Recent Comments

October 14, 2013 - 12:24

Megan, I like how your piece got me thinking. I'm wondering if your concern is overridden by the concern for modernist conceptions of author and editor, even singular meaning of the text. I know that your reflection obviously demonstrates you are not locked into those perspectives; however, I wonder if your angst is because culturally, even individually (I want single meaning!) we want singular authorial intent and singular meaning.

All that to say…can we embrace layers of content and meaning and chaos of context & meaning? I think your final comment about needing to know/understand the technological possibilities to construct environments that can filter different perspectives, layers of meaning and annotation, etc. is important (obviously we can't make the space without knowing how to do so).

But that does bring us back to the reader; who wants to work that hard for meaning? It takes a lot more intellectual work (I'm channeling Moberly here) to negotiate the more chaotic, layered texts that could juggle all of the complexity you discuss. But isn't that type of work the point/purpose of why people read "critical" editions?

Again, thanks for the opportunity to think through/ramble on the topic/issue.

October 5, 2013 - 19:41

Thanks for your comment Jamie.  I do think the project can be adapted to other schools in the USA, since the pervasiveness of sugary foods is something that occurs nationally.  As regard to the kind of "play" that the project uses, you are right, it is different to the one of a board game or a video game.  The play that occurs in this project is more related to the performance arts, something like playing a role in a theater play or in a situation. Imagine for instance the kind of games that children sometimes  make when they play being somebody else from the world of adults like a doctor, a teacher, or a mother.  There are elements of performance that can make learning fun, especially when learning challenges are designed to explore and experiment with the real world. Playing to be a scientist, for instance can make data collection activities more engaging. Likewise, playing to be a cartographer or a mapper. Thinking about play in a broader sense can be useful for the design of learning experiences and environments.

October 3, 2013 - 18:26

Chvonne, I am glad to hear the post gave you some ideas on how to integrate gamification into learning. You should definitely try this approach in your composition courses.  Be ready to iterate your learning designs, sometimes the context could not be that engaging for all the  students and you will have to re-design it several times.

September 30, 2013 - 07:51

The great thing about this project is how accessable it is. As much as it seems to teach about nutrition, it also teaches about visual media and family and community involvement in eating habits. It also certainly falls under gamification instead of game as it uses a quest idea, but isn't play in the way that a game is.  You have done a great job with explaining the project, but I do have a question. Would the program be reproducible outside of this individual school? Could I take this use it in a high school in Norfolk (where I attend school)?

September 27, 2013 - 21:04


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.

September 27, 2013 - 10:19

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.

September 27, 2013 - 07:14

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? 

September 27, 2013 - 07:02

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.

September 26, 2013 - 09:50

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.

September 26, 2013 - 09:01

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?