This post has severed as my "aha" moment. I am new to gamification and have been reading about gamification over the last few weeks in order to gain a better understanding. The readings have all given me something different to think about and established a better understanding of gamification. However, in the back of my mind, I have been asking myself how it actually works. I am seeing the theoretical side of things and how useful it can be for learning, but I had no clue how it could be applied. This gave me a good sense of how I can use gamification. The emphasis on constant feedback and meaningful context helped me to see the possibilities for scaffolding writing assignments in my freshman comp classes. The idea that "the context of an engaging learning environment has to connect to the everyday lives of the students" is an issue in freshman composition courses, where students are often taking part in writing assignments that do not connect to their lives. I can see now how the use of gamification could lead to better student engagement in composition courses.
Matthew and Anthony — thanks for your thoughtful comments, which both touch on the same ideas. If I'm reading what you've written correctly, I think we're basically in total agreement. Gamification, if it works at all, generates compliance — that's what it's best at. But games are not about compliance (indeed, as I've tried to argue here, they're about quite the opposite), and so it's important for educators to think about what they're trying to do when they're considering designing learning interventions.
If the goal is compliance, then gamification is possibly an appropriate approach. In some cases, I suppose, a compliance orientation is the only rational move — Anthony, your "working with live electricity" training example is a good one in that regard, though it also of course raises the question of why bother to 'gamify' such a lesson when surely the desire of the learner to continue breathing would be enough.
But generally, I think the compliance approach to education — which, let's face it, is the standard default approach — is almost always a matter of putting the cart before the horse. I would go back to Dewey on this one — to paraphrase, in Experience and Education, he said something like, "our desires are the moving springs of all action," and that it is only through action and experience — desire-driven play with the world that we inhabit — that we truly learn. So for someone to truly act, and thereby truly learn, they have to truly want to take the action that they are taking, not just be told that it's the thing they need to do and offered a badge or other treat in return.
The definition certainly drives at the functioning of gamification; the "application of points and badges and other representations” disturbingly recalls Skinner’s descriptions of operant conditioning. A Foucaltian disciplinary practices which leads people to inculcate specific ideas is bad enough, but somehow I find the concept of treating people who are trying to learn as trained monkeys slightly more insulting.
However, I do wonder whether this not-to-be-named process has no place at all. Are there no situations in which a strict regimented type of learning is beneficial? As a former technical trainer, I can say that there are situations in which a technician needs to follow a regimented process. For example, working on live electrical equipment is a task in which there are consequences for poor behavior, specifically the possibility of electrocution. Within the Humanities, we often strive for creativity and independent thinking. My own field is literature, and I believe that the process of interpreting imaginative works should be approached openly to maximize discovery of the rhetoric tactics and unspoken assumptions within a text. On the other hand, training on ethical application of the rules of research on human subject should necessarily entails a certain right-or-wrong perspective. These two examples don’t present a binary so much as a spectrum of competing emphasis on rules-based processes and creativity-driven activities. Shouldn’t teaching first-year composition or the interpretation of historical documents fall somewhere within that spectrum?
I like that this post addresses a lot of the underlying pedagogy of gamification and how much of it comes back to Freire's old nemesis: the banking model. I agree with all of what you have said here, but I also think that it is important to acknowledge that gamification can offer some advantages in certain areas of study.
For example, I am working with my colleagues to build a gamified learning system that introduces students to various study habits. Essentially, it is offering access them to the exploration of different behaviors (e.g. it talks about different styles of note taking, reading habits, maintaining focus while studying, etc.). In this case, I believe that gamification can encourage students (even badge chasers) to explore different ways of doing things. The goal of the system is to give the students bite-sized pieces of information that offers ways to reconsider their study habits.
Thanks, Jamie — yes, I think these are critical questions, and I wish I had better answers.
In their 2009 book Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, Allan Collins & Rich Halverson asked (and I paraphrase): "If we've had over a hundred years of research on and advocacy for educational reform, why is it that classrooms still look pretty much like they did in the 19th century?" The standard space model of education — K-12, but also higher ed, where we're still inordinately focused on lectures — is really the target of my piece, moreso than just "gamification." MOOCs are, for the most part, continuing to replicate the lecture model with videos instead of lecture halls, and I don't see much progress being made with these high profile, educational technologies these days.
"Gamification" is seen by some as a solution to this problem, in that it at least potentially changes how instruction works, though I'm clearly not bullish on how well these experiments capture what games are, as well as how useful the directionality of reform is here. We're in a quandary where in order to justify larger-scale rethinkings of educational systems toward truly game-like structures (Gee's situated learning model), practitioners need to show that it works in the small scale, in specific classrooms, and align to existing assessments that were never developed to assess this kind of learning. Like I said above, I'm skeptical that small-scale interventions do much other than slap lipstick on a pig (or, hubcaps on a horse, as per my earlier metaphor), and the folks who are tasked with showing the potential of games in education are not empowered to do much other than implement them in limited ways.
I do see a lot of promise in experiments like Quest to Learn and Chicago Quest, which I briefly alluded to above. For those who are interested in how Katie Salen and her colleagues have rethought schools from a foundation based on play, I strongly recommend reading their MacArthur report summarizing the project.
Your question in the conclusion, I think, also connects to issues of compromise. While many learn and are incentivized by playful, some aren't and many instructors will not want to adopt gameful/gamified classrooms. Your mention of higher institutions makes me wonder how to really implement play and learning. I have never gamified a class, but I have encouraged play with writing and technology and used games in my classes, but always within the time and space alloted for class—as an even more powerless adjunct and/or grad student. I want to push your question and ask you what reorganizing of higher education might be necessary for gamification to move beyond applying badges to more traditional class?
Being somewhat of a constructivist myself, I can definitely see how using a student's prior knowledge of something they enjoy, such as playing a game, can enhance their ability to learn through this method. If the student has little confidence in themselves as a learner, it may make it difficult for them to believe they can grasp the complex knowledge delivered in a classroom setting. However, it seems to make sense that if they feel they are successful gamers, and we re-frame their education through this lens, then they may feel more comfortable with learning, and subsequently grasping and retaining previously complex concepts. Although this may bring about the question "If learning is now a game, then how do we separate the two?" in the debate surrounding what it means to combine "work" with activities previously thought of as "leisure," I believe students today are more than capable of maintaining this separation. In my experience with game-based learning, I felt that I was aware the games I played in a classroom setting were developed to assist me in my education, and they did not create any resulting conflict about how I engage in fun outside the classroom. I didn't feel as if I was a passive character in the classroom games, especially when allowed to create gaming schemes of my own. Since I have never experienced this type of learning in a college classroom, I'd be very interested to hear how scholars feel about this debate, and to better understand the gamified classroom as it exists with so many new technologies at our fingertips. Although I will not be able to attend the conference, I hope some of the results make their way back to the pages of Media Commons.
Digital games (or "serious games" in the learning context) are really just the most recent version of edugaming. I think we're seeing the increased popularity recently because serious games are becoming more accessible - it's easier to customize a pre-existing game for learning and there are more games that could be used than ever before. But that also means we should remember all the lessons from edugaming in the past as the capabilities of serious games continue to develop.
Since digital games are still quite expensive to develop, I think it still makes sense to turn to gamification, which is much quicker and easier. And gamification can certainly be used to improve learning if it is designed to do so. For example, in another gamification project, we wanted to motivate students to complete more practice tests. We knew, from prior research, that taking tests helps students learn. But there was not much motivation for students to complete practice tests in their spare time, and we didn't want to make it grade related or it would penalize students that didn't take extra practice tests. So instead, we tied successful completion of practice tests to badges - and suddenly, many students thought the practice tests were "fun" and completed them happily.
So gamification can certainly improve learning if it is designed to produce a behavior which will itself increase learning. Just "making things more fun" is not enough.
Richard, I am new to gamification and have been trying to figure out a way to gamify my classroom. I'm glad I read this post first. I realize now that what I have constructed are edugames, which, as you stated, are nothing new. I reality I want to use digital games in my course. I want to motivate and encourage students more so than teach them something specific. I say all of this to say, when reading your post I noted that edugames are tied to teaching/learning and gamification is tied to changing behavior. In your opinion, is gamification only useful for trying to change behaviors? Is the aspect of learning something through gamification inherent in the process of "gaming"?
I am wondering if to accomplish my goals for the course I would need to utilize edugames in conjunction with digital games.
Thanks for the new perspective on gamification.
My older daughter shared with me yesterday that the subject she likes most in fifth grade is math—because of the "problem of the day." And she likes the problem of the day because "when you get the problem right, you get a piece of candy." It dawned on me that even this might be a simple example of the learning process being gamified. I'm a novice in the field, so I'm just starting to open my eyes to gaming that's already been happening across the curriculum. It was a cool, if elementary, breakthrough.