Ohhhh, I Want That Badge!

I am one of those people that gamification could work for – I’m competitive, I take pride in all that I do, and I thrive on positive feedback, especially when done publicly. But I am also quite shy, so the idea of doing well at something and getting public praise for it without having to be in front of a big group of people, is appealing to me.  

I also understand the socialness behind the theory of gamification. I have been thinking about the socialness of human beings a lot this week and I came across this quote from the Dalai Lama which I quite like:

“We human beings are social beings. We come into the world as the result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason, it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others.”

I just finished working through the suggested readings for this module. I think they pretty much all boil down to the same point: gamification is so appealing because it allows us to be social and to be connected. But I am still not yet 100% sold on the idea that it is right for all students.

In his article “Gamification in Education” Pim van de Pavoordt discusses why he thinks games should play an important role in education. He asserts that students respond well to games for three reasons, “First of all they want to be connected to one another, secondly they want to be entertained through games, movies and music, and finally they want to present themselves and their work”.  And there it is – students respond to games because it allows them to be social and feel connected.

Cristina Ioana Muntean also discusses being social and feeling connected in her article, “Raising Engagement in eLearning Through Gamification“. Muntean states, “Gamification also implies a social game and interaction with other participants.” 

Ok, students are motivated and engaged by being social and by being connected. Can we accomplish the same results with a learning environment that fosters the same things? I would say we could.

I only really have a little tiny bit of experience with what I would call gamification in education.

First of all I was asked by my Head of School to create a Google Ninja type of online training for our staff based on the program started by our very own Jeff Utecht. I got as far as signing up and going through all the documents that Jeff provides and then I got stuck – 1) where do I host it? We are currently being asked to put everything on WordPress but I am more familiar with Google Sites 2) Google is changing (ask it always does) do I run the tests for the new Google or do I run the tests for the old Google? and finally 3) how does it all work anyway and will my staff want to earn badges and where will they put them? I am still stuck, I haven’t taken a step further since last year.

Another experience with gamification has come through our classroom teachers. Quite a few staff members now use Class Dojo as a behaviour management tool. Apparently it works to some extent, students earn points and teachers feel they have some control and, as Class Dojo state themselves their program is being used by two million teachers and thirty million students across 180 countries. One problem lies with the live updates that our parents get – these have lead them to ask all sorts of questions about how points are awarded and why and demanding more points for their well behaved children. In my experience it still doesn’t work for all students – students who follow the classroom rules get lots of points and those who can’t just don’t.

And then there is Minecraft. I love Minecraft most classroom teachers do not. I suggested to a grade 7 teacher that students be allowed to create a city in Minecraft to demonstrate their understanding of town planning concepts. The teacher allowed it but complained afterwards that it drew too much attention – that students spent way to long on their city in Minecraft and not enough time on their presentations or any of the other of the side work they were asked to do. Was that Minecraft’s fault or was there a flaw in the project? Hmmm.

I read that the gamification of education is really just a way of digitally replacing the gold stars that teachers use to use to encourage positive behaviour. I was never that kind of teacher. No gold stars. No red pen. Lots of open discussion. Lots of support. Lots of students taking control of their own learning. Lots of students learning from each other. I think for me, it is these sorts of things that are so very important, these sorts of things that allow students to be social and feel connected and be engaged. More important than any gamification could be.