Gamification is one of the big buzzwords right now in education. It is the art, and sometimes the science, of applying game theory in non-game contexts like business or the classroom. Why would educators want to do that? Engagement. Active users are more engaged with the content and so retain more of what they are learning or doing. When education is gamified, students see a connection between their work and positive feedback, and so they become more eager and willing to learn and contribute.
There are four critical pieces in order to be successful at gamifying your classroom or professional development session. Try adding one, two, or all of these:
- Accelerated feedback cycles – Everyone wants to know how well they are doing, whether it’s in a race or diagramming a sentence. Providing more rapid and scheduled feedback can help the learner to be more engaged by knowing exactly where he/she stands. The feedback can be badges, points, or silly hats; the reward itself isn’t important. It’s how regular and often the feedback is provided that really matters. And keep in mind that feedback doesn’t just have to come from the teacher or session leader; it can also come from other learners.
- Clear goals and rules of play – To be successful at a game, you have to know the rules. So, in the classroom or the workshop, be very clear about expectations and rewards and where the journey will take them.
- A compelling narrative – We all love stories. Make the learning into a story by personalizing it with goals that relate to the narrative. Are we learning about adding fractions so that we can help a prince rescue a princess from a tall tower? Are we creating examples of differentiated lessons so that the ogre will release all of the students he is holding captive? What is the story for what is happening?
- Tasks that are challenging but achievable – There should be short-term goals along the way for players to reach. Don’t make them too easy, as the gamer won’t work for them. But also, don’t make them out of reach so that he or she becomes discouraged and quits. Make sure that the tasks are scaffolded, moving from simpler to more complex, allowing the player to grow his skills as he moves through each assignment.
To see a great example of educational gamification, check out what sixth grade teacher Michael Matera did. He divided his classroom into houses, guilds, experience points, and badges in a competitive gamified environment and saw engagement and learning skyrocket. He explains how he did it and a few of the problems he encountered on his website on gamification. And here’s the way a high school biology teacher gamified his classroom with Class Dojo, Google Sites, and Sheets.
If you want additional ideas, check out the book The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game or this free-to-members webinar on September 23. And our quarterly magazine TechEdge was devoted to game-based learning in the May 2014 issue; feel free to read it online here for more resources, tips, and tricks.