Friday, April 6, 2012

Why Games?

Photo by Bjorn Hermans
So why am I so interested in learning more about gaming and education? Because I love games. And kids love games. Don’t we all love games? Tennis or chess or Monopoly or Castleville or Minecraft or Super Mario Bros. or Angry Birds?

What makes games so enticing?

If you think about all of those games, they all share certain features:
  • Goals
  • Rules
  • Feedback
  • Voluntary participation 
We enjoy participating in games when these four elements are well-designed and meet our personal interests. Some of us like really clear goals and some like more open-ended objectives. The rules need to provide just the right amount of challenge: if the game is too easy we get bored, if it is too hard we give up.

The feedback lets us know that we are succeeding with points, XP, leveling up, badges, etc. Or if we do something wrong, feedback comes in the form of fewer points, losing a “life,” starting a level over, or losing the game to an opponent. The great thing about games is that negative feedback usually leads to trying again.

Voluntary participation is a huge part of what makes playing a game fun. It includes the decision of whether to play the game or not. I think this also relates to the amount of choice within the game. We enjoy playing when we can choose how to participate.

How does traditional education compare with games?
You may have noticed that educational activities also include goals, rules, and feedback. Sometimes we make the goals clear to our students. Sometimes we provide scaffolding that makes the “rules” of our learning activities at the right amount of challenge for students, but not always. Too often we offer one level of difficulty which some students find to easy and others find too hard.

Some voluntary participation and choices may be included, but not nearly as often as mandatory activities, at least in traditional classrooms. Too often students feel trapped in school, forced to do whatever activities teachers put in front of them. Where’s the fun in that?
Another big difference between games and traditional education is in the type of feedback. Usually when students complete an assignment, quiz, or test, if they do poorly, they get the feedback of a bad grade and that is the end of it. They just fail with little opportunity to try again. Also, there is a stigma attached to that failure that is lessened in games. In a game, you can always try again.

Gamifying education

As I consider my teaching, I would like to design learning activities that are more like games. I would like to give students more choices, so that they have more of a sense of voluntary participation. I would like to set up activities that provide variety and scaffolding so that they are at just the right level of challenge. I want to set up feedback systems that recognize students for their accomplishments and encourage them to try again. I think 3DGameLab will provide the structure for these learning activities.


 My thinking about games in education has been influenced and inspired by Lucas Gillispie and Peggy Sheehy through NCSLMA and NCTIES conference sessions this school year. Gillispie’s blog Edurealms is a great place to read more about games in education.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your thoughts?