Gamification is one way teachers are getting students to pay attention. Because no one student is exactly the same, a number of different teaching styles and methods have been developed – this includes applying game dynamics, mechanics, and frameworks into the classroom.
Although there have been a number of studies on how gamifying non-game settings impacts students, one result is clear: gamification can make learning more fun and memorable. The three main points of gamification have been identified as motivational ‘affordances’ (the opportunities the actual activities give the subject or the mechanics of the game), the psychological outcome (the resultant change in feeling about an activity during and after the activity), and the behavioral outcome (the change in behavior following the gamified activity). Lee Sheldon, an Assistant Professor at Indiana University at Bloomington reported that his application of gamification in the classroom was a success. He renamed student presentations “quests,” taking tests were “fighting monsters,” writing papers were “crafting,” and letter grades were “experience points.” As a result, Sheldon found that his students’ average grade improved one full letter grade.
One analysis on gamification found that the four dynamics and concepts found in game design that were most successful in motivating students to learn were -
- Freedom to Fail: Rather than focusing on an irreversible final grade, students are encouraged to experiment and take academic risks through the concept of having multiple “lives” or allowing them to start over from their most recent “checkpoint.” This gives students to opportunity to take chances with decision-making and be exposed to consequences. Students can then focus on the process of learning, instead of just their final grade.
- Rapid Feedback: Similarly to a game, continual feedback to learners can also motivate students. Battling a boss in a game using the many skills acquired provides immediate feedback to the player on whether or not they qualify for the next level. This can be achieved in the classroom through self-paced exercises, visual cues, frequent question-and-answer activities, a progress bar, or carefully placed comments by non-player characters.
- Progression: Categorizing information to improve student focus mirrors the ‘levels’ found in game design. Additionally, creating high low points to grab attention also mimics the interest curve students may experience when playing a game. Progression also includes requiring students to incorporate lower order thinking skills into the first stages of a class and then progressing to require higher order thinking skills as they ‘level’ up. This helps students realize they need the knowledge acquired from past stages in order to arrive at the highest order thinking skills.
- Storytelling: There have been numerous studies on how using storytelling elements can increase student attention and retention of information. Storytelling elements include the use of characters, emotion, and other descriptors to help students visualize a lesson. By creating moments of surprise or humor, for example, students are more likely to be captivated and remember the lecture.
Several successful cases of gamifying the classroom have been reported in recent years.
One case is of Clifford Lampe, an Assistant Professor at the School of Information at the University of Michigan. He applies gamification to his 200-student lecture class by providing students with choices, rapid feedback, collaborative processes, and competition. Students also have the option to “choose their own adventure” by selecting assignments, although higher level assignments are not available until they have been ‘unlocked’ by completing lower level assignments. Lampe has concluded that gamification has improved his student’s motivation and retention. Another Assistant Professor, Dr. Carman Neustaedter from the School of Interactive Arts & Technology at Simon Fraser University found that creating a scoreboard with students’ class ranking in real-time provided the rapid feedback he needed. Each student also earned a rank title, such as “Artistic Intern” or “Grand Master Speculative Designer.” Neustaedter found that the scoreboard has increased students’ motivation and sparks healthy competition.
Beyond the classroom, gamification has also been incorporated in other non-game settings.
Road contractors in 2014 implemented musical grooves on Route 66 to encourage drivers to obey the speed limit. The language-learning app DuoLingo also uses gaming techniques to make what could be a mundane lesson fun.
Despite the many case studies that demonstrate gamification in the classroom can be successful, it must be noted that not all elements of a game are equally motivating to each student. Providing differentiated instruction for students not only means gamification, but also includes other methods of teaching.
About the Author
Rachael Tom is the Marketing Communications Manager at ThinkFun, an award-winning global company and the leading developer of logic and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) games that make learning fun!