Some of my best early learning experiences took place in my school’s computer lab. It wasn’t exactly brimming with the most updated equipment; and often times, we’d have to pair up and take turns to use the computers. Still, this is where a lot of magic happened: Hyperstudio taught me the fundamentals that I’d use later on to more throughly understand websites (through links and buttons), and All-the-Right-Type pushed me to 120wpm. I like to think I’m not an isolated case; my roommates and I fondly think back to the days of Math Circus, as well as Amazon and Oregon Trail. Mastermind is a retailer based entirely around educational games.
Gamification and incentivizing learning aren’t exactly new concepts. Parents have been rewarding kids for high marks since the days of The Great Brain, and teachers often use golden stars to try to get kids to co-operate and work harder. What exactly is digital gamification changing about the classroom?
Group projects are the exception in school, but they should be the norm. Figuring out how to leverage the power of the group — whether it is students in the same room or a quick connection to a graphic designer across the sea in Wales — is at the heart of how we are productive today.
Seth Godin, Stop Stealing Dreams entry #23
My first serious group project was in seventh grade, when we had to design an amusement park. What were we up to in the first six years of grade school? Besides games like king’s court and some participation in-class activities, I can’t really recall many group activities. In today’s world, things should flipped; we should be working with groups, not as individuals, by default.
Computer teacher and technology integrator Joel Levin, figured out how to use Minecraft to get the kids to collaborate together as a community. These seven and eight-year old kids work together in this immersive scenario where they are “shipwrecked” and need to survive and build a civilization.
Joel recently gave the students the ability to destroy things in this world; to his delight, he finds that the students are able to restrain themselves from tearing the world apart, and actually respect the virtual property.
Merging the Digital Realm with the Physical World
With projectors and laptops becoming more available to educational institutions, and motion-tracking hardware popularized by the Wii, Playstation Move, and Kinect, the classroom is starting to look like something straight out of the future.
The motion-tracking software allows kinesthetic learning to be implemented a lot more heavily in the classroom, as the following video shows. More interestingly, these kinesthetic activities are often in the form of fun, vibrant, and animated activities with rewards (sounds like a game to me).
“We’re really a school that’s built around students as producers, not consumers,” said learning strategist Ginger in this clip. “We want kids to figure out how games work, we want them to develop their own games.” That’s another interesting point: children are now given the ability to digitally create worlds previously only fathomable with LEGO blocks and pieces.
Closing the Feedback Loop
“We just naturally moved from board games to computer games,” said fourth-grade teacher Lisa.
Lisa watches her students play games, and is able to deduce how well they understand concepts (or where they’re stumbling) by watching the process. For example, if one child is able to grasp the game very easily, then Lisa gets the idea that this child is aware of the concepts she’s trying to teach. Similarly, if a child is struggling and not using a strategy that makes sense, then Lisa can sit down with the student and walk them through the process, and clarify any misunderstandings or foggy areas.
Children are perfectly suited for games because they aren’t afraid of what will happen next. As Lisa compares them to adults, she points out their lack of fear and compares it to adults’ worries about what will happen if they push this button or move somewhere else.
“I definitely find my children teaching themselves, almost, when they’re using games,” remarked Lisa at the end of the clip. She highlights Manga High, a math-based game that also involves shooting robots.
These three examples demonstrate the increased levels of involvement and engagement that children are having with games. It’s great to see that children are doing something where they actually enjoy learning, and not just seeing learning as a chore or a bore. Gamification is able to not only incentivize the learning experience now, but totally encompass it and create a different kind of experience from what we knew when we sat in the classroom.