.. we include that word in our upcoming grant proposal application and I fear that it equates for most people to either clickers, or making virtual reality versions of lessons where people play a game representing the real world. Like NASA flight trainers that don’t involve people getting killed.

Where we employ “Gamification”, I/we are referring to the principles that are intrinsic to good, addictive games where people (think: students who cannot focus on traditional materials for more than 2 minutes), spend hours persevering and are motivated enough to achieve goals that seem at first, almost impossible.
I’m mid-way (no game company pun intended) through “What Video Games Have to Teach us About Learning and Literacy” by James Paul Gee – published 2003.
I think I can best capture the key principles with a few quotes that I will not damage by paraphrasing:

“learning is or should be both frustrating and life enhancing. The key is finding ways to make hard things life enhancing so that people keep going and don’t fall back on learning and thinking only what is simple and easy.”  Gee talks at length of the Semiotic Domains; “sets of practices that recruit one or more modalities (e.g., oral or written languages, images, equations, symbols, sounds, gestures, graphs, artifacts, etc.) to communicate distinctive types of meanings”.  He stresses the need to place learning actively and contextually in a number of these domains because in doing so, three results come about:

  1. We learn to experience (see, feel and operate on) the world in new ways.
  2. Since semiotic domains usually are shared by groups of people who carry them on as distinctive social practices, we gain the potential to join this social group, to become affiliated with such kinds of people (even though we may never see any of them face to face.)
  3. We gain resources that prepare us for future learning and problem solving in the domain and, perhaps more important, in related domains.

He continues: “Learning in any semiotic domain crucially involves learning how to situate (or build) meanings for that domain in the sorts of situations the domain involves”

One particular domain, which we in H.E. often try to approximate as “Real World” or “Authentic” (as in Authentic Assessment), Gee calls, “Lifeworld”
He offers; “Helping students learn how to think about the contrasting claims of various specialists against each other and against lifeworld claims ought to be a key job for schools”
He then concludes: “I believe it is crucial, particularly in the contemporary world, that all of us, regardless of our cultural affiliations, be able to operate in a wide variety of semiotic domains outside our lifeworld domain”  – which sounds like a solid argument for a diverse liberal arts education if ever I heard one.

One final aspect that game designers nail where academic Instructional Designers have a way to go is the acceptance of, and lack of discouragement that, “failing” engenders;
“When the character you are playing dies in a video game, you can get sad and upset, but you also usually get “pissed” that you (the player) have failed. And then you start again, usually from a saved game, motivated to do better”

Some more key tenets known by game designers, not really given enough thought by (Academic)  Instructional designers:

  • The learner must be enticed to try, even if he or she already has good grounds to be afraid to try
  • The learner must be enticed to put in lots of effort even if he or she begins with little motivation to do so
  • The learner must achieve some meaningful success when he or she has expended this effort

Wouldn’t it be great if we in Higher Ed could develop a product that replaces the words “Good video games” with something like “Good courses” or “Great coursework”:

Good video games give players better and deeper rewards as (and if) they continue to learn new things as they play (or replay) the game.
In Good video games, students are challenged to “think about the routinized mastery they have achieved and to undo this routinization to achieve a new higher level of skill”

Education as addictive as World of Warcraft… wouldn’t that be great!


AND – Pearson try to pursue this concept with Alleyoop – saw this the day after I blogged !


2 thoughts on “Gamification

  1. Education by means of activities that activate the brain’s reward system, i.e., as addictive as crack, would certainly sell. Sure you don’t need a psych/neuro person to help with all that innovating?? oh wait….nevermind!! 😉 good post, KB!

  2. Pingback: Angry Birds – again « Kerb Musings in Academia and Teamsports

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