Saturday, July 21, 2012

Gamification in Education - Shall we Debate?

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Gamification is everywhere.  As a gamer, I'm all for adding a gaming layer to everything.  Work, school, exercise, doing your taxes, checking in using location based social tools, etc.  I have noticed over time that there are differing views on gamifying in certain realms, education in particular.

The argument I often hear is that it is imposing extrinsic rewards as a motivator, rather than encouraging learning for the sake of learning (which should be intrinsically motivating).  These thought leads me to question what people are viewing as gamifying the classroom.  Is the definition of gamification at the root of the debate?  My inclination is to believe that nay-sayers might see gamification similar to the rewarding of tokens for good work or good behavior, like handing out M&Ms or gold stars as a reward.

Amy Jo Kim (talks about gamification, "Early-on, "gamification" meant adding simple game mechanics like points, badges and leaderboards to websites and apps.  But that's not what makes games truly compelling.  Good games take players on a journey, giving them something to learn and master.  Smart companies are creating game-like digital systems that shape real-world behavior, using a blend of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations." 

I appreciate this description of gamification as it seems to address the potential misuse as well as the potential of appropriately adding a gaming layer to class.  

Intrinsic motivation is without question a better goal than a system that merely offers external rewards in an attempt to achieve a desired behavior.  Pavlov might argue, but I believe strongly in lifelong learning and my goal as an educator is to develop a passion for learning in my students and for them to seek opportunities to learn on their own without requiring the presence of a teacher every step of the way.  My philosophy of teaching is to 'teach' the basics and encourage further exploration based on student desire to solve problems.  This philosophy works well as I teach Video Game Design and Development.  Students need to learn the basic mechanics of the tools that we use, but then it is imperative that they are encouraged to take different paths in learning in order to follow the vision for their game without being limited to the skills that were taught.  Furthermore, it is my belief that they will continue to create games and advance their skills if they experience success in learning beyond what is taught.  Basically, I want my students to know more than me about the tools we use by the end of the course.  

As far as gamification goes, I believe that adding a gaming layer can allow for many positives including differentiation of instruction. Currently,my course includes a bonus achievement system that rewards students for extending their learning beyond the course requirements.  I have added a number of bonus achievements that allow students to experience tools that we are not using in school, sharing valuable resources, creating their own resources, creating types of games other than those assigned, collaborating on the completion of challenging games, etc.  The way the system works is that everything has a number of points associated with it and students have general assignments that are required, but can either make up points, or potentially choose assignments that interest them in lieu of 'required' assignments.  Basically, it provides an opportunity for choice within the class and as mentioned, many opportunities to extend their learning.

I wanted to pose this as a debate because I know there are different thoughts on the matter.  Clearly, I am in favor of gamification, but I welcome contrary thoughts as I believe it can really create a dynamic discussion.  In all my time on twitter (@mr_isaacs) I have found that the only 'arguments' I have gotten in related to education have to do with the topic of gamification.  I have definitely encountered some opposition to the idea and quite honestly, I enjoy the debate.

In September, I begin work on my doctorate in Educational Technology at Boise State University.  I plan to do my research on an area related to Game Based Learning, and am leaning toward something related to game design and development in the classroom or something related to effective use of gamification.

I have created  a diigo group to share resources on gamification in education.  Please join and share in the constructivist learning spirit:

Please post comments to contribute to the 'debate'.