Monday, January 27, 2020

Gamification and Education

** Disclaimer **
This is NOT a scholarly article. If I use specific examples I will do my best to reference and give appropriate credit, but it is really more my thoughts and musings. My hope in the next 5 years is to not only continue research and writings on this topic, but to perhaps even obtain additional graduate work.

noun: gamification
  1. the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service.
    "gamification is exciting because it promises to make the hard stuff in life fun"

I have found the concept of gamification absolutely fascinating. In a way, it combines my two "worlds" so to speak. Education and gaming. While gamification is not solely "electronic" in nature, my musings and thoughts tend to stray in the way of electronic and screen-time gaming within education specifically.

There are a lot of misconceptions of technology in and of itself. From the perspective that it turns kids in to "zombies" or creates brainless "Tvidiots" as my Dad used to call it, those perceptions have created a huge roadblock in the advancement of technology, especially in the classroom.

I remember a family member reiterating a story from a mutual friend saying "...she pulled him out of that school. They dropped an iPad in from of them for the entire day."

That has bothered me for awhile. I did not say anything at the time because we were all in the car, I didn't want to start an argument and I did not have enough research to back up my points. Side note, this is why I rarely partake in political debates online. I like to do a LOT of research before arguing or having a "conversation" with someone.

Many technologies were and are used and/or implemented for the sake of access. Be it to overcome a physical disability, like screen readers for the visually impaired, or to overcome a learning disability using virtual reality simulations. Technology, when used as a tool, can assist many students learn a topic that would otherwise be a struggle to understand. There is a type of teaching that has gotten some traction lately  that allows students and learners to learn at their own pace. The entire course is technically online via a tablet, but the learning still happens in a classroom. Student who prefer to learn on their own, completely without guidance, can do so. Students can still engage the teacher with questions and clarifications, and students can even work in groups if that is their preference and learning style. This approach caters to most learning styles, preferences, and the technology aides in allowing access to a more broad range of learners.

What does any of this has to do with games in education? Everything! There is such a stigma against technology and screens when it comes to the perception of an ideal educational setting, that implementing helpful technological advanced is hindered. This includes using technological advancements in a gamified way that can help learners obtain knowledge in new and effective ways.

All of the research I have gathered have indicated that the potential for proving gamification is a positive addition to the educational curriculum, but shy away from definitely stating the correlation. Instead, all the research has stated that there needs to be more research to come to any conclusion. It makes sense, this topic being in its infancy. But with the rise of technological tools, the research is absolutely necessary in the next 5 years. Much of the existing studies indicate a trend towards an increase in information-retention, inclusiveness, participation and teamwork. I thoroughly enjoyed the TedTalk from Scott Hebert:

In addition to the stigma against technology and screens, there is a huge stigma against play after like, grade 5, as Scott mentioned in the video above. Why does learning have to be so serious? You are not going to enjoy learning, and therefore not be as invested to remember or even care about anything that was taught.

Now, there are "gamification" opportunities in education that have absolutely nothing to do with technology. For example, I will always remember how to write clear concise instructions when my father, an English teacher of 35 years, had an assignment where we had to give instructions to a robot as to how to make a peanut butter, mayo and pickle sandwich. (which is delicious by the way)  He would then try, acting like a robot, to make the sandwich per the instructions. This resulted in some pretty hilarious antics in his classroom, such as sandwich stabbing, jar breaking (you had to be specific about how to "open" the jar) spilling of mayo everywhere, simply because the instructions were vague or not precise enough. I also remember who got the closest to a good sandwich result (spoiler alert, it was not me). It turned in to a competition, and I learned so much. Did not involve computers, but it did involve a game.

The reason that gamification and technology are synonymous, is that for everyone to be able to access materials, technological assistance is the first logical step. It allows learners to connect with their classmates to participate in the lesson, as well as connect and share with the online world as a whole. It also allows students and participants that may not have the same equitable access as others to participate on an almost even-footing.

While gamification is a fantastic addition to any educational curriculum, it is important to not add the fancy bells and whistles just for the chance to say you added fancy bells and whistles, but use tools as tools to help the content. Using gamification just so you can say you use gamification is not a good strategy. What part of the curriculum can be bettered with an educational tool like gamification? What problems in the curriculum can be fixed by using a different educational format?

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