Gamification and Education- More than just fun and games

22 September 2021

Gamification and Education- More than just fun and games

22 September 2021

Gamification appears in so many aspects of modern society. From encouraging people with a rewarding melody when they place their rubbish into a bin at the park through to game-based competitions to increase levels of contributions, innovation and collaboration in workplaces across the country. Accordingly, why wouldn’t gamification have a role to play in modern education. In this article, Hartford College Deputy Headmaster, Ian Mejia, explains the critical ingredients required for the effective use of gamification in improving student engagement and learning outcomes.

It is a common image, a teenager glued to a computer monitor, television, or device. Eyes are barely blinking, so engrossed in a video game that even simple communication is difficult.

It is hard to ignore the contrast between the engagement of a young person while playing a video game against their engagement with a general classroom activity. Surely teachers would want to replicate that focus and apply it to educational activities. Imagine if that young man was as focused on his Year 9 History homework as he was with Fortnite.

Gamification in education is about increasing student engagement and learning by including game-like elements in learning activities.

Gamification is nothing new in education. For years games, and play, have been integrated into classrooms in a variety of ways. From a Friday afternoon “heads down, thumbs up” treat to end the week, to a competitive maths quiz with buzzers and scorecards, to a simple game of vocabulary hangman, games and play have always had a place in the classroom.

What makes gamification different today is the ease with which educators can create, share, and design, sophisticated games that are visually on par with the games your child might already be playing. Often the games designed and utilised by teachers are even built on the same software as current popular games – we see it demonstrated in Minecraft for education.

However, effectively integrating gamification into teaching is so much more than the superficial learning that occurs through repeated exposure to content. Play enough Call of Duty and you could probably name many of the guns that were used in World War II. But these learning experiences only scratch the surface of what can be achieved through well designed learning that harnesses the engaging nature of play and competition.

So, here are five guidelines we utilise to ensure students genuinely benefit from gamification via authentic, deep learning experiences.

1. We always begin with the learning objective

Effective gamification is not simply engagement. It works best when a teacher is deliberately looking to design the  learning experience around the most effective way to deliver certain content or concepts to students.

Gamification is just one of many tools that teachers can utilise in the classroom. It would be a mistake to walk into Bunnings, pick up a power tool and then think about what you could make with it. It is critical to begin with the end in mind. What sort of learning do we want to occur? What content and concept do we want our learners to be exposed to? We then ask ourselves if utilising a game will be effective in reaching the desired learning outcome. Sometimes a bunch of textas and some butcher’s paper will be a more effective learning tool than lunging for a device.

What this also demonstrates to students is that devices and technology are here to support and enhance learning. Educators can fall in the trap of creating entertaining activities with the hope of learning, instead of designing learning experiences with the hope of some fun.

2. Select the best game-element to achieve the desired result

Games are so engaging because they have many elements that promote different outcomes.

Badges or achievements are a great way to reward students’ progress. Leader boards are great to generate competitive motivation. Elements of chance/luck give all students a chance to win and introducing varying levels of difficulty within a game is great for differentiating content.

Choosing the right type of game-element is essential. For example, tedious work can be made more engaging with badges and achievements as a learner progresses. This is commonly seen in wearable technology applications like Nike+ and Fitbit where achievements for physical activity are rewarded and a leader board can be established with friends to create some friendly competition. It’s a great way to make the horrible task of jogging more bearable and engender the mental fortitude required to take those first few steps or to push your endurance to jog that little bit further.

Aligning the type of game element to the desired learning outcome is crucial. If a reward is too easily achieved it will not create the sense of achievement required to motivate students.

Similarly, a leader board applied to the wrong activity could also have an undesirable outcome. Often students do not need to be reminded of how they compare academically to other students in their class. They know this and it is tied very closely to their self-esteem. Putting their academic performance on display may have varied impacts on motivation depending on where a student sits on the leader board and how comfortable he is with that standing. Leader boards are very visual representations and reminders of individual performance and teachers use them judiciously.

Gamification should not be used as a quick and convenient way to sort students by their ability. If the objective is to motivate through competition, teachers often use mixed-ability groups. This can put students at ease and allow students to fill certain roles in a team where they fit best. Also, rewarding not just results achieved, but improvement, develops a classroom culture that celebrates effort, progress and grit.

3. We recognise how social gaming is

Since the widespread adoption of highspeed broadband internet, the gaming landscape has changed significantly. Gaming is no longer an individual activity. Gamers are connected with others around the globe, interacting through voice and text, and the activity is highly social. Quite often peer groups are formed and reinforced around the games that young people play. Not being able to play with your group of friends one night is the social equivalent to not being invited to a birthday party!

As educators we acknowledge that the social part of gaming is often more important than the game itself. Rewarding communication, teamwork and collaboration through the game is a great way to future-proof students.

Understanding the social side of gaming influences how teachers create teams or partners, or how users interact with each other. When running games for students, teachers keep a very close eye on the social dynamics that play out. There is zero tolerance for anti-social behaviour. Teachers quash it immediately so that the focus is on the positive social benefits that can be accrued by students.

4. Customisation is key

We don’t use a game that assumes everyone is at the same starting point in terms of skills or knowledge – to do so would simply exacerbate the problems in assessment that already exist. Gamification should not be used as an automated way to ‘sort’ students into what they know and don’t know. Electronic quizzes and ‘gameshows’ can be fun, but they can often miss the point of improving learning. We want to give students repeated, meaningful, exposure to learning experiences. Students who struggle with content because it is too difficult in one mode of learning, can benefit from a game that lets them approach content on their level, then rewards them for their progress.

This is one thing that makes games so attractive in the first place – they reward progress, effort, and determination with small rewards, or “unlocking achievements” in gaming lingo. Differentiated or personally customised gaming that provides positive feedback to learners as they progress through the game builds confidence with the material and enables individual students to establish their own path to learning.

5. We Reward Soft Skills

One of the hesitations we hear from parents about gamification in the classroom is that students will become screen zombies, passively ingesting content. Effective gamification allows students to be the builders, problem-solvers, creators and designers. When learners are forced into a situation that require these soft skills it creates a ‘sandbox’ for these skills to be developed.

The reason why teachers reward soft skills is to prepare learners for an environment that is constantly changing at an increasingly fast rate. Gamification can expose students to technology and skills that they may use in the future. But, in many situations the skills they learn will be obsolete in a few years. So how do we prepare learners for a world of technology that may not yet exist? How do you develop the next blockchain entrepreneur at school before a viable cryptocurrency comes into existence? The answer is to equip them with the soft skills necessary so they can apply themselves to any situation. Gamification allows students to be exposed to an infinite number of virtual scenarios in that sandbox environment.

When learners can demonstrate these skills, the game should reward them accordingly to reinforce this. Good teachers constantly think about how they can integrate rewarding soft skills when designing learning experiences with gamification.

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If you’d like to find out more, or if you have any questions about how Hartford College employs gamification and other modern learning techniques, please contact Deputy Headmaster, Ian Mejia, at:
02 9184 8840

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