Monday, July 1, 2013

ISTE 2013 - The Theme of Gamification

It is now five days since ISTE 2013 came to a close with Adam Bellow's inspiring closing keynote. If you haven't seen it already, it is almost a must for every educator. What appealed to me the most is that he really seems to speak from his heart.

The opening keynote was by Jane McGonigal who set the tone for the theme of gamification at the conference. Earlier in the day she spoke at a three hour workshop on gamification, which I attended and at which she talked about her brain injury and recovery thereafter, which too, was extremely inspiring to learn what she had gone through and overcome successfully. She has successfully developed and implemented gaming environments in schools. Some quotes from Jane's keynote:
"Games light up the hippocampus that is responsible for memory. "
"The 10 positive emotions - delight, relief, love, surprise, pride, curiosity, excitement, awe & wonder, contentment, creativity – generated by playing a game"
"The opposite of play isn't work, it's depression"
"Maybe we've had it backwards...gamers aren't angry because of games. Conversely, they turn to games to discover joy."
"Wikipedia = 100 M hours to build but that is only 3 weeks of angry bird playing or 7 days of Call of Duty!"

"I billion people spend at least an hour every day playing a game on a connected device."

Personally, I think, human beings have played games since their evolution and that is how they learned. There is hardly anyone who doesn’t like playing games whether it is a board game, an online game, a video game, etc. It is not unnatural to have games in education. Games are used predominantly in Math. I have seen games used by therapists with younger children to teach them rules, delayed gratification aka patience, waiting for turns, respect for each other, conversation starters, social etiquette, and more.

Digital games is where the new factor comes in – not new outside of school but new to several educators. When someone asks me, "Are you a gamer?", my first instinct is to reply in the negative. However, seeing as I am addicted to online word games, which I play daily, I am technically a gamer. Even today, I would play Tetris for hours if I had the chance, which is exactly what today's younger breed is doing. They play different versions - Minecraft, World of warcraft, Angry Birds, etc.

Each of those games has a lesson similar to board games. Each of those games can be incorporated across the curriculum, connecting the various curricular areas. Each of those games will increase motivation and engagement for students, especially for those who find it hard to stay motivated beyond elementary school. Each of those games has a social element, which we all not only like as adults, but are using in our daily lives. Social networks have become the norm, no matter what network. I can only think of one con which is that children need to expand their horizons and one needs to ensure that one is providing a balance. However, no matter what tool is used to teach, a balance is needed for it all.

Besides these popular games, there are other games that have been developed. Spongelab is one such site which started with a focus on Science games and has expanded to other areas. BrainPOP, the popular educational video repository has had Game UP for a while now. They have now expanded to more third party games linked to BrainPOP.

Dr. Chris Haskell is a gaming expert and creates games based upon his experiences with students. He said that education takes the commonly used tools currently, and find a home in the educational institutions, in this case games. He went on to state that gamification is not a product of just digital natives. Games have been appealing to humans from the beginning of civilization. He teaches all his classes through games and assesses his students through games as well. According to Dr. Haskell, "Games are authentic, personally connected, interaction and feedback." He is part of the Gogolab team.

Ann Collier, who works on connecting kids safely, talked about meaningful game play. This paragraph is what she talks about. What motivates people? The more part of gaming is extrinsic rewards - badges, points, etc. More is a means of controlling people. More is used to lure people. But extrinsic rewards is not play. Play is intrinsic rewards. Autonomy and choice is what motivates students. Basic psychological need is mastery. Kids keep playing a game because they want to master it.  Community and connection - something we create together. "All learning is understanding relationships." - George Washington carver.

Some educational gaming websites are:,

Marianne Malmstorm, after teaching for thirty years, has gone the way of incorporating gaming, specifically Minecraft, after seeing what motivated her third grade students. 

Mindshift had a great article on Minecraft. Math, physics, languages, calling it the teachers ultimate tool.

John Hunter, who has a famous TED talk, used gaming to teach his students world peace.  

It does look like gamification is the way education is moving for better or worse. There is no one-size-fits all, nor the perfect game for specific needs, nor that all instruction should be done through gaming. However, using students to design and incorporate these into the curriculum, will not only motivate them, engage them, help get them working on something enjoyable. After all, don't we all want our work lives to be enjoyable?

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