One topic that has sparked my interest in the past week or so is that of gamification, particularly in how it relates to education. Gamification simply refers to the use of game design and mechanics in non-game settings, with the aim of getting individuals to engage in a particular topic or learn new skills.
Games offer a kind of engagement that rarely happens in our schools or workplaces. Jane McGonigal, in her book Reality is Broken, argues that the tasks players undertake in the gaming world often feel more meaningful than the work they carry out in their real lives. As a result, people tend to be more curious, determined, optimistic, and resilient to failure when they are playing games. Many educators are therefore interested in bringing this mind-set to the education system.
There are many different ways of applying game-based learning in the classroom. Initially the focus centred on new ways to capture and maintain students’ attention. A lot of this discussion has been about the use of reward systems and badges to help motivate students. However, one aspect that I am particularly interested in is in how principles of game design can be applied to student assessment.
In games, there is no fear of failure – in fact, you are expected to fail. It is unlikely, for instance, that you will complete a level successfully on your first attempt. But it is through making mistakes that players learn. They can then apply this learning the next time that they attempt the level. And they can keep playing that level until they achieve the score that they want.
In addition to being low-risk, feedback from failure in games is immediate. This “just-in-time” feedback motivates players to keep trying until they succeed.
In schools, students are assessed typically on a single exam at the end of the semester. This gives them just one shot to succeed or fail, and often there is a high cost to failure with real repercussions. Under these conditions, students are afraid to fail and usually unwilling to try again. In short, they become averse to risk.
Game-based learning provides a possible alternative method to conventional teaching and learning. One school that employs this game-based approach is Quest to Learn. Based in New York, their curriculum was co-designed by a team of teachers and game designers. Here, students are allowed to keep taking a test until they get the grade that they like. The school sees failure as a ‘necessary and integral part of the “game”’, which they claim helps to motivate the students to try again and to succeed.
This concept of repeatedly taking a test until you are happy with the result also appears to tie in with the e-learning approach of assessment, where there is less pressure on the student to pass on the first attempt. In addition, e-learning can provide immediate feedback in quizzes, and include supplementary explanations as to why the answer was correct or incorrect, which further reinforces the learning.
While game-based learning promises many innovative ways with which to improve teaching and learning in the classroom, a lot more research is needed to ensure that it becomes an effective tool and is not just used to test prior knowledge. To be truly successful, it seems that educators and game designers must collaborate together to develop innovative methods of adapting game design to each educational setting.