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#GBLFriday – Finding a Balance Between Gamification and Education

by Justin Marquis Ph.D.

In order to facilitate a more-focused discussion, #GBLFriday on Twitter  is now being concentrated into a one-hour time slot between  1 and 2 PM ET (10-11AM PT). Each week’s session will be preceded by a discussion starter post to get the conversation going. That said, here is the first #GBLFriday read-ahead on finding a balance between gamification and education.

A Tale of Two Philosophies?
Not really. Gamification and traditional education have the same objectives – to provide students with the skills and knowledge necessary to become productive, contributing members of society. Unfortunately, both camps too often think that there is a diametrical opposition between the approaches. The difference is often reduced to having fun vs doing serious work. This need not be the case, and finding a balance between the engagement of GBL and the rigor of traditional education should be a top priority given the shortcomings of our education system at all levels and the dramatic rise in the popularity of games and gaming.

For discussion: What do you see as the role of entertainment in education?

Grades 
In my post "What if Badges Replaced Grades?" I examine the positive potential of doing away with our traditional grading system and replacing it with a more granular approach to tracking student mastery. Badges provide one such possibility.

For discussion: Is a change in grading needed? What aspects does an innovation like badges add? What would it take away?

Individualized Instruction
In many K-12 schools across the country there are simply too many students in classes. Even in some more affluent areas, there are 27 or more students, including some with special needs, in a classroom with a single teacher. In this scenario there simply is no possibility for meaningful, focused, one-on-one instruction. The National Dropout Prevention Center cites individualized instruction as one of the most important factors in keeping students engaged and in school. Technology, and games in particular, can help ease the burden on teachers by providing self-paced, individualized learning for each student. This frees teachers up to monitor the learning and remediate as needed, one-on-one.

For discussion: Have you incorporated games or a flipped curriculum to free up more individual instructional time? How, and how has it worked? How could this strategy play out in higher education?

Competition
Classroom competition cuts both ways. For some students it is extremely motivating, while for others, it can lead to feelings of learned helplessness and disengagement. Because games are based on play and have both an inherent fun-ness and socially acceptable competition on a level playing field, they can bridge the gap between those who enjoy competition and those who fear it. Games can even help students compete against themselves.

For discussion: What is the difference between game-based competition and competition over grades? Do you see this as a meaningful difference? How so, or why not?

Technological Literacy
Technology literacy is one of the most important skills that education can provide for students at any level and games, both inherently through the medium, and because of the content, have the potential to develop and support tech-literacy in a vast number of ways. In addition to game play, having students engage in game design and production can access even deeper understandings of some of the key STEM areas desperately needed in the 21st Century workforce.

For discussion: How do games improve technology literacy? What is the cost (both monetary and in other ways) of relying on games to help build tech literacy? Are we sacrificing some other type of literacy in favor of technology? What is the impact?

Collaboration
In a world where much of our daily interactions are technology-mediated, engaging students in the embedded communication systems of games supports the types of collaborative communication they will need to be proficient at in the work world. Additionally, some games depend on team-based play which emulates many workplace environments and teaches students to be part of a successful, technology connected team.

For discussion: How important is collaboration in your field or the areas you teach? What is the best way to impart an understanding of that process?

Cost
One area in which GBL poses a serious problem for our under-funded and under-staffed educational system is in the cost of implementation. Without dramatically changing the ways in which we fund education, the cost of gamification will continue to be a serious obstacle to a meaningful integration of games and game design in the classroom.

For discussion: What are your experiences dealing with the costs of implementing a game-based curriculum? Can you share any strategies for finding a balance between the cost and benefit of the model?

Instructor Knowledge
There is a very real disconnect between much teacher education and almost all graduate training in the use of games as teaching tools. Educators simply are not taught how to incorporate games into their teaching, and they require either a strong commitment to learn on their own time, or professional development and the support of well-trained IT staff if they are to make gamification a part of their repertoire.

For discussion: Have you received training in a teacher education course or graduate program that helped you to understand how to implement game-based learning? Please tell us about the experience.

Content
The content of current games also presents an obstacle to gamification. Commercial games rarely have any straightforward education application. It takes time, resources, tech skills, and creativity on the part of teachers to figure out how to use commercial games in the classroom or to mod them to make them suitable. Conversely, most educational games lack the engagement, entertainment, and polish of commercial games. Some balance between these two models is needed, but is only possible with the support of the gaming industry.

For discussion: What games have you found that contained the kinds of rich educational content that is needed for GBL? What games have you modified or seen modded to be used in education? Are there resources that are useful for finding or tweaking games for learning? Please share your findings. How could the gaming industry and education be brought together more closely?

Classroom Management
Finally, because games provide an additional level of excitement and are not traditional classroom tools, there can be issues with managing a game-based classroom. Educators need to have training not only in how to use games, but how to manage a classroom where they are being used.

For discussion: What classroom management challenges have you encountered through the use of gamification? What solutions have you found? It is more or less difficult to run a game-based class than a traditional one?

Join the Conversation
#GBLFriday discussions on Twitter provide an opportunity for those of you who have implemented a game-based curriculum at any level to share your experiences. What has worked? What hasn’t? How have you achieved a balance between core curriculum and gamification? Do you have institutional support? How so? Tag your posts with #GBLFriday and I’ll be sure to respond and share them with my followers.

For those who have yet to try to incorporate GBL into their teaching, #GBLFriday provides an opportunity for you to see what others are doing and to ask questions of those who are using games in education.

Please join the discussion tomorrow at 1PM ET (10 AM PT). Looking forward to Tweeting with you.

Follow Justin on Twitter @drjwmarquis