not feel like they were actually doing work.
Gamification of the Classroom Workflow
In modern classrooms, the concept of leveling-up is being utilized in more progressive ways than just giving student access to educational video games. Some teachers are using sites like Classcraft or ClassDojo to bring the gamification concept into the daily operations of their classrooms. Students earn experience points (XP) for various tasks and submissions in an effort to gain enough XP to literally level-up on the site in the same way they would in their favorite video games. This process has been shown to be successful with certain students.
That being said, there is a fear among some in the education field that this reliance on extrinsic motivation removes the push to develop a student’s innate desire to learn for the sake of knowledge. For this reason, education professionals with experience with gamification concepts often acknowledge the complexities of the gamification debate. All told, the concept of classroom gamification is still very much in its early stages. Time will tell if this trend gains a wider-spread use as school districts increase their adoption of technology in the classroom.
What positive or negative role do you feel the concept of gamification could have in the classroom? What were some of your favorite “edutainment” games? Share your thoughts in the comments below!