Are we "Gaming the System" in Education?



It's no secret that kids enjoy playing video games.  I think we can all agree on that.  But there is still plenty of controversy around whether or not playing video games is actually helpful, or harmful to child development.

There seems to be more and more evidence coming out these days that supports the idea of kids playing video games.  Studies have shown that playing video games can actually improve brain functionality such as creative, critical thinking, pattern recognition, and problem solving.  Whereas, other studies have shown that playing video games can lead to too much screen time—which can have negative long-term effects on the brain—and can also hinder social skills such as face-to-face communication and collaboration.

For years, educators have been discussing the idea of gamifying education, which is simply applying game mechanics to teaching and learning.  While many educators swear by this strategy, I am still on the fence about it.

Even though research suggests that most students are motivated by games, I'm not sure that it is the best motivator for learning.  In my core, I still believe that students should be naturally curious about the world around them.  I believe that they should be intrinsically motivated, and should find joy and passion in the process of learning.  If students are not fully engaged in a lesson, then it is the responsibility of teachers to step up their game!

Part of me feels like gamification is almost like "tricking" kids into learning.  In other words, students might be more invested in the game mechanics of the lesson, rather than the content of the lesson.  Will students end up learning the material and becoming proficient in the content from gamifying lessons?  Probably.  But should it be at the expense of natural curiosity and passion?  That, I'm not so sure about.  Some may argue that it doesn't matter how students acquire information, as long as they learn it.  However, if we want our students to grow up to become independent, lifelong learners, then I think how our students learn, is just as important.

So what about professional development?

This leads me to wonder about how gamification fits into the professional learning space in education.  For example, we all know that "Gamification elements, such as feedback and rewards, have been used in the business world for decades.  A primary example is earning frequent flyer miles from airlines.  Karate has its belts, and Discover card has its cash back" (Like, 2013).  But does this type of motivation belong in professional development for teachers?

I first learned to code using the website Codecademy, which is a great example of gamification. In Codecademy, I was able to learn programming languages like HTML & CSS, Python, and Javascript by earning digital badges.  In order to earn a badge, I had to complete a set of challenges.  And I couldn't move on to the next challenge until I completed the current challenge that I was on.  For me, the badges were never a motivator, but the appeal of completing each challenge was.  My curiosity of the next level, and my sense of accomplishment were far more motivating than a digital badge ever was.

On the other hand, there was a time in my professional career when I was motivated by digital badges.  Back in 2013, I became a Google for Education Certified Trainer, a Google for Education Certified Innovator, and an Apple Distinguished Educator.  My goal at the time was to increase my edtech knowledge and skills, but I really wanted those digital badges that came along with the certifications.  I was extremely motivated by these extrinsic rewards, because I saw the value in them.  I couldn't wait to display these badges on my website, on my blog, and on social media.

Should professional development be gamified?

For years I have contemplated integrating gamification into the professional development that I lead for teachers both inside and outside of my school.  Below is a short list of pros and cons that I came up with to help me see both sides of this argument.

Potential Pros

  • Gamification could be a motivator for some faculty members by introducing positive competition into professional development.  This can either be competition with oneself, or competition against other educators. 
  • Gamification could be a motivator by integrating both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.  An extrinsic reward could be earning a digital badge; whereas, an intrinsic reward could be trying to learn and master a skill to get to the next challenge or level.

Potential Cons

  • Some educators might not be motivated by gamified professional development.  Therefore, they would not be interested in earning extrinsic rewards such as digital badges.  Gamification could actually become a distraction to teachers who are naturally curious and prefer intrinsic motivation to learn. 
  • Some educators might not feel comfortable with the competitive nature of having a shared leaderboard for everyone to see.  This could be a deterrent for teachers with lower readiness levels. 

Would gamification work for you?

By writing this post, I'm trying to figure out if we are "gaming the system"—or cheating ourselves—into getting desired learning results by introducing gaming mechanics to education. Whether that is teaching students in the classroom, or participating in our own professional development opportunities.  Do you think that gamifying professional development would work for you?  Do you think that it would work for your school?  Please feel free to leave a comment to this post if you would like to share, or if you have information that supports either side of this argument.

Regardless of my findings, when it comes to learning something new or challenging myself ... I'm always game!


Gamification for PD Resources
  1. Out With the Degree, In With the Badge: How Badges Motivate Learning And 7 Tips To Use Them Right
  2. Micro-Credentials: Empowering Lifelong Learners
  3. Worlds of Learning @ New Milford High School
  4. Social And Emotional Benefits Of Video Games: Metacognition and Relationships

Game-based Learning Resources
  1. Tapping Into the Potential of Games and Uninhibited Play for Learning
  2. How Games Lead Kids to the Good Stuff: Understanding Context
  3. Game-Based Learning to Teach and Assess 21st-Century Skills
  4. 4 Reasons to Gamify Your Classroom
  5. Game-Based Learning: Resource Roundup

Reference

Christopher Like. Mission Possible: Using Gamification to Increase Engagement in 1:1 Professional Development. Leading & Learning with Technology. ISTE. September/October 2013. Vol. 41. No. 2.

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