Danielle, I can admit that when I read the title of your post I was hesitant to continue. I am not a gamer or practitioner of gamification. Your post made me think of connected classrooms. When I first began teaching, there was a big push for all classrooms to be connected, to utilize new media, and to have hybrid classes. The idea was that these things would make the class more engaging. Will students participate in discussion if its in a Facebook group? Will creating a class wiki help students tackle complex concepts and ideas? The intention behind all this was (supposedly) to help students progress. In all the faculty meetings, committee sessions, and theoretical water cooler, we never discussed the idea or concept of play as helping students to progress.
I prefer the concept or idea of play over gamification, because play implies fun and enjoyment to me. When I think of gamification, I think of competition, which I don' t think is necessary in the classroom (thinking specifically of First Year Comp). On the other hand, I can also imagine badges, experience points, and leveling up as great ways to engage students and encourage them to progress in their writing, seeing it as more than a course to pass or get through.
After this writing-to-learn response, I think I would like to "gamify" one of my FYC courses. I, like Jamie, am wondering how I would assess the products of this endeavor.
Danielle, your post made me think of children's toys, specifically Chutes and Ladders, which is arguably the least fun game created in history and sells itself as teaching counting. It's particular brand of serendipity is in no way fair. There is no way to improve the game or one's performance. Finally, kids have to already know how to count to play the game. Comparing this to legos, where anything can be built, improved upon, and part of the fun is taking something apart to put it back together, we can see the advantages of open play. Legos, however, are not a game and the lack of rules makes it fun. Your focus on play complicates a notion of game and the idea of winning, which really doesn't happen in the classroom. I love this notion of play and more of it in the classroom could encourage much more creative analytical work, though what students get out of the experience may not always be what we intended.
I can't believe it has yet to come up yet, but how do we assess the effectivity of play or games in the classroom?
As a parent, I’ve watched my girls, ages 10 and 8, become active in online games. They are engrossed for hours at a time (if they are allowed) in the alternate worlds they inhabit. As I’ve watched them play, I’m realizing that they learn a great deal about the real world by gaming. They’ve learned how to navigate using a map. They’ve learned to keep practicing to get better at a skill. They’ve learned to earn virtual money to make purchases and to save their money for more expensive, more meaningful rewards. They’ve learned to work together, sharing the computer (always a bone of contention) via a meaningful, if sometimes fractured, truce. These are skills they could have learned more traditionally, but this learning was fun. It didn’t feel like school or piano lessons or swim team. It felt like play, and play is what their lives are all about right now.
The idea behind the games Corwin discusses is right on target, and the qualitative research she and her team have done demonstrates their real-world usefulness. These games meet students where they are and where they like to be; even if students wouldn’t play them at home, they do play and do learn from them at school.
My wife and I actively seek the recommendations of our girl’s teachers. If they suggest a website, my wife and I check it out and generally encourage our girls to explore the site and its resources. If they recommend a program or curriculum, we’re likely to consider thoughtfully those recommendations. So if their teachers were to recommend an online game as a method to address a specific aspect of the curriculum (as they did for us, recommending Scholastic’s Fastt Math), we would (and, in this case, did) jump at the chance. In short, one way to get parents on board is to get teachers on board.
Getting classroom teachers on board, of course, is the Holy Grail. One method we use at the University of Richmond to engage teachers in specific topics is by offering intensive summer institutes for professional development. These workshops focus on an interdisciplinary topic—recent examples have included Holocaust and genocide, arts integration in the general curriculum, and the year 1863—and spend a week training the teachers to incorporate the topic into their classrooms. The teachers earn recertification points for the experience and generally have an option to earn graduate credit, too.
What if USC, or a coalition of schools, were to offer an intensive institute focused on gamification in the elementary or secondary classroom? Teachers would learn vital components of game theory, immerse themselves in role-playing games, and design units and modules that could incorporate game theory and/or gaming into their existing curricula—all tied to state and national standards. Such an effort would start small, but word of mouth in a local market can be a powerful incentive to try out a new idea well implemented. Because the institutes are held in the summer, teachers can better focus on curriculum. And sponsorships with game manufacturers and educational partners could offset the costs of attending the institute. An institute, well planned and implement, could build a cohort of gamification advocates among local teachers, and such a cohort could have powerful influence on their colleagues, on their students, and on the parents who rely on their recommendations. It’s a start toward addressing Corwin’s closing question.
I agree that games may not "triumphantly tumble" our education system right away, but this type of ARG may indeed be one of the many seeds that could lead to greater change. For confidence building alone, allowing children to become media makers will certainly give them something to feel proud of, and it is a new space where they can both express themselves and learn more about themselves. As Van Eck (2011) says, it can be difficult to combine "educational content and gameplay without sacrificing one or the other", so I wonder, what kinds of tasks will the children will be asked to complete in your ARG? How will the students execute these tasks in the physical spaces where the activism took place? This is a very interesting project, and I think it's a great opportunity to involve students in change that will hopefully enhance their critical literacies, as well as their sense of self as successful young students of color.
Van Eck, R. (2011). Bringing 'discipline' to the study of games and learning. Information Design Journal, 19(2), 181-187.
With gamification's adoption by businesses and the different intended outcomes of businesses and higher ed, this breakd in expectations is not all that surprising. In A Theory of Fun, Raph Koster says "One wonders, then, why learning is so damn boring to so many people. It’s almost certainly because the method of transmission is wrong. We praise good teachers by saying that they “make learning fun.” Games are very good teachers… of something. The question is, what do they teach?" I wonder if we aren't still figuring that out. One of the things about Farmville and Candy Crush is that they are really rather boring in themselves, but we the rewards system is adequate enough to keep us playing something that is neither challenging nor interesting, yet we keep playing. Learning, however, is challenging and rather interesting, but also harder to engage so we call it boring. LIkewise, Zynga wants us to get bored and play a new game while educators hope to incite a lifelong love of learning and critical thought. In adopting gamification to learning, how do we adopt techniques of rather different content for different purposes?Koster, Raph (2010-10-14). Theory of Fun for Game Design (Kindle Locations 511-512). O'Reilly Distribution. Kindle Edition.
Great questions, all. Some of my participants did return to the game when they needed some extra motivation. They would replay missions that they enjoyed or ones that they had had a particularly good run on. ZR has actually come out with a second season with 60 more episodes, so runners who have played it through have more content to enjoy now.
Participants tended to use it in different ways and few of them used it every single time they ran (though that does not mean that some runners don't become dependent on it). I think your question, though, is a question we ask in and out of gamified learning spaces. If we create a community in a classroom or in an alternative space, how long do we expect that community to last? ZR is great at getting one started, but if the participant does not have a love or dedication to running once the narrative has ended, what is the next step? Likewise, if a student doesn't develop an internal dedication to reading or writing in the 16 weeks that I have to teach him or her, what is the next step, the obligation?
Is the development of a community around the game enough to keep people coming back after they've reached the end of the story? You said it yourself that the overwhelming attraction was the narrative in the game but once that narrative has finished do the people keep playing? At what point do the players become dependent on the game as the motivating factor or does the game teach the players the motivation to continue running as a lifestyle choice?
Zombies, Run! is a fantastic example of gamification. Sold initially as the running app for gamers, it tries to straddle the line between game and running app in ways that are rather different from other running apps, which often rely on points systems or a social media network. The selling point of Zombies, Run! is the world it puts the user in, but that world takes a lot of time, effort, and resources to maintain. Because running is something that demands an almost daily commitment to discipline, it seems to have a lot of parallels to learning? I am wondering if this is a question we can ask of gamification. Zombies, Run! is engaging and encouraging but unsustainable. Other apps are sustainable but fail to yield quality incentives. Can we merge the two?
Patricia, I appreciate the energy of this post. I agree that technology has transformed the humanities and that as educators, we need to acknowledge how connected our students are and implement digital tools into our classrooms in ways that support specific learning objectives. With regard to students’ digital skills, I have taught students who, as Patricia describes, “use these electronic devices with ease”; however, I have witnessed just as many students who, for whatever digital divide reasons, do not use digital tools with ease, especially digital tools of production. Although not a new point, it is, perhaps, worth reiterating that those of us who teach with digital technology and expect our students to construct meaning and to produce texts in digital spaces and via digital tools should do so with an enthusiasm tempered with a critical eye and an anticipation that not all students are equipped with the knowledge and experiences that predispose them to successful digital experiences in the classroom (something I acknowledge may vary depending on institutional setting). In so doing, we position ourselves to better support our students as they engage in the work of learning, composing, and creating in digital spaces.
Thanks for the invigorating post Patricia. Much of this potential you describe seems to require a certain attitude towards technology that, for a variety of reasons, isn't shared by all students. Collaborative learning builds trust not only in themselves, but in one's peers and technology as well. In your experience, what have you observed in students growing through this issue while they work on projects? Out of curiosity, where do you find students who are well-versed in digital learning placing more of their trust: in the technology, themselves, or in one another?