Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The road towards game-based learning

We have started looking into the idea of 'gamification' of learning in the technology department at Nexus. Although some staff have already / are already exploring the idea of this in individual lessons, it is one of our roles in to identify ways to evaluate and embed new approaches to learning for the whole school.

Gamification vs. Game-based learning

Amazingly, there is a difference, although it would be easy to assume that they were in fact the same thing. I've explained it below, but this site probably does a better job. Maybe this is just semantics, but I kind of feel that they are slightly different, although leading to the same thing - more engaged learners.

Game-based learning

The ubiquitous Minecraft

Basically, game-based learning is the idea of using a computer game or app to learn something. There is some interesting research by Ruben Puentedura on his Hipassus blog, who gives the background to and classifies good examples of the use of game-based learning. He also identifies why game-based learning can be very effective as a way of learning. The most prevalent example of game-based learning currently happening in schools is the use of Minecraft, but some very interesting games, both online and for iOS and Android are starting to appear, being specifically written for education.

Gamification of learning

Gamification of learning is in taking the elements of games (whether they be computer-based or otherwise) and building them into lessons or sequences of lessons. Whilst game-based learning might require the investigation of a piece of software, such as Minecraft, to use to deliver content, gamification requires the building of lesson content around or within the realms of a game. Often, but not always, this can involve the use of technology - often as a way to make the gamified unit of work run more smoothly, or perhaps be more interesting.

So, how do we gamify a unit of work?

Oh, not more QR codes...

It is very easy to make the assumption that to make a lesson more interesting we can add in some technology. Perhaps teachers make the mistake of using a new technology without thinking of the implications, whether that be 'planning in' or 'planning out' the use of technology so it is not bolted on, or using something without considering the impact on learning.  This is where the support of good technology integrators or coaches come in.

When looking at technology use there are two main considerations that a teacher or technology integrator should make:
  • Will it save time?
  • Will it make the kids more engaged / improve learning?

So, back to the QR codes. When used effectively in a sequence of learning that changes the way kids learn a topic, makes them more engaged and improves attainment, then perhaps QR codes have a place. But, definitely don't use them to display a question that could have been written on paper that then takes 30 seconds to load (assuming the kid manages the shot first time), whilst 10 other kids wait in line, eagerly holding their iPads. And don't laminate them. Or make them too small.

A taste of Gamification

We started last year with adding a small element to a unit of work on space - an IPC topic called 'Mission to Mars' for Year 5 (Grade 4). Part of the 'entry point' to the topic was the learners application to become an astronaut. We decided to gamify the start by adding in some interesting elements of gamification. They were:

Setting a series of challenges

Learners attempting to crack the Code

The entry point consisted of a number of small challenges - a few dexterity tests, a quiz, code cracking activity and an application form to become an astronaut.

Moving on

Learners could only move onto the next challenge when they had completed the first. Whilst the tasks were, in some cases rather simple, this meant that there was an element of motivation to get to the next stage.


Mail merge template for the successful astronauts

Whilst there is much negative research on the value of extrinsic rewards, it was felt that in the context of the game, a simple document signifying their success on applying to become an astronaut was a suitable part of the game.

How it worked

Without going into endless detail, the game worked on the basis of a few tests, with learners filling in their answers into Google forms. Correct answers would receive emails with codes to access the next level or further instructions, using Functions and Scripts on Google sheets. At the end, they would receive an email with their certificate. All of this was stored on a simple Google site.

Was it easy to set up?

No. And this was just one lesson. Setting up a gamified work takes time.

Next steps?

After attending the 21st Century learning conference in Hong Kong recently, we saw a very interesting presentation on gamification from Rob Newberry of Chatsworth International School, Singapore. His presentation confirmed what I think I new to some extent already - that gamification can be very rewarding for learners, can allow "development of previously unexplored student capabilities" (that's Ruben again), but lastly, that it can take an age to plan. It was also great to see an extended overview of a gamified sequence of learning.

What's also good about conferences like this is seeing other people's success and failures and also gives inspiration (and sometimes a reminder) to get into delivering these ideas to your students. As a result, we have now decided to look at creating an entire 6-7 week unit for our year 7 learners, to deliver some IT skills in an interesting and challenging way.

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