Chat summary: Gamification with Paul Driver, 3/10/13

'Paula Owen, Science Musuem, Lates - Climate Change' by Samuel Mann

‘Paula Owen, Science Musuem, Lates – Climate Change’ by Samuel Mann

Thanks to Nicki Blake for writing this summary. Check out the full transcript of the chat here.

Gamification as a concept has so many levels (pun intended!) that it was hardly surprising the October 3 #AusELT chat started well before October 3, created more questions than it answered, and, on the night,  went past the 9.30pm AEST finish time. Those of us who had enough time to access the pre-chat reading and videos (provided by @Paul_Driver and @ElkySmith) came into the conversation determined to get to the core of what constitutes gamification and how it can be harnessed to lead to better classroom practice in ELT. I’m not sure if we got anywhere near that core, but the conversation was intensely theoretical and philosophical and, whatever our personal conclusions, we all learnt something new.

Thank you to our guest Tweeter, @Paul_Driver, and #AusELT mainstay @ElkySmith for moderating.

What is ‘gamification’ and why do we need it?

A simple question with no single simple answer. The answers ranged from ‘bringing game mechanics or design to where it wasn’t before’ (@trylingual) to ‘incorporating the elements video games into non-game areas’ (@Penultimate_K) to the idea of ‘levelling up and achieving mini-goals on the way to big goals’ (@SophiaKhan4). This led to the questions from @ElkySmith if it specifically had to be video games – it doesn’t have to be, those elements can be taken from any game, whether chess or Mariokart, and incorporated into teaching and learning with @NailahRokic providing the non-tech example of ‘a board-like game to teach past tense’. @teacherbryan pointed out that he teaches a lot of tweens and teens who engage actively with games when they might otherwise just take a passive role.

One of the main uses of game mechanics in the classroom is to help shift the learning from teacher-centred to student-centred, to encourage learners to be more active. This raises the issue of control: how much control do the learners have in the gamified learning activity? @Paul_Driver suggested that class size might limit the amount of control given to learners but that having elements of games at the centre of a lesson could just as well be task-based learning with strong student-centeredness, as in the case of John Hunter’s World Peace Game. However, there are ethical considerations which arise when gamification functions as a control system or to cover up fundamental problems with learning design and spaces.

@SophiaKhan4 commented that rather than behaviour modification, gamification could be used to create motivation when motivation has been lacking.

Is gamification a fad or is it here to stay?

@SophiaKhan4 saw it not as a fad but as a beginning, adding that educators were on the way to using the principles more effectively. @Penultimate_K took a different tack, saying that gamification is something that has always been with us but that it now had a name. This was echoed by @trylingual who said that gamification has always been around but it had not always been utilised. This prompted the question from @Paul_Driver as to whether we were talking about traditional classroom practices such as giving students badges or stickers. We agreed that everyone loves an elephant stamp but there is a suggestion that it goes much deeper than what the stamp or badge symbolises – ‘historically, play and learning have been linked’(@Penultimate_K); ‘isn’t this something teachers have done forever- tried to make learning into a game?’(@SophiaKhan4). The fact is that education systems are already gamified in that they use a points-system (exams, games).

@Paul_Driver then asked what innovation gamification was bringing to the table, if teachers have always used golden stars and other reward systems. There is an idea that these days, instead of guessing at what rewards might motivate students (gold stars, elephant stamps…) educators have now identified, from game-play, the drivers that keep people engaged in games, what makes them persist (levelling-up, experience points, real-time feedback?) and have started to use them. In this sense, gamification is ‘a strategy rather than a reward, a means rather than an end’ (@NailahRokic) and teachers need to consider carefully what they are hoping to achieve the moment they add a game layer to their lesson (@ElkySmith).

Discussion of gamification does often seem to assume that it involves tech – any particular reason for this?

@Penultimate_K put this down to neology: there is a tendency these days to coin new word (e.g. gamification) to describe methods. The method itself may or may not be new, but there is often an assumption that a new term must refer to a new method, and new methods are usually assumed to be based on advancements in technology. @ElkySmith pointed out that the neologising in itself can create confusion, hence the problem with finding a precise definition for ‘gamification’ – different people have made sense of the term in many different ways.

@bryanteacher  said that gamification did not need to involve tech and mentioned a paper-based activity he had done with his students using avatars and a points-system. However, he also outlined the games he uses in class such as puzzle games from digitalplay.info and also allows his students to play The Sims in English – this last being implemented in an extensive reading class. The results have been that the students’ attempt to deflect the extensive reading into teacher-centered passive activities became active and student-led.

Badges, gold-stars, reward, award, feedback… what’s the difference?

@SophiaKhan4 said that she had a preference for badges that gave specific feedback (which could also be cumulative) rather than gold stars which were generic. There can be difficulties distinguishing between a ‘star’ and a ‘badge’ and as @Paul_Driver pointed out, both are extrinsic rewards anyway.

And if we use badges and stars are we still in the area of gamification? It is difficult to know. This is where the term game mechanics was introduced – thanks, @ElkySmith! – stars and badges are a form of game mechanics, as are clearing or completing a level, completing a journey or quest, gaining experience points, and successfully meeting big challenges after a series of smaller challenges (or, as @teacherbryan put it ‘fighting bosses’). Another question – do we really want these game mechanics, currently used more in mainstream education, in ELT? Will it get to the stage where the CEFR is just another set of badges to collect? (@Penultimate_K)

If we are to believe the information in the TED talk by Seth Priebatsch that @ElkySmith posted, there is already ‘a game layer on top of the world’ whether we like it or not, and the best thing we can do as educators is to try and make it work to our advantage.

However, it seems that game mechanics are rarely the only motivators and there is more to a game level in teaching than just ‘pointsification’ which can actually work against motivation in some instances.

We need to distinguish too between the types of game mechanics and motivators that focus on ‘Game Over’ (all the levels are complete, nothing more to do) and those that encourage you to revisit the game, and play again for the enjoyment and the increase of skills – the latter is really what we want in ELT because it’s never really ‘game over’ with language learning. There probably shouldn’t be a winners/losers distinction because that will affect motivation – imagine that pop-up screen that tells you that you ‘lose at English’! Games make it easy to start, restart, retry (@trylingual) which is more in line with ELT students’ needs.

This brings us back again to the ‘old question of rewards versus true motivation’. @Paul_Driver

What about gamification and testing/exams?

Are exams exempt from being gamified because they are compulsory and not fun? (@SophiaKhan4)   @ElkySmith agreed with this adding that there was nothing intrinsically motivating about an exam, but does motivation necessarily have to be intrinsic or fun? @Penultimate_K saw the count-down timers and a “Game Over”-like message in computer-based testing as game elements in an exam situation.

@trylingual said that it would be interesting to see what happened if exams took on more game elements such as instant points/grading and sound-effects.

Experience points for everyone!

As the chat wrapped up for the evening, it became apparent that we’d only just scratched the surface of a topic that, though new to some of us, already carries substantial currency in the area of teaching and learning. To quote @Paul_Driver, ‘games are best applied when they challenge or push against current entrenched educational paradigms, not conceal them’. The chat left us all with a lot more to think about in this area and it was a great learning experience for all of us who had the chance to take part.

Further reading

Paul’s guest-post (and the comments on it) included the following links

Graham Stanley’s riposte to Paul’s guest-post: http://blog-efl.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/whats-wrong-with-giving-josh-1-for.html

John Hunter’s The World Peace Game talk for TED – it has a game in it but is it an example of gamification? http://www.ted.com/talks/john_hunter_on_the_world_peace_game.html

The Maker Movement – hands-on learning and tinkering: http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/07/gary-stager-tinkering-project-based-learning-sylvias-mini-maker-show/

Paul’s Spywalk project: http://digitaldebris.info/spywalk/

Stuart Brown’s Play is More than Just Fun talk for TED – a primer on play: http://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_brown_says_play_is_more_than_fun_it_s_vital.html

Site used by Bryan Hale in his classes: http://www.digitalplay.info/blog/category/game-plan/

Sites recommened by Karenne Sylvester including her blog:

Paul Andersen’s Classroom Game Design talk for TED – levelling and mastery: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qlYGX0H6Ec

Seth Priebatsch’s The Game Layer on Top of the World talk for TED: http://www.ted.com/talks/seth_priebatsch_the_game_layer_on_top_of_the_world.html

Whitney Cook’s Top Ten Rules of Gamification for Training (via @Bega_84): http://m.marketingprofs.com/articles/2013/11773/the-top-5-rules-of-gamification-for-training?utm_source=buffer&utm_campaign=Buffer&utm_content=buffer482bd&utm_medium=twitter

Then when the chat turned to motivation and reward…

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