School is a lot like a board game, but today’s best games aren’t like school. Game designers have found ways to embed mastery learning in flow-inducing experiences that offer learners increasingly self-directed opportunities for goal-setting and problem solving. Moreover, game designers have found ways to provide near constant feedback to learners. Customization is another hallmark of contemporary games, and widespread differentiation in gaming experiences exists across platforms, genres, and peripherals – or add-ons – like the XBox Kinect, PlayStation Move, and Rock Band controllers.
Game designers concern themselves with fun in ways that educators do not; however, the primary aims of both public education in the United States and the game industry are exactly the same:
- Both industries want their consumers to adopt new behaviors. Games teach through gameplay and feedback; schools teach through teaching and feedback. While games depend on the player to learn from them, schools are largely set-up to depend on teachers to teach.
- Both industries want repeat business. Game designers want their games to sell so that they have the resources and justification to make new games to sell to their fan base; schools want their graduates to excel so that they are given the resources and vindication to educate the next generation like the last.
While I can see the game industry slowing down console development to speed up game development and maximize profits through the synergy of new peripherals with old hardware, for now the game industry clearly has the edge in what I consider to be one of the single most powerful learning innovations of our time:
How powerful is fun? I think about my students who struggle to memorize the times tables, but master new games in moments. I think about my students who still don’t routinely or accurately capitalize, but have no problem with the grammar and syntax of button sequences. I think about my students who struggle with reading comprehension, but deliver encyclopedic summaries of games’ plots, systems, and characterizations. I think about my students who have resisted self-starting school work for year, but who embrace new challenges in games and routinely teach others the strategies and tricks they have discovered. I think about my students who rush through writing, but spend hours tweaking the characters and levels they create with in-game tools.
We could argue that games appeal to students because they are auditory, visual and kinesthetic, but we’ve all tried auditory, visual and kinesthetic activities that have fallen flat because we stopped designing at that modal level of differentiation, relying on novelty to carry the day. Game designers go a step further and ask how the auditory, visual and kinetic (and sometimes textual) can be made fun, especially when games rely on players to find novel applications for a finite set of sounds, pictures, and gameplay mechanics.
On March 21st, 2011, I’ll host an #engchat on gamification – or perhaps “applied gaming” – in the language arts classroom. Gamification is the application of gameplay mechanics to real world tasks in an effort to change human behavior by taking advantage of our need for fun. Companies use gamification to change consumer behavior through fun. I’d like to ask how teachers can do the same.
I recognize and acknowledge the extrinsic ends of gamification, and I hope that we discuss how to reconcile the use of gamification in schools with the intrinsic motivation that we know drives the most personally meaningful learning. For what it’s worth, I see my students initially attracted to games by ads and word-of-mouth, but I see them stick with games and game culture out of a common, intrinsic drive to master games that they evaluate as worthy of their time. I’m really eager to talk about the ethics of fun and game-design in classroom design and management, as well as in unit- and lesson-planning. How different are achievements and badges from grades? How are they used differently? How is feedback delivered in-game different from that delivered in a traditional class? I think we’ll find that beneath some rather superficial similarities, the how and why of game-based assessment and motivation differ greatly from traditional practices in public schools.
What we do is not fun. Why is that? What can we learn from games if we decide that our work should be fun? Should school be no fun, not ever? What about the language arts classroom? What’s the difference between using games for learning, like using iCivics and Monopoly for a Civics & Economics class, and designing class and/or school to be more game-like? Are game-development and programming acceptable forms of authorship in school? Is playing a game an acceptable form of readership if the student produces response, review, and/or criticism? If so, how should schools curate games and/or resource their authorship?
Check back at Classroots.org for related posts over the next few months, check out this #ncte11 proposal on gamification, and join us on March 21st, 2011, for an #engchat on game design in the language arts classroom – no language arts jacket required.
For readers interested in learning more about gamification from the pros, check out these links, too:
And here are a few app, game- and level-authoring resources:
For anyone interested in our experiments with gaming in the language arts classroom, you can read more about them here.
Have fun reading, learning, exploring, and making.
Please add your favorite games, examples of game-based learning, and gamificiation-in-the-classroom resources below, along with any questions, comments, and/or rebuttals you have!