Gamify All the Things

This week had interesting timing as I spent much of my “free” time looking at mobile conference app websites. A lot of them emphasize that you can gamify (yeah, it makes me uncomfortable that this is a word too) your conference to get people really involved/invested in the conference. Then I start reading about the same idea for learning. I had previously seen this for learning good habits, and I think many of us have play exam jeopardy or something similar to try to make learning fun.

However, the quest to learn floored me. The amount of emphasis on all aspects of the gamification process is astounding. This is a tremendous way to get children involved and critically thinking about problems. Programming your own games requires you to explicitly solve many tiny problems that you normally wouldn’t realize you’re solving. This teaches kids to critically asses everything they do, but in a fun way. It’s absolutely amazing really. I can’t help but be tremendously jealous of these young programmers.

This brings me to my next point though. The money that quest to learn must have, to supply Macbooks to students, is way out of reach for most schools. Even today, teachers across the country are complaining about basic teaching supplies like pens and pencils being out of reach. I can’t help but feel that this program comes from a place of tremendous privilege that is unobtainable for the majority of schools in this country, and certainly in the global community. The learning techniques are wonderful, but unless we change our funding priorities in a big way, they are only going to facilitate a larger divide between the haves and the have-nots.

What are your thoughts? Is gamification the future of teaching? Is it a temporary fad? Or is it another tool for gentrification?

21 Replies to “Gamify All the Things”

  1. I had similar questions about Quest to Learn after watching the video. I looked it up and it says that it’s a public school, although also have an admissions process which means they have control over the students that are admitted. Equity is a problem in that case. However, if they are just testing the model to see if it will work before putting it in other schools that accept all students then that’s a reasonable approach. I admit I have my doubts.

    I actually really like the term, “gamification.” It’s just kinda fun to me for some reason. I’ve seen it applied to education and even corporate planning/team building, but I haven’t seen it in the world of conferences yet. Thanks for sharing that!

    1. The conferences I’ve seen with the gamification have things like QR codes around conference centers to get people to move around, and probably to increase traffic to vendors/sponsors. It’s a neat idea, but I didn’t have time for such things at the conference I saw this at.

  2. I don’t think that “gamification” is the future of teaching. I mean it’s a great approach but there are many other great approaches which teachers can use to make their students think critically and are cost effective too. I noticed one thing though that all the MacBooks had “Property of NYC Department of Education” written on them. So, would that mean this school is funded by government? If so, then it might be possible that the govt. of NYC is trying to expand this in other schools as well and are just doing a sort of trial run here as pointed by Gary. But it is great if so much money is being put to enhance the learning experience of students.

    1. I agree, that gamification is not the end-all, but I think elements of it can and should be introduced into a lot of different educational topics. At its heart, it’s making learning fun, which is noble and effective.

  3. I agree with your point about privilege. These opportunities are not available in low socio-economic schools. I’m glad that people are developing new teaching methods for schools and universities but they need to take their end user into consideration. Hopefully, people will start to develop programs or teaching materials that are accessible to everyone.

    1. A little while ago I was looking into hosting an “Hour of Code” and there are some materials to teach people about programming and such without any computers. They tend to be a little stretched, like using rock-paper-scissors to exemplify simulations and such. While they aren’t awesome, people are definitely looking into addressing the accessibility issues.

  4. Woah. I read your post a while ago and still the last question rings in my mind: “Is [gamification] another tool for gentrification?” It just made me think of my high school situation in my hometown of Louisville, KY. Kentucky, and especially Jefferson County, has an…interesting…school system. Because funding primarily goes to one public “magnet” school (Manual), many kids’ parents sacrifice for their children to go to Catholic school, even if they are not Catholic, because the education is better there. However, not all the Catholic schools are created equal. The all-boys schools tend to have more alumni donors and therefore better opportunities. I went to one of the all-girls Catholic high schools. It was the smallest of the 4. While the two largest gave laptops/tablets to all their incoming freshman, my school did not. But, wanting to keep up with the technology craze but being unable to afford devices for all incoming students, instituted a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Program. Now, my school was in downtown Louisville, and despite being the smallest, was the most diverse in terms of student backgrounds. The BYOD program only made the disparities, rather than the diversity, more clear. Many students could not afford devices, or if they had a device, it was very old and struggled to load the applications or run the programs necessary for the learning exercises. I was a student without a device. My family could not afford a nice device on top of tuition. So, as teachers focused more and more on using our devices in the classroom for activities, I felt I was being left behind in my learning. So, I really think that some thought needs to go into the economic situation of students at your school before gamification becomes the norm. If there is not going to be sufficient funding so that all schools are of equal quality technologically (or in general), then do not make it the norm in your classroom.

    1. Wow, your situation sounds really unfortunate, I’m sorry. The BYOD only works if everyone can actually bring a reasonable device, which is unrealistic. I would think the least they could have done was have a few mediocre devices to help those that couldn’t afford such things.

      I do think there is hope as tech gets better and cheaper, but I think we are still a ways off from such tech-driven learning. I also think gamification can be applied in a non-tech manner, but it would look much different than Quest did. You can still do Jeopardy style learning, or hand out “level” promotions as students complete various topics and demonstrate their understanding of the content. I don’t have fully realized ideas on that, but I know it’s a possibility for someone more dedicated than myself.

      1. They did eventually get a small grant for a set of iPads by my senior year, so the situation did improve, but I feel like they should have waited until they could get those iPods before developing tech-based curriculum and activities.

        I definitely have created and participated in classroom Jeopardy, but this idea of “level” promotions sounds really cool! I hope you do get a chance to develop that idea a bit further, because that is something I would be interested in implementing.

        1. I agree, one should always be prepared ahead of time…no one would try to teach reading without books or paper available for students, so why would tech be any different?

          I have a few ideas for it, but it largely focuses on teaching students how to teach themselves. Like give them a skill tree/map (which is basically just a syllabus) and allow them to “level-up” by presenting on those topics or doing some form of project that demonstrates proficiency.

          If I emphasize different paths that all (secretly) emphasize the same types of thinking (like programming vs construction for problem-solving and detail oriented planning) students can find their ideal learning strategy.

          It sounds great in my head, but would likely be resource intensive…so we shall see.

  5. I agree with you that the facilities shown in the video are not accessible to many children , at least in short term. However, I think what matters more is the design and development of such games. It is definitely a complicated team project which involves experts from different areas such as computer science, psychology, education, etc .Moreover, training teachers who can assist students to achieve the learning objectives of such video-game-based courses is not trivial either.

    –Negin Forouzesh

    1. Very much agreed, gamification will take a ton of resources, trial and error, and creativity. I’m hoping it can live up to its potential (at least partially) but it can be very difficult to get all those fields in one metaphorical room to get progress moving.

  6. I don’t think that “gamification” is necessarily the future of teaching, but it introduces particular dynamics into teaching that might become a major part of future pedagogy. For instance, the repetition of trail and error rather than one off tests/quizzes/papers is something that is already starting to make it into the classroom based off of similar experiences of how people learn from games.

    I also want to offer some push back on the idea of educational gaming as gentrification. While the particular requirements of programs might be in the reach of only some but not others, we’re at a level of technological saturation that you can play old pokemon games on graphing calculator or play online games like Fortnite on low end smart phones. There might be some barrier to public schools at every level buying the technology necessary, but its more and more within the reach of all over time. Will some adopt earlier than others due to their means? Of course, but its still not creating a huge gap. That gap would even narrow further once students made it to universities where nearly everyone is required to have a functional laptop.

    1. The gentrification was largely playing Devil’s Advocate, so thank you for biting on that lure haha.

      As a brief aside/, I dislike your graphing calculator example because you can buy a vintage Gameboy for cheaper than a graphing calculator. Ebay lists Gameboy Advance at ~$25-$30 while the classic TI-84 is still ~$75. This makes me angry because essential educational tools should be cheaper than game systems…

      Anyhoo, back to your point, I agree that there will always be a gap between early adopters and those that follow. However, that gap can grow pretty severely over time. Parents tend towards the higher ranking school systems, which gives those schools more money to get better while preventing lesser schools from catching up as their potential funds migrate to the better schools. And there will always be newer, better, more expensive technology to allow the leaders to continue leading.

  7. Back when I went to school we still had one classroom that contained Apple 2Es that each grade would rotate through in order to take typing; it’s somewhat surreal to think how much digital technology has created new pathways for learning.
    While there are really exciting breakthroughs such as Quest for Learning, I also started thinking about whether we are losing our ability to create without screens. Both games and the arts aim to create a shared experience; often offering a window to the human condition. The mode of storytelling may differ, yet the mission to entertain, provoke thought, and spark dialogue remains.
    In response to the questions that you posed about whether the future of teaching lies with gamification and will that create a larger divide between those that have access and those that have need; perhaps we can still create a culture of play and instill the growth mindset in our students through the arts that doesn’t rely so heavily on having the latest device.

    1. I like your use of the word storytelling. A lot of learning can be taught through stories rather than powerpoint note slides or flashcards. Many of my favorite courses solidified subject knowledge with dramatic stories. The race for space, the human genome project and all that drama, and even simple things like early DNA studies relied very heavily on regular store-bought blenders.
      They give extra clues to latch onto to jog your memory during a test or other learning assessment. And best of all, they don’t require fancy tech, they just need a good storyteller.

  8. 5) I have some experience with substitute teaching at my old public high school in Maryland which recently went to a one-to-one format (each student has a personal ipad for learning purposes). From personal experience the idea is certainly there, utilizing technology as a tool for increasing interest/engagement/etc., but the execution is somewhat lacking. From speaking with teachers the funding mostly went to buying the devices themselves, and not into auxiliary programs that they can actually use. This leaves them, for the most part, searching for free programs that hopefully overlap their lessons or utilizing the programs that come with their book licenses or core curriculum (which were much worse than the webassign or even wiley based programs I worked with). Getting the devices is one thing, but developing meaningful ways of using them is another.

    1. Matt, thank you for bringing up another side of this. I’m sure there are some good free options for wiley/webassign and such, but no one knows about them. We need to train educators to be able to make tools that are optimized to their specific learning environments, and we need to develop frameworks for them to do so. The hardest part of any such open-source technology would be getting the word out though, especially when competing with big-name publishers who have all the money to try and drown out open-source materials.

  9. Thank you for your post! I think gamefication in the general terms is not necessarily a mode of gentrification, as things can be turned into games with little resources. However, I don’t think it is the future of teaching. A classroom has multiple types of learners, and some will not benefit from a competitive environment and some will. While the gamification can be used, multiple other methods to engage the students should also be used.

  10. I agree with your take on gamifying in that it can be a great tool to help students learn new content, but you raise an excellent point on gentrification. In many inner city schools, they can’t afford things like updated computers computers. Utilizing the gamifying approach would be impossible in these settings. These educational styles, while effective in terms of function, they also create a gap in education reflective of wealth and racial disparities.

  11. I agree with your take on gamifying in that it can be a great tool to help students learn new content, but you raise an excellent point on gentrification. In many inner city schools, they can’t afford things like updated computers computers. Utilizing the gamifying approach would be impossible in these settings. These educational styles, while effective in terms of function, they also create a gap in education reflective of wealth and racial disparities.

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