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Infuse Video-Game Motivations Into Traditional Lessons

Thanks to its partnership with publisher Eye on Education, EducationWorld is pleased to present this blog post by Lauren Beebe, an Editor at Eye On Education. This post is part one in a series about gamification. Check the Eye On Education blog for part two.

Imagine what classrooms would be like if all students approached learning with the same excitement and interest that they do video, computer and handheld games. Gamification presents one way for teachers to motivate students, successfully teaching both the content and a lifelong love of learning.

Gamification is the process of applying game-based elements to influence behavior. Contrary to what you might think, gamifying a classroom wouldn't necessarily be accomplished by buying Nintendos for every student. Instead, gamified education has more to do with the larger structure of how the class is designed.

Game-based learning

According to Columbia University researchers Joey J. Lee and Jessica Hammer, "Gamification attempts to harness the motivational power of games and apply it to real-world problems—such as, in our case, the motivational problems of schools."

Common game elements include quests, challenges, rewards, skill levels, and recognition systems. Game-based learning employs these same elements to students' educational experiences.

In a quest, students are given a real-world (or fantasy-world) goal that will require mastering certain content. For example, learning how to graph the movement of objects over time and calculate their velocity could be made into a quest to stop two trains from crashing. Designing lessons as quests also means there are more opportunities for variety in the classroom.

Quests don't need to be especially complicated, original, or captivating in their own right. Gabe Zichermann, a leading gamification thinker, teaches that "fun is not correlated to them." Therefore, quests can be as simple or as commonplace as the unit requires and any theme or story can lend itself to a quest-style lesson.

In order to complete a quest, students need to overcome certain challenges along the way. Sure, these might be quizzes or group projects, but the larger context of the quest gives a sense of purpose to the activities. Furthermore, with the quest goal identified from the beginning, students can make independent progress or discover multiple routes to success.

One of the reasons games are so addictive is that they are so rewarding. Players are typically rewarded for every little accomplishment they make along the road to mastery. For classrooms to work the same way, students need to receive small but frequent rewards for their successes. This also helps them believe that they can win in the long run.

Zimmerman asserts that status—not cash—is the best reward. At various stages in a quest, students should receive recognition through their skill levels. This kind of recognition can inspire positive competition among students. But since students' skill levels can only increase, the fear of failure is less of an issue.

Lastly, games allow students to try on different social roles and responsibilities: "Senior Researcher" in a science project, "Royal Scribe" for a group history paper, "Spelling Master" in English Class, and so on. Giving students special titles, awards, and duties makes them feel more important and want to put more effort into their work.


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