15 October 2012

Gamifying the Classroom

Recently I was reading an article entitled 'Digital Badges' would Represent Students' Skill Acquisition, which discusses the use of online/digital badges as a way for students to earn recognition for their acquired skills and achievements in and out of the classroom. These badges could be awarded for skill acquisition in the classroom, but part of it would also be for the skills acquired during their extra curricular activities. One of the focuses of these badges is to acknowledge skill sets that aren't traditionally represented in the normal grading and achievement recognition schemes that exist, such as leadership, or very specific skill sets, such as learning HTML or Java script.

One of the main objections to these badges is that it creates a situation which "gamifies" the classroom - turning education into a game. The problem skeptics cite is that by providing extrinsic motivation for things which students are already intrinsically motivated to do, we are decreasing their intrinsic motivation to do so. Apparently, the use of point systems is just a way of gamifying education and teachers should be helping students find intellectual value in their educational pursuits that has nothing to do with rewards.

One problem that I have with this objection is that point systems have been used as behavioral control in classrooms for a very long time. It is a well established, well studied, well taught part of education. While it is acknowledged that point systems do not work in all circumstances, to suddenly say that it is turning education into a game when it bleeds over from classroom control into content seems completely ridiculous. By that logic, getting students to behave appropriately in the classroom is only a game, too.

Personally, I am still ambivalent about the topic of gamifying the classroom. I can understand the downsides of rewarding things that we, as teachers, think students should be motivated to do intrinsically. On the other hand, if there is a way of engaging students in their learning process that works and motivates students to learn through their own exploration, while also benefiting from the reward system that sparked that interest, then I would be hard put to find objections.

One fantastic example of a gamified classroom that I believe works can be found in The Mac Lab. Mike Skocko is a teacher that took the online gaming platform structure (gaining XP [experience], questing [mastery], being part of a guild [classroom community], and having a code of honor [classroom rules upheld as much by the students as by himself]) and applied it to his classroom, which involves time spent in an actual school as well as having blogs and personal sites for presentation of work. Though he is an art teacher, I think this kind of classroom style could potentially be beneficial, particular as many schools move toward 1:1 computing situations. Part of what keeps students interested in video and online games is the dynamic space in which they get to explore, learn, hone their skills and challenge (or get challenged) by other players. The traditional classroom has been criticized for lacking this dynamic aspect, so the thought of bringing an interactive style to the classroom that would help students want to engage and take some control of and ownership for their learning sounds appealing.

What do you think? Would bringing a gaming aspect to the classroom help or hinder education?

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